Notre Dame players look back on 1993's 'Game of the Century'


Notre Dame players look back on 1993's 'Game of the Century'

Tune in to Comcast SportsNet Thursday night at 7:00 p.m. for a Notre Dame football classic: The 1993 "Game of the Century" which pitted No. 2 Notre Dame against No. 1 Florida State in South Bend.

On an unseasonably warm, windy mid-November day, No. 1 Florida State began filing out of the visitor's locker room at Notre Dame Stadium. An unwelcome sight greeted them: Lou Holtz and Notre Dame's coaches holding the Irish back. There was jawing, but no fight -- as there was in the tunnel for 1988's "Catholics vs. Convicts" game. While there was speculation Notre Dame wanted to try to psych out Florida State, senior safety Jeff Burris offered up a different explanation.

"We were just cooped up," Burris, currently the cornerbacks coach at UMass, told "We were so ready to play, the game couldn't get there fast enough...We could have played at 6 that morning, we were so ready to play because that moment had finally reached us and we were so excited to get on the field. It wasn't anything that was pre-meditated, it was really just let's go, let's play. We had gotten to that point as a team."

The college football world had, too. Bob Costas and O.J. Simpson were on campus, as was College GameDay for the first time in the show's history. Quarterback Kevin McDougal started to notice that things were a little bit different the Tuesday before the game.

"I had never seen so many fans coming in to tailgate and coming on campus so early," McDougal, who now runs a transportation company in Florida, recalled. "Reebok at the time spent all week with us, I remember them testing out shoes and things like that. Even before seeing Bob Costas and O.J. Simpson and those guys, the whole week was a big week."
It was more than No. 1 vs. No. 2.

It was presumptive Heisman winner Charlie Ward and explosive freshman Warrick Dunn facing Lou Holtz's stout defense, led by Burris and defensive tackle Bryant Young. It was whether McDougal and running back Lee Becton could succeed against a defense front-lined by all-world linebacker Derrick Brooks.

And, of course, there were serious national championship implications. Bobby Bowden hadn't won it, while Lou Holtz was seeking his second.

What followed was 60 minutes of football that Notre Dame fans voted as one of the best ever played at Notre Dame Stadium.

Ward asserted his will early, leading FSU on a lengthy scoring drive. Despite a rib injury that kept him out of FSU's previous game against Maryland, Ward looked every bit like the runaway favorite to win the Heisman Trophy in the first few minutes.

"When you talk about poise and just precision at that position -- just, you name it, he did it," Burris said. "If they needed 10 yards to run, he could scramble and look like, okay, he only went five yards but he probably went 20. He was that smooth with the ball in his hand."

But Notre Dame punched back, albeit in about as improbable of a way as possible: a reverse to punter Adrian Jarrell (who did play wide receiver in the past, too).

"My main focus on that play first was 'really? Alright, (expletive), let's go do this, we still have a job to do,'" offensive lineman Aaron Taylor, now an analyst with CBS College Sports, said. "And Holtz's mantra was there are no trick plays, even if it's a quote-un-quote special or trick play, you still have to execute. I think the fact that we scored a touchdown on it indicates that we did execute, everybody did what they were supposed to do."

The surprises didn't stop there. Burris, a great two-way player in high school who played as a defensive back in college, rushed for a pair of touchdowns against an FSU defense that only allowed two rushing scores in its previous nine games.

"He was a captain, he had more than proven himself on both sides of the ball and with his character on and off the field," Taylor said. "It's a really unique situation in a game that big, to have a guy to come in on your side of the ball that doesn't normally play there. It's like, you don't call that and think you're going to get a one-yard gain. You're calling that because you think you need a touchdown, and he's the guy to do it."

Notre Dame was up 17 at the half, the product of an offense firing on all cylinders and a defense that was able to give Ward more fits than any other opponent. The FSU quarterback entered the game on a streak of 144 pass attempts without an interception, but that was broken at 159 -- and it couldn't been sooner, had Burris not dropped a few golden opportunities for a pick.

But FSU mounted a comeback in the second half, something McDougal attributed to Holtz's tendency to dial things back instead of pouring it on when the Irish were up by a wide margin. As the momentum shifted, though, Taylor and Notre Dame's leaders had a message.

"I think the feeling on our side was we're not going to lose this game, not on our watch," Taylor explained. "We're going to protect this baby, and it's up to us as seniors to find a way to make plays. Not the juniors, not the sophomores, not the freshmen -- look around, boys, this is one of our last go-arounds, it's one of our last few games ever in this stadium with a lot on it. Let's go get it done."

Burris scored the second of his two touchdowns to put the Irish up by 14, but FSU answered right back. That set up the final drive, with FSU needing a touchdown to tie things up.

Before getting into the final play, though, there was plenty of analysis around the game that figured FSU would clobber Notre Dame on a neutral site or in Tallahassee, that things would've been different if the game wasn't played in South Bend. But that's a notion Burris wasn't buying.

"Just kind of jokingly, when I went to Buffalo, I wound up playing with Kevin Knox, the receiver from Florida State. And his thing was, 'Oh, if we were playing at a neutral site we would've beat you guys,'" Burris recalled. "And there's no way possible. We just knew at that time we were the better team that day. Regardless of where we were, that's the mentality coach Holtz instilled in us in that game. And it was kind of our mantra that we lived by."

And when Shawn Wooden batted down Ward's pass to end the game, that mantra materialized into a victory. Students rushed the field, reveling in the glory of waking up Sunday to a No. 1 ranking. And for the Notre Dame players, those post-game moments are among the greatest they experienced while in South Bend.

