The Simpsons had not yet appeared on network television, Bud Light pitch-hound Spuds Mackenzie ranked as the nation's top marketing campaign, and a Notre Dame freshman shooting guard named Joe Frederick came off the bench in overtime to aid Notre Dame in an upset of 15th-ranked Duke, 70-66 at Notre Dame's Athletic and Convocation Center.
Since, the building has been renamed twice, Duke has appeared in 10 final fours, won four national championships, and Notre Dame has not beaten the Blue Devils on the hardwood, losing 11 straight, most recently a 84-77 stomach punch in the second round of the 2002 NCAA Tournament, a game the Irish led by seven with under six minutes remaining.
"I remember we let one get away," said Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey this week of the '02 heartbreak. "We played really well, played fearlessly...that was a long time ago. Of course, the last time Duke played here, I was on the bench," Brey added of the 1994-95 season, his last as a Blue Devils assistant.
The '02 tournament defeat marks Brey's only matchup vs. his ex-employer and mentor, Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski. The Notre Dame program though has historically struggled mightily vs. the Blue Devils, losing a remarkable 19 of 21 meetings including a Final Four defeat in 1978.
But 26 seasons ago, Frederick and the Irish scored the upset -- just one week after defeating No. 1 North Carolina, 60-58. According to Frederick, then-Irish head coach Digger Phelps not only promised a victory vs. the Blue Devils, but that Frederick would play a major part in it.
"Coach Phelps had mentioned (during practice) that I was going to get a lot of playing time in that game and I was going to hit a big shot," said Frederick, still the program's all-time leader in three-point field goal percentage (a likely untouchable number of 49 percent). "He preached it all week, that I was going to be the hero of the game.
"I wish he had done it more often, then I could have played some more my freshman year."
Though the program's last win vs. Duke dates back more than a quarter century, its unexpected hero has no trouble recalling how overtime unfolded. Crucial to the outcome were a pair of Frederick free throws in the extra session -- they were his first of the season and of his Irish career.
"I remember the game vividly, I really do," said Frederick. "David (Rivers) threw me a backdoor pass and I got fouled. I'll be honest, I was scared to death shooting those free throws. I knew if I missed, Coach Phelps would kill me."
Frederick's free throws knotted the score at 64 with 1:04 remaining. Including a no-doubt jump shot launched immediately after stepping on the court, the freshman that averaged just 3.1 minutes per game entering the contest scored six of Notre Dame's 10 overtime points.
Opportunity KnocksBattled tested vs. the best the former Big East had to offer, Brey view Game One of Athletic Coast Conference competition as a unique opportunity for his Irish.
"When we had success vs. programs, back when I first got the (Notre Dame) job, like Connecticut, Syracuse, Georgetown, those were program (building)-kind of wins for us," Brey offered. "That gave us an endorsement as we looked to become legitimate players in the Big East.
"I think you have the same situation with Duke (Saturday). If you can have success against a program like that, I think it endorses your program. It certainly would endorse this team that's still trying to find itself."
The Irish are in the discovery state entering league play because the team's leading scorer and distributor, senior Jerian Grant, is out for the rest of the season due to an academic issue that forced him to withdraw from the University. Notre Dame's first outing with the senior combo guard was a challenge, winning 87-81 in overtime vs. a capable Canisius squad on December 29.
"The nine guys that are active and available are all part of it," said Brey of his rotation at present. "That creates a very good atmosphere to try to figure it out with, because I think you have everybody in with both feet."
Saturday will feature the host Irish entertaining college basketball royalty not only sans Grant, but without it's sixth-man -- the rowdy Leprechaun Legion, as the student body is still 10 days removed from the end of its semester break.
Considering the foe, Brey has no doubts the hometown faithful will rise to the the occasion in the students' stead.
"I'll say this too, the local crowd helped us Sunday (vs. Canisius)," Brey said. "We don't get it done without that energy in the building. That gave us confidence. I think (freshmen Steve) Vasturia and (V.J.) Beachem played well because of our local crowd and we're going to depend on them again.
"We've had a few (in past seasons) in this window where there's no students and the energy has been great. I'm anticipating the energy to be off the charts on Saturday afternoon. "
The Irish finished non-conference play with two Purcell Pavilion losses -- unthinkable for the nation's second-most successful home team over the previous six seasons.
A win Saturday, coupled with Notre Dame's neutral-site win December 14 over Indiana, would all but erase those defeats in the eyes of the NCAA Selection Committee in March. (A giveaway defeat at the hands of No. 3 Ohio State on December 21 still stings.)
"I don't think anybody gives us much of a chance on Saturday," said Brey of the underdog role. "But we've been in these situations before in this building and we've played and rallied really well. Certainly a great opportunity for us, a big stage. But this program's history has been in situations like this, we've been pretty good...I'm excited for our team to be in this situation like this to start off the ACC.
"This is a huge opener for us to have that program, the Duke program, coming into our building for our first ACC game. It's a heck of a setting for our program, for our fan base, and for South Bend."
Brey is 12-6 in South Bend when facing the Associated Press top 10.
"Moments like this are what the (former) ACC, what this building was all about," said Frederick of the building since renamed the Purcell Pavilion.
Notre Dame has won four straight, 11 of 12, and 12 of its last 14 vs. ranked teams at home dating back to the 2009-10 season.