SI Vault
 
NO. 1 WITH A BULLET
Rick Telander
January 09, 1989
Notre Dame is the tops after beating West Virginia
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
January 09, 1989

No. 1 With A Bullet

Notre Dame is the tops after beating West Virginia

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue

SI's FINAL TOP 20

POST-BOWLS

 

PRE-BOWLS

1

NOTRE DAME (12-0)

1

2

MIAMI (11-1)

2

3

FLORIDA ST. (11-1)

3

4

MICHIGAN (9-2-1)

9

5

AUBURN (10-2)

5

6

CLEMSON (10-2)

12

7

USC (10-2)

6

8

UCLA (10-2)

8

9

W. VIRGINIA (11-1)

4

10

NEBRASKA (11-2)

7

11

OKLAHOMA (9-3)

11

12

OKLAHOMA ST. (10-2)

13

13

ARKANSAS (10-2)

10

14

WASHINGTON ST. (9-3)

16

15

SYRACUSE (10-2)

17

16

GEORGIA (9-3)

18

17

INDIANA (8-3-1)

18

ALABAMA (9-3)

19

N.C. STATE (8-3-1)

20

SO. MISSISSIPPI (10-2)

"Sometimes it seemed like Notre Dame had about 16 players out on the field."

It's as if the four horsemen—this time accompanied by a nervous, lisping, sandy-haired groom—were at it again. Like a gang of highwaymen, Notre Dame trampled previously undefeated West Virginia 34-21 in Monday's Fiesta Bowl, in Tempe, Ariz., to finish 12-0 and win its eighth national championship, the most for any school in history.

Notre Dame came out running and smoking and talking more trash than the cast of that old Gipper movie. Behind junior quarterback Tony Rice's game-high 75 yards rushing and career-high 213 yards passing—he completed seven of 11 throws and had two touchdowns and an interception—the Irish rolled up 455 net yards while holding the erstwhile explosive Mountaineers to just 282 yards, their lowest total in 19 games.

The Irish defense prevented West Virginia's offense from making a first down during the first 20 minutes as Notre Dame moved out to a 23-6 halftime lead on a 45-yard Billy Hackett field goal, a one-yard Anthony Johnson run, a five-yard Rodney Culver run and a 29-yard Rice-to-Raghib (Rocket) Ismail pass. Irish defensive stars like end Frank Stams, who was the defensive MVP with three tackles, two sacks and numerous flushings of quarterback Major Harris; nosetackle Chris Zorich; and backs Stan Smagala, George Streeter and Todd Lyght all seemed to be playing at double speed, while the Mountaineers were playing on, well, mountain time. "Sometimes it seemed like they had about 16 players on the field," said West Virginia center Kevin Koken. "They're good, but they need to learn class. That was probably the worst bad-mouth team I've ever played."

Holy Golden Dome, can that be?

"There were definitely words exchanged," shrugged Irish linebacker Wes Pritchett in the locker room. "But it wasn't one-sided."

Maybe not, but Notre Dame was hit with 11 penalties, including a shocking eight personal fouls, to West Virginia's three. At the end, with flags raining down on his players like locusts, coach Lou Holtz himself ran onto the field to try to calm down the members of his defensive unit. Holtz seemed visibly shaken by some of his players' antics, which included taunting, late hits and even the swatting of an official's cap. It was a classless finish to a classy season, and it led Holtz to say after the game, "Our players were completely in the wrong."

What did all this unseemliness mean? Perhaps that football, stripped of all the gloss and glamour, is a primitive sport played by aggressive, unruly boys.

All week long the Irish and the Mountaineers were inspected for all manner of flaws by a huge national press mob. Notre Dame, 11-0 and ranked No. 1 at the close of the regular season for the first time since 1966, was once again depicted as the school of legend and inspiration, the shining beacon of hope for priests, college sports reformers, subway alumni and orphans. The questions Holtz responded to time and again focused on how he had brought the Irish back to the pinnacle.

Munching on a Butterfinger candy bar, his breakfast and lunch, one afternoon last week, Holtz claimed two things: "I am not a workaholic," and "I didn't come to Notre Dame to be compared to the great coaches, because I'll always come out second best—in looks, intelligence, speaking ability, patience, you name it."

Continue Story
1 2 3