"We felt like we were on top of the world," Burris recalled. "That moment, and going over the student section. My roommates ran on the field, I remember, my old roommates from freshman year and came and gave me a big hug -- just those small things that you're just like man, we did it.

"It wasn't a team thing. It was a school thing at that moment."

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks visit first-place Lightning


Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks visit first-place Lightning

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos.

There hasn't been a more dynamic duo in the NHL so far this season than Kucherov and Stamkos, who have combined for 68 points (27 goals, 41 assists) through 20 games, and sit first and second in the scoring race.

They've each recorded a point in every game except three — which coincidentally have been the same games — and they've lost all three of those contests. Kucherov has also scored a goal in 15 of 20 games this season. That's absurd when you consider he's scoring on a consistent basis; it's not like they're coming in spurts.

To put all that into perspective, he reached the 17-goal mark in his 36th game last year and still finished second in the league with 40 goals. He hit the 17-goal mark in 16 fewer games this season. How many can he realistically finish with? 60?

2. Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews.

Tampa Bay knows how dangerous Chicago's dynamic duo can be as well, as evidenced in the 2015 Stanley Cup Final. The Blackhawks' superstars know how to get up for a big game.

In 13 career regular-season games against the Lightning, Kane has 18 points (six goals, 12 assists). Toews has 14 points (eight goals, six assists) in 14 games.

They're both producing at or above a point-per-game pace, and they're going to need more of that against this powerhouse Lightning team.

3. Something's gotta give.

Tampa Bay's offensive prowess is off the charts up and down the lineup. It has four lines that can come at you at waves, and a strong, active blue line led by potential Norris Trophy finalist Viktor Hedman and Calder Trophy candidate Mikhail Sergachev.

Although Chicago allows the fourth-most shots per game (34.0), it actually hasn't been bad at preventing goals — a large reason for that is Corey Crawford. 

The Lightning rank first in goals per game (3.95) and first in power play percentage (28.0) while the Blackhawks rank sixth in goals against per game (2.65) and four in penalty kill percentage (84.9).

Who's going to crack first?

For one writer, Hall of Fame semifinalist selection of Brian Urlacher closes a career circle


For one writer, Hall of Fame semifinalist selection of Brian Urlacher closes a career circle

The news on Tuesday wasn’t really any sort of surprise: Brian Urlacher being selected as a semifinalist for the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. Some of the immediate thoughts were, however, for one writer who covered Brian from the day he was drafted on through the unpleasant end of his 13-year career as a Bear.

Good thoughts, though. Definitely good.

The first was a flashback, to a Tuesday in late August 2000 when the ninth-overall pick of the draft, who’d been anointed the starting strong-side linebacker by coach Dick Jauron on draft day, was benched.

It happened up at Halas Hall when Urlacher all of a sudden wasn’t running with the 1’s. Rosie Colvin was in Urlacher’s spot with the starters and would be for a few games into the 2000 season. I caught up with Brian before he walked, in a daze, into Halas Hall after practice and asked about what I’d just seen.

"I'm unhappy with the way I'm playing and I'm sure they are, too," Urlacher said. "I don't think I've been playing very well so that's probably the cause for it right there. I just don't have any technique. I need to work on my technique, hands and feet mostly. I've got to get those down, figure out what I'm doing. I know the defense pretty good now, just don't know how to use my hands and feet."

Urlacher, an All-American safety at New Mexico but MVP of the Senior Bowl in his first game at middle linebacker, had been starting at strong side, over the tight end, because coaches considered it a simpler position for Urlacher to master. But he was not always correctly aligned before the snap, did not use his hands against blockers effectively and occasionally led with his head on tackles. His benching cost him the chance to be the first Bears rookie linebacker since Dick Butkus to start an Opening Day.

It also was the first time in his football life that Urlacher could remember being demoted.

"It's not a good feeling," he said. "I definitely don't like getting demoted but I know why I am. I just have to get better."

Coaches understood what they were really attempting, subsequently acknowledged privately that the SLB experiment was a mistake. While the strong-side slot may have been simpler than the other two principally because of coverage duties, "we're trying to force-feed the kid an elephant," then-defensive coordinator Greg Blache said.

"So you see him gag and what do you do? You give him the Heimlich maneuver, you take some of it out of his mouth, try to chop it up into smaller pieces. He's going to devour it and be a great football player. But he wouldn't be if we choked him to death."

Urlacher didn’t choke and eventually became the starter, not outside, but at middle linebacker when Barry Minter was injured week two at Tampa Bay.

We sometimes don’t fully know the import or significance at the time we’re witnessing something. Urlacher stepping in at middle linebacker was not one of those times – you knew, watching him pick up four tackles in basically just the fourth quarter of a 41-0 blowout by the Bucs.

That was the beginning. Over the years came moments like Urlacher scooping up a Michael Vick fumble in the 2001 Atlanta game and going 90 yards with Vick giving chase but not catching him. Lots of those kinds of moments.

And then cutting to the ending, in 2013, when he and the organization came to an acrimonious parting after GM Phil Emery managed to alienate the face of the franchise both with the one-year contract offer and the way it was handled. Butkus had a nasty separation at the end of his Bears years, too, and Bill George finished his career as a Los Angeles Ram after creating the middle linebacker position as a Bear. Maybe that’s just how Bears and some of their linebackers wind up their relationships.

In any case, while there is no cheering in the pressbox, the hope here is that Brian goes into the Hall in a class with Ray Lewis in their first years of eligibility. Somehow that just seems like it all should close out for that confused kid from New Mexico who lost his first job out of college, but responded to that by becoming one of the all-time greats in his sport.