Coach's Corner

Playing the "Domers" has not been easy for the Huskies. Five tries equals five losses. With the exception of the 1995 game in Seattle, it hasn't even been close.

The first time the Huskies played the Irish was 1948 and lost to the second ranked team in America by a score of 46-0. That Frank Leahy coached team featured the great running back, Leon Hart, and ended up undefeated although being tied by USC in their last game. The following year the Huskies at least scored and made it only a 27-7 loss to the eventual national champions as the Irish again went undefeated outscoring their opponents 360-86. That game was played in Seattle before an overflowing capacity crowd of 41,500. The teams would not play again until 1995.

What this year's game represents, though, is the most unique opportunity for this particular Husky team. When you play the game there are always big games that will last a lifetime. I got to play for the high school championship when I was young and it will always be an unbelievable memory. I got to coach in the Whammy in Miami, the Rose Bowl against Michigan, and at Nebraska. Those were big, or at least they were to me.

For this year's team of Huskies, which is just coming off their first win of the year, their first win in the last year, and their first win together as a team, they have a chance to become the first Husky team EVER to beat Notre Dame. It would forever be planted as one of the biggest wins in each of their lives for the rest of their lives.

What an absolutely fantastic opportunity for a bunch of kids that has suffered through arguably the lowest point in Husky football history. This is it boys! This is what BIG is all about. This is an opportunity of a lifetime. Seize it. Grab it with your entire collective worth. Come together and go upset the most famous collegiate team in history. Become the only Washington team to ever do so. Beat the Notre Dame Irish.

After losing to Notre Dame twice in the late 40's the next two times the Huskies played Notre Dame I was on the staff and both games were competitive although we lost both encounters as well. Lou Holtz coached these teams and we were just coming off our probationary period in which we lost 15 scholarships per year. Regardless, those were in the days when we regularly red-shirted our entire freshman so we had enough seasoned players to make it close.

The 1995 game in Husky Stadium was played before a packed crowd of 74,023. I was in the press box in those days and so was Coach Holtz, due to an operation and it was the only time I can ever remember a head coach not being on the sidelines. That meant we got to ride up and down the elevator with Coach Holtz and he was very complimentary of our program and how he thought the NCAA and our own conference had screwed us.

Considering everywhere he had coached, that school ended up on probation and under sanctions, I considered him an expert on the subject.

Regardless, I distinctly remember him telling us what a beautiful setting Husky Stadium was and how he thought we were clearly the premier programs in the western part of America. Of course, he was just being polite after we dropped a punt on the 12-yard line and gave them the game by not lining up properly on a two-point conversion. (We forgot to cover a wideout). The game had been close and we played it very conservatively, rushing the ball 41 times for 195 yards but only throwing it 13 times. We had the game in hand up until the punter dropped the ball then it slid away.

Maybe that was why Holtz was so kind after the game. He obviously appreciated our generosity. That particular Notre Dame team went 9-3 and played before a capacity crowd in every single game of the season (home and away).

There is always something special about Notre Dame that attracts crowds wherever they play. They are surely the most storied and well known football program in college football.

The next season, 1996, we got to travel to South Bend for a return match and as soon as Brock Huard took himself out of the game due to a concussion, every thing went south indeed. They had lost their previous game to Ohio State and had two weeks to prepare for us because of a strategically placed bye. They killed us 54-20. It was not even close. They simply rolled us up and it was then that I began to see the real results of our NCAA sanctions and restrictions. Our depth had been depleted and we were clearly outclassed as well as out manned and probably out-coached.

The one bright spot was that we finally committed to Corey Dillon as our starting tailback and decided to get on his back and ride him out for the rest of the season. Our offensive coordinator, Scott Linehan, did a fantastic job of redirecting our offense from Huard to Dillon and he responded by taking us undefeated the rest of the way and winning a share of the Pac-10 Championship.

Included in that run was his memorable game against San Jose State when he rushed for over 200 yards in the first quarter. No doubt if he had played the whole game against the Irish we would still have lost but the experience of playing under the Golden Dome was still a tremendous thrill for those all of us who had never been there before.

Unfortunately, because everything is so organized on the road, I never got to see anything about this great school. I did run into some friends I had taught with at a Catholic school in Seattle, Kennedy HS, and of course they were wearing Notre Dame gear. I could see that we were playing hard but it was a game that simply got away from us. We couldn't stop a leaky faucet with our defense, but the team responded well and we got better every single game there after.

I was fortunate to have been working with some wonderful linebackers in that game, John Fiala and Ink Aleaga, as well as Jerry Jensen. They were what Huskies are supposed to be like. They got off the canvas and proceeded to lead our team to three straight wins over Oregon, UCLA, and USC the next three weekends. Playing the Irish was surely the lowest point of that season but it had its positive effect on our team.

The last time that I saw Notre Dame was last season and that too was an awful game, with the Huskies losing 38-3. This time, because I was not coaching, I decided to try and see the town, campus, and feel a little of the tradition of this great football college. I went to the college football Hall of Fame but found it terribly lacking. We stayed in a run down hotel that charged $350 a night for a dive room. During the rest of the year, except game days, they got $79 for the same room. We were doing a radio show from a local watering hole on Friday, and when I found out we got free food and drink, it convinced me to stay from noon to midnight. Never left the place. Had an absolute ball with the Irish faithful and really got a feel for being an Irish fan. Never saw any of the tradition but thoroughly enjoyed the revelry.

Now, by chance, Coach Tyrone Willingham also gets an opportunity to beat his old team. A school that fired him less than a year ago. A team of players recruited by him and coached by someone else.

A chance for redemption? Tyrone will hear none of it. He knows this is a game that could put the Huskies back on the map. An opportunity for his new kids to get the biggest win of their lives. It isn't about him. It's about them and everything they've been through.

A win in this game will go a long way towards healing many old and lingering wounds. Top Stories