"Seriously, we never doubted ourselves for a second," says Northwestern kicker Sam Valenzisi. "We may have gotten a little scared, but we never doubted. The difference between this year and the last three was that in the past we played on emotion, while this year we played on ability. We trusted ourselves to go jaw-to-jaw with Notre Dame. We knew we could play with them."
For Notre Dame partisans, Valenzisi's statements may be the most frightening thing. If Northwestern can do this, how does that bode for the rest of what is a typically tough Irish schedule? For suddenly nothing better illustrates the state of Irish football than the unbelieving stares on the faces of those walking out of the stadium on Saturday and the low murmur that contained more than a few references to the ragged days of former coach Gerry Faust. With a 7-7-1 record since beating Florida State in 1993, this is clearly a team more in transition than contention—and ripe for more days just like this.
"I really have no idea," Holtz said when asked to explain his team's recent slide. "It's very difficult to sit here and analyze when it hurts so much. We just have to go back to work and figure it out."
Long after the final whistle blew, many of the fans simply sat in their seats, taking in the now empty field. Then they were gone, too. Finally Holtz left and climbed into his car alone. He passed through the stadium gate, braked at the stoplight and lit his pipe. The light turned green. He drove into the twilight.