When Notre Dame quarterback Rick Mirer decided to pass up the NFL draft and return to South Bend for his senior year, he said it was because "I want to win a national championship." If that doesn't happen this season, one reason might be that Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz didn't give his team a chance to go for a win during the last minute of its 17-17 tie with Michigan last Saturday in South Bend.
The Irish had one last chance after Notre Dame free safety Jeff Burris intercepted Michigan quarterback Elvis Grbac at the Notre Dame 12 with 65 seconds left in the game. Irish fans have come to expect last-minute, game-winning drives ever since Joe Montana routinely produced them as the Notre Dame quarterback in the late '70s. In fact, Mirer, who wears number 3, just as Montana did, says he models himself after Montana.
But instead of marching into field goal range against the Wolverines, the Irish used 50 seconds to advance two yards. First, Holtz called for Jerome Bettis, his 247-pound fullback, to go up the middle on a draw play. That gained seven yards and used up 29 seconds, but it also gave Notre Dame a chance to size up Michigan's defense, Holtz explained later.
Then, having sized up the defense, Holtz ordered another handoff on second-and-three with 36 seconds left, this one to Reggie Brooks, whose 12-yard gain was nullified by a motion penalty. The Irish didn't get off their next play until 15 seconds remained in the game. After a couple of futile Mirer pass attempts, the game ended, and many Notre Dame fans, who had begun booing after the handoff to Bettis, continued to voice their disapproval.
While Mirer acknowledged that the jeers of the Irish faithful "kinda hurt," he refused to second-guess Holtz. "When you're behind, you've got nothing to lose, and you go for it," Mirer said. "When it was tied, we had to protect what we had."
The last time Notre Dame protected what it had was its famous 10-10 battle with Michigan State in 1966. That tie ended up being the only blemish on both team's records that year, and they wound up sharing the national title. It's doubtful that the Irish—and Mirer—will get that lucky this season.
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