A Look at Notre Dame and North Carolina ...

I have no film on North Carolina , but being a person of habit, I feel compelled to write something, an overview if you will. If I don't do something Mike refuses to acknowledge my emails, and Angel sends my wife recipes on boiling everything under the sun. So, here it goes, in my best Herman Melville style. No, not Moby Dick, more like Typee: A Peep at Polynesian Life.

The University of Notre Dame du Lac And The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

There may be other regal sounding titles among other American universities that come close to The University of Notre Dame du Lac, but based on my personal bias, I can't think of one off hand. (Please, no ezmails. Make it a board post if it's something you feel strongly about.) However, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill ain't too shabby rolling off the tongue. Beautiful place too, judging by the pictures I've seen of the campus.

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill , as a name, has its charm. It also has a legacy of great basketball, being part of the tradition of Tobacco Road with Duke and North Carolina State . Who can forget the great names, great players, and great moments of basketball at these institutions? Who can forget Dean Smith, the fantastic run of Jim Valvano's NC State, and who has not fractured the pronunciation of Coach Krzyzewski, at Duke. One could hope that the Irish basketball program would one day be as legendary as the Tobacco Road triumvirate. Okay, Bonger, send a check, certified please.

Sadly, one of the triumvirate, in this case, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, whose official name does not quite approach the dulcet* tone as the aforementioned school in South Bend, does not have the legendary status in its football program that matches The University of Notre Dame du Lac. Ok, none of them do, and who else comes close anyway? * I really wanted to use dulcet in an article. I'll quit with the school's official names now.

Since 1945 North Carolina has a record of 356-312-12, a winning percentage of .532, which ranks them 56th among Division I-A schools. During the same era Notre Dame has a record of 470-192-15, a winning percentage of .705, which ranks the Irish 7th. All this occurred despite five ND coaches not having their contracts renewed. The veracity of these statistics may be questionable, since they appear to come from some one with Michigan connections, but the reader may form his or her own conclusion by visiting the site: http://www.michigan-football.com/ncaa/ncaa_1a.htm Interesting site though, and I suggest that one check it out if one has an interest in that type of stat. Omahadomer is excused from this query because he keeps a running total of everything, and I mean everything, in college football and would find the site hackneyed at best. Hackneyed in this case, Escalibore, means trite.

I also recommend visiting the official North Carolina Football site at: http://tarheelblue.cstv.com/sports/m-footbl/unc-m-footbl-body.html. The site has many features that I wish those running the Notre Dame official site would adopt, especially the ease of accessing video productions. It's all right there on the football site, just a click away. The videos, narrated close to a John Facenda-like style, and a bit over the top considering the Tar Heels's post war record, break down the Tar Heel's positions with scenes from past NC players making great hits, intercepting, catching, throwing , and running. You know what I mean, football stuff. This is something I'd like to see on the official ND site, but then again maybe the Irish football history would take too much band with. Yeah, I know, much like this article.

Not being Melville (rather obvious, no?) I couldn't find a spot to put these thoughts into another part of this Georgia Tech* type article. So I'll do it here. Seems like a good enough place. I hereby volunteer my services, along with FunkDoctorSpoock, PapaFunk, and MCastillan, to serve as intrepid journalists, scouts, and tailgate enthusiasts when the Irish return to Chapel Hill in 2008. Providing of course that Mike, "They Call Me the Godfather", Frank, supplies the tickets and foots the bill. Think of it, IE faithful. The combination of the aforementioned four would be able to send back one wild game report to the post game pod cast. Mike could even break new ground, airing a pod cast that would feature our sedate, but informative, tailgate experiences before the game. I urge all IE subscribers to petition, email, or call Mike to carry this plan out. If a British sounding voice answers the phone hang up though, and try again later. *(c'mon… Ramblin' Wreck)

On to football. Finally, huh?

The University of Notre Dame du Lac and The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (sorry, backslid) have played sixteen times with the Irish winning fifteen of the games. The lone defeat the Irish suffered at the hands of the Carolina Blue came during the reign of Joe Kuharich, a 12-7 defeat at Kenan Stadium. Obviously, the Irish have never lost to the Heels on Notre Dame's soil.

It has been a while since the Carolina Blue has produced sustained football success. Despite back to back seasons of 10-2 and 11-1 in 1996 and 1997, when the Heels reached Top Ten status and Carolina fans foresaw national prominence, the Tar Heels have failed to emerge as an upper echelon program. They have produced some fine players over the years, past notables such as Charlie "Choo Choo" Coleman, Charlie Justice, and Lawrence Taylor to name a few. As recently as 2002, the NFL drafted Julius Peppers and Ryan Sims in the first round, as the second and sixth picks overall. The Tar Heels have had LOI signing days where they were ranked in the top twenty by Scout, with the eighteenth and thirteenth ranked classes in 2004 and 2003. John Bunning and much of his staff have an NFL back round. The weather is nice, the facilities better than many, and the coeds are often stunning. The Carolina lack of success is one of those mysteries of sport, or perhaps it might be the stilted influence of basketball being the major sport at UNC. (Okay, Bonger, don't send the check.)

