A Piece Of History Irish Hope To Avoid

Dec. 31, 2006

NEW ORLEANS (AP) -Knute Rockne. Touchdown Jesus. Eight national championships. Win one for the Gipper.

All part of the Notre Dame lore.

Then there's something that seems a bit out of place under the Golden Dome: Eight straight bowl losses, tied with South Carolina and West Virginia for the longest postseason skid in NCAA history.

Without an upset of No. 4 LSU in Wednesday night's Sugar Bowl - and the Tigers are a 9 1/2-point favorite in what is a de facto home game - the Fighting Irish will have a most unwanted record all to themselves.

Too bad they don't have the Gipper for this one.

"We know the history. We know the facts," offensive tackle Ryan Harris said Sunday. "We just don't want to lose another one."

Notre Dame (10-2) used to be one of the nation's best postseason teams, winning 13 of its first 19 bowl appearances. But things started going downhill after a 24-21 victory over Texas A&M in the 1994 Cotton Bowl.

The following season, the Irish accepted an undeserved Fiesta Bowl invitation on the heels of a mediocre 6-4-1 season. Not surprisingly, they were hammered 41-24 by a superior Colorado team that finished No. 3 in the rankings.

They also seemed to fall under some sort of bowl curse, as if they were being punished for a trip they didn't deserve. College football's most famous program lost the next one. And the next one. And the ... well, you get the picture.

It's not like the Irish have lost a bunch of heartbreakers, either. Most of them haven't been close, with six of the eight defeats by double-figure margins.

There was a 27-9 loss to LSU in the 1997 Independence Bowl, a 41-9 blowout by Oregon State in the 2001 Fiesta, a 28-6 setback to North Carolina State in the 2003 Gator, and another hammering by Oregon State, this one 38-21 at the 2004 Insight (adding to the humiliation of being sent to the Phoenix area's backup bowl, played in a baseball stadium).



Last season, the Irish kept things going by giving up a school-record 617 yards in a 34-20 loss to Ohio State at the Fiesta Bowl.

It doesn't really matter who's on the sideline. Lou Holtz lost his final two bowls at Notre Dame. Bob Davie went 0-3. Tyrone Willingham lost two straight. Charlie Weis turned things around during the 2005 regular season, but his first bowl followed the usual pattern.

"We've heard about it pretty much every single day," star safety Tom Zbikowski moaned. "We're tired of talking about it."

But Notre Dame just can't get away from it. Eighty-seven teams have won bowl games since the Irish's last postseason victory, with Kentucky becoming the latest to join the list Saturday by knocking off Clemson in the Music City Bowl.

Even more stunning, at least seven members of the We've-Won-A-Bowl-More-Recently-Than-Notre Dame Club weren't even in Division I-A when the Irish claimed its Cotton Bowl victory 13 years ago. South Florida, one of this season's first-time bowl winners, didn't even start its program until 1997.

Or consider Boise State, which plays on a blue field for heaven's sake. The Broncos only moved up to Division I in 1996 and, three years later, began a streak of four straight bowl wins. They went undefeated this season and cracked the BCS's exclusive club, earning a spot against Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl.

Even Troy, a I-A neophyte that only the most die-hard fans can find on a map (a hint: look southeast of Alabama's capital city), has bragging rights on the Irish by virtue of its 41-17 victory over Rice in the New Orleans Bowl less than two weeks ago, on the very same field where Notre Dame will try to end its postseason misery.

So, how do the Irish cope with their embarrassing bowl record, which matches South Carolina (1945-88) and West Virginia (1987-98) for the longest drought? By trying to forget the past and hope that it doesn't doom them to repeat their mistakes.

"Those other games are over with now," said quarterback Brady Quinn, whose been part of the last two bowl losses. "It's time to turn over a new leaf. This is just one particular ballgame in time. We can't do anything about what happened in the past."

That said, Notre Dame will need to pull off a major upset to get started on a more acceptable streak.

LSU is one of the few teams with a quarterback (JaMarcus Russell) who put up comparable numbers to Quinn, and the Tigers are one of the nation's top defensive teams (in contrast to the Irish's undersized, vulnerable unit).

The intangible factors also lean toward LSU. This is a team that will be playing in its home state with the crowd on its side. This is a team that desperately wants to win one for the city of New Orleans, still digging out from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.

Notre Dame could find itself in a similar position to the NFL's Atlanta Falcons, who had the misfortune of facing the Saints at the reopening of the Superdome three months ago. The Falcons never had a chance against emotionally charged New Orleans, which romped to a 23-3 victory.

LSU is hoping for a similar lift in the Sugar Bowl, which returns to the Big Easy after a one-year exile in Atlanta.

"We were some distance from the storm (about 75 miles inland), but we felt its affect," coach Les Miles said. "We understand our responsibility to this state."

But the Irish's losing streak can't last forever. Maybe, with the odds stacked against them, they can summon some of that ol' Notre Dame magic. They sure haven't used much of it at their last eight bowl trips, nearly getting doubled up on the cumulative scoreboard (275-143).

"A lot of people keep pointing that out to us," defensive end Victor Abiamiri said. "They want to hang that over our heads. But those are eight individual years. This is a new year ... a different game, a different team.

"We're just trying to win this bowl game for us."

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