Unbeatable: Notre Dame's 1988 Championship and the Last Great College Football Season

Jerry Barca

St. Martin's Press


There is an appointed time for everything,
and a time for every affair under the heavens …
A time to love, and a time to hate;
A time of war, and a time of peace.
—Ecclesiastes 3:1, 8
Shrieks and frenzied screams ricocheted off the locker room walls in a cacophony of rage and excitement. Tears rolled down some of the young men’s faces, an uncontrolled emotional response after launching into battle.
The days of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish playing the role of the nice weakling had ended.
Leaving the field after pregame warm-ups, the Miami Hurricanes chose to go through a line of Notre Dame players, rather than go around them. Miami met an unflinching Irish squad.
The Hurricanes, the No. 1 team in the country and the best program of the era, had been the chief tormentor of the Irish in recent years. In the schools’ previous two meetings Miami humbled Notre Dame by a total score of 82–7. Flashy on-field celebrations deepened the embarrassment doled out by the ’Canes.
Now Miami had traveled to Notre Dame Stadium, and the showy, bullying antics would not be tolerated. When the ’Canes breached the Notre Dame warm-up line, a fight exploded on the ground separating the end zone and the stadium’s lone tunnel.
“It was a melee. It wasn’t like guys fighting in a bar where they want someone to break it up. We did not care if someone broke it up. We wanted to take them there,” Notre Dame starting strong safety George Streeter said years later. “Quite frankly, for me, I wasn’t paying attention to the score. I wanted to win the fight.”
Stadium security and law enforcement officers stepped in to end it.
Both teams withdrew to their locker rooms.
Fifth-year senior Wes Pritchett, the middle linebacker who called the plays in the Irish defensive huddle, threw his helmet across the room.
Spit flew from Frank Stams’s mouth as the outside linebacker pumped up the defense that had gathered around him.
Blood rushed to the hands of quarterback Tony Rice, who had just been throwing punches in the clash.
Joe Moore, Notre Dame’s grizzled offensive line coach, who had graduated summa cum laude from football’s old school, cracked a green slate chalkboard with a kick.
“The whole thing put me in a fighting mood,” said Andy Heck, a quiet team captain and the starting offensive tackle.
The room grew quiet when head coach Lou Holtz addressed the team. The words that came out of his mouth were unexpected, a character departure, and they recharged the enraged atmosphere that had been subdued by his presence.
The skirmish with Miami made the statement that Notre Dame would no longer be pushed around. At the time, the Fighting Irish had not even reached the midpoint of the season.
By the end of the 1988 campaign, this Notre Dame squad would leave a path of battered All-American quarterbacks in its wake, give birth to legends, restore the school’s stature in the game, win a national title, and accomplish something no other team in the history of college football has done.

Copyright © 2013 by Jerry Barca