Notre Dame and North Carolina have a few similarities of late. The North Carolina Athletic Director, Dick Baddour, upon firing Head Coach John Buntin, cited Bunting for the academic and discipline improvements he has made at Chapel Hill . As with most coaches, who are told to move on, it came down to wins and loses, particularly a 25-43 record and a series of blow outs. Bunting, a North Carolina alumnus, all ACC LB, and former Philadelphia Eagle's LB, just didn't win enough, and often lost big. Bunting came to Chapel Hill in December 2000, amid the hoopla of an alumnus, fresh from the NFL, coming home to turn the program around. His coaching record has spiraled from his initial Tar Heel season at 8-5 to a 1-7 record this year. The lone win in 2006 was over Furman, a 6-3 Division IAA team, 45-42. Despite upset wins over heavy favorites Miami in 2004 and Boston College in 2005, the six year record and the lack of success this year doomed Bunting early in the season. Coach Bunting was let go with three years left on his contract.

The Tar Heels, rose up to play for their coach last week, playing their best game of the season in losing to the 22nd ranked Demon Deacons of Wake Forest, 24 -17. They out gained the Deacons and were on the Wake Forest six yard line with twenty-five seconds to go. Unfortunately, for the Carolina Blue, an INT ended their threat. This week could be redemption for the Tar Heels and do much to salvage a bad season.

Ironically, the last time the Irish played the Tar Heels at Notre Dame Stadium, John Bunting was a major player for the Tar Heels, despite an Irish victory. He had twenty tackles against the 8–2, 13th ranked Irish, who came away with a 16-0 victory. Bunting talks about that game and this year's game in an article by Lee Pace on the NC official site:

"I don't remember a whole lot about that game," Bunting says, "other than how big Notre Dame's players were. We saw them without their shoulder pads and they were huge. I remember how different they looked compared to us. We were not a big team."

"This is a great opportunity to go up there and be a part of their tradition," says Bunting. "Our kids will see it and feel it once they get into that stadium. Game day will be especially different from many of the settings we've been to. Oklahoma my first year here was a great experience with all the tradition there. This is another one of those experiences."

"Their quarterback is outstanding, their line does a terrific job, their receivers catch the ball," says Bunting. "The defense is active and strong. They are great tacklers. They do not give you anything. You have to earn it all."

Another landmark game in Irish lore occurred against the Tar Heels in 1975, when the Irish, visiting Kenan Stadium, fell behind 14-0. You may know or have guessed what happened at that point. Notre Dame Head Coach, Dan Devine, inserted a little known, spindly legged, QB named Joe Montana with 6:04 to play. Montana led the comeback and the Irish rallied for a 21-14 win. The Luck of the Irish was evident that day as the game winning TD, from Montana to Ted Burgmeier, came on an 80 yard TD pass. The NC corner had tried for an interception on an out cut and slipped. Burgmeier, a converted CB, caught the pass, eluded one other tackler, and went the distance.

In their opener this year, North Carolina played Rutgers tough at home, losing 16-21, while out gaining their opponent. Unfortunately, for the Heels, two interceptions, one at Rutgers' 32 yard line in the first half, one at Rutgers' 29 yard line with two minutes in the game, and one lost fumble at Rutgers' 1 yard line spelled their doom. The tone for the season may have been set that day.

Offensively it just got worse for the Heels as the Carolina season went on. Four INTs, one returned for a TD, and one fumble against Virginia Tech in a 10-35 home loss. The week following the win over Furman, again at home, the Heels traveled to Clemson and were pounded 7-52. A bye week didn't help in a loss to Miami, 7-27, and successive losses of South Florida, 20-37, Virginia, 0-23, and the debacle at Wake Forest led up to Saturday's game against the Irish.

Saturday, the Tar Heels have a few clichés going for them, in that they have nothing to lose, they can play lose, they'll play hard for an outgoing coach, and a win over Notre Dame could make their season. In some ways the Heels seem like a Jekyll and Hyde team, much like MSU, in that one never knows which team will show up.

The Irish, on the other hand, need a strong showing, if for no other reason than to satisfy those of you/us who are into the polls, seek a complete game by the Domers, want Brady to win the Heisman, etc. It would also be great for Coach Weis's program to have a game where understudies and younger kids get significant playing time.

I'll bet that the Tar Heels show up Saturday. Doesn't everyone against the Irish? Remember that winless Stanford played hard against the Irish, despite the score. North Carolina has more team speed than Stanford, and on paper, they start a better group of athletes than Stanford did. There, you've just been exposed to my best Lou Holtz impersonation.

Two last things, mercifully. I'm still waiting for a TD off a punt or kick off return by Weis' Lads, and again, I remind the IE membership about the Chapel Hill coverage in 2008.

IrishIllustrated.com Top Stories