Still, the night might never have turned in Notre Dame's favor but for a twist of Irish fate. Faced with a third-and-15 at his own 15, Mirer dropped back and, under pressure, tried to reach Ismail 33 yards downfield, only to have the ball bounce off Ismail's fingertips, over the head of cornerback Lance Dot-tin, and into the hands of Notre Dame's Lake Dawson, who rambled for a 45-yard gain before a stunned Wolverine defense caught him at the Michigan 40. "A freak accident," said Dottin. And, for the Irish, a much-needed catalyst. Suddenly the crowd was back into it, almost visibly lifting the Notre Dame offense, which finished the drive with a one-yard touchdown plunge two minutes into the final period. The Wolverine lead was cut to three, 24-21. "I thought we were in complete control," Michigan All-America safety Tripp Welborne said later. "Oh, the luck of the Irish. It just wasn't meant to be."
Instead of ditching his no-huddle attack to slow the pace and eat up some time, Moeller stuck with his game plan. "It seemed like it was working," Moeller said. It was, until Stonebreaker intercepted a Grbac pass in the end zone to squash the Wolverines's next drive. "I read man-to-man," said Grbac. "It was a bad read."
Finally, Notre Dame got the ball on its own 24 with 4:33 remaining. Nearly everybody in the stadium sensed that the Irish were again about to do Michigan in. Nine plays and nearly three minutes later, the clincher came on a Mirer-to-Jarrell pass from a formation known as "Rip" in the Notre Dame playbook. "He [Jarrell] is supposed to run to the corner of the end zone and find a hole," Mirer said. "It's simple."
Michigan's last real hope went down the tubes when, on the first play from scrimmage after the kickoff, Grbac threw his second interception, hitting Notre Dame corner-back Reggie Brooks, Tony's younger brother, right on the numbers. "Anyone who says there isn't a mystique here just needs to look at that play," Reggie said.
"I'm not sure how we won the football game," said Holtz, still stunned minutes after the final horn, "except for the competitiveness of our players, the luck of the Irish and the lady on the Dome."
That about summed it up. The loss put the Wolverines in the familiar position of attempting to keep their all-too-faint hopes for a national championship alive by going unbeaten for the rest of the season, which they could conceivably do, while hoping that Notre Dame, Auburn, Brigham Young, Florida State, Nebraska and several other title contenders stumble along the way. The Irish, for one, are likely to fall at least once, given that they face a schedule that features Michigan State, Miami, Tennessee and Southern Cal.
Afterward, as befits the latest Notre Dame star quarterback, Mirer did a nice aw-shucks routine for the horde of media assembled in South Bend. "I didn't intend to be the hero," he said. "It's my job to be a leader, and I'm just glad that the guys who have been through it all responded so well. I'm glad it started this way, and I hope there will be many more."
O.K., Rick, but please excuse the folks in Michigan for not wanting to think about next year's opener against the Irish, set for Sept. 14 in Ann Arbor. We all know who's going to win, don't we, Wolverine fans? The only question is just what kind of Mirer-cle the Irish can cook up between now and then.