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Visitors are requested to conduct themselves in a manner in keeping with the sacred character of this place.
Somebody should put that on a postcard and send it to football teams that have to play at Notre Dame Stadium. Florida State showed up there last Saturday with nine wins, no losses, a No. 1 ranking and a decided lack of reverence for the Notre Dame mystique. Before making the trip from Tallahassee, two Seminole players referred to "Rock Knutne," another to "the Three Horsemen." Wide receiver Tamarick Vanover asked, "What's the Gipper?" And quarterback Charlie Ward announced that he wasn't going to South Bend for a history lesson.
Instead he became part of one: And this is where Charlie Ward's pass was batted down on the last play of our 31-24 win over Florida State in '93. Charlie won the Heisman. We won the game.
Pages 361 to 365 of this year's Notre Dame football guide are devoted to "The Big Games." Included are Knute Rockne's 12-6 win over Army in 1928, the 7-0 shutout of Oklahoma in '57 that broke the Sooners' 47-game winning streak, and the 31-30 victory over Miami in '88 that cleared the way for Notre Dame's most recent national title.
Time to expand that section. This game was Big, and, to the delight of NBC, Notre Dame's in-house network, it was tight. Despite a shocking loss of composure during the second quarter, despite being dominated for long stretches on both sides of the line of scrimmage, and despite the fact that their coach, Bobby Bowden, was outfoxed by his Notre Dame counterpart, Lou Holtz, the Seminoles were in a position to score a touchdown on the game's final play and then try for a two-point conversion and a 32-31 win.
With three seconds to go Florida State was 14 yards from the Notre Dame end zone. Flushed out of the pocket, Ward scrambled left, looking for Vanover and then for flanker Kevin Knox. Neither was open. Finally Ward spied tailback Warrick Dunn deep in the end zone and let fly. Two things happened almost simultaneously, neither felicitous for the Seminoles: Irish cornerback Shawn Wooden, who had recovered a Florida State on-side kick a couple of minutes earlier, batted the ball to the ground, and delirious Notre Dame players, fans and musicians bolted onto the field. In that instant a reshuffling took place at the summit of college football.
You knew Saturday's showdown would be a mondo game when Spike Lee, a fan of Ward's, and Phil Donahue, a Notre Dame alum, decided to put in appearances. By Friday the South Bend exit off the Indiana Tollway had become a bazaar for scalpers and seekers of tickets. Motorists simply pulled onto the shoulder and commenced haggling. By game day scalpers' prices for end zone seats had stabilized at $400, and better seats were going for $1,000.
Fast-buck artists couldn't resist. One took out a classified ad that prompted David Walsh of Springfield, Pa., to send $1,400 in cash to an address in South Bend. Stunningly, Walsh never received his promised 14 tickets. Don't feel lonely, David—there's one born every minute. On Saturday security personnel at Notre Dame Stadium confiscated several hundred counterfeit tickets and 40 bogus media credentials, for which gullible fans had paid an estimated total of $50,000.
On campus the second-most popular T-shirt on sale (after the one that read CATHOLICS VS. CREMINOLES) was prophetic. It read: NOVEMBER 13, THE DAY THE NUMBERS CHANGED. Indeed, the day after the game, the bowl-coalition ranking—which combines the AP and the USA Today/CNN polls—gave Notre Dame the No. 1 spot and dropped Florida State to No. 2. As a result, the Seminoles will likely get a second crack at the Irish on New Year's Day in the Fiesta Bowl.
Notre Dame's ascendancy was as surprising as it was deserved. After all, this is an Irish team that saw nine players leave for the NFL after last season; a team whose coach entered this season embattled, beleaguered, in need of a hernia operation and complaining of chest pains; a team so denuded of marquee guys that its best player, arguably, was an offensive lineman; a team that was supposed to lose a handful of games and point to '94.