Orange Watch: The storied football history of Syracuse v. Notre Dame

Syracuse wide receiver Taj Harris (80) celebrates a touchdown against Wagner. Mandatory Photo Credit: Kicia Sears, The Juice Online.

Item: It’s the biggest brand in college football, with its own home game NBC TV contract that pays the University of Notre Dame $15M a season through 2025. One of those seven home games this season happens to have been designated the annual “Shamrock Series” game and moved (in Dec. 2017) to Yankee Stadium. That conveniently allows those famous New York City- area Notre Dame “Subway Alumni” to be able to, well, simply hop the No. 4 or D subway line to make their way to The Bronx for Saturday afternoon’s ninth meeting, and second involving head coaches Dino Babers and Brian Kelly, between their beloved Irish and Syracuse (2:30 p.m. ET / NBC-Sirius XM).

The first game played between Syracuse and Notre Dame occurred over 100 years ago, but the teams then proceeded to go 47 years without meeting again. Since 2000, there have five prior matchups, only one of which was played in the Dome. Saturday’s game at Yankee Stadium will be the second between the teams at the home of the MLB Yankees (the second Yankee Stadium, that is), with the Irish even planning to be adorned in Yankee Pinstripe uniforms for the occasion.

Here’s a capsule look at the eight previous Syracuse-Notre Dame games:

1914 – Back when Eastern Football ruled and intersectional battles defined bragging rights within the sport, Notre Dame made its third and final long trip back East of the ’14 campaign, destination Archbold Stadium. In a season that featured a Syracuse win over Michigan in one of those intersectional measuring sticks, the Saltine Warriors also fell to Princeton and Dartmouth. Notre Dame dominated SU 20-0 in the season finale to prove its emergence as a Midwest power. Syracuse finished 5-3-2 in 1914.

1961 – The controversial ending in South Bend that caused college football to change its rules the following season. With seconds remaining and 10th ranked Syracuse in front 15-14, Irish kicker Joe Perkowski missed a 56 yard field goal. In joy, the Syracuse fans on hand started to rush the field. But SU linemen Walt Sweeney was called for roughing not only kicker Perkowski, but holder George Sefcik as well, drawing a 15 yard penalty. The problem was with 0:00 on the clock after the long attempt drifted wide, how to assess the penalty?The officials made a spot decision to march 15 yards closer and have an untimed down. Perkowski’s second FG attempt, this time from 41 yards out, was the winning margin in Notre Dame’s controversial 17-15 victory. The following season’s rule change dictated that a half could not end on an accepted defensive penalty. Syracuse edged Miami 15-14 in freezing Philadelphia in the 1961 Liberty Bowl, Ernie Davis’s final game as an Orangeman to finish 8-3 and ranked 14th.

(Side Note Soapbox: It is about time the nine veteran members of the overall 48 member Selection Committee of voters for the Pro Football Hall of Fame nominate the late Walt Sweeney, an Orange standout offensive guard from 1960-62 who died in 2013 at age 71, to the Hall of Fame in Canton. For nine consecutive years (1964-1972) with the San Diego Chargers and Washington Redskins he made the All-AFL team or NFL Pro Bowl, was an AFL All-Time second team selection in 1969, and a member of the Chargers 50th anniversary team and Hall of Fame.)

» Related: The case for Dino Babers staying with Syracuse football

1963 – The old structure is now long gone across the street, replaced by a park known as Heritage Field, but the original Yankee Stadium (1923-1973), before the renovated edition (1976-2008), was the site of the first SU-ND game in the Bronx. Contested on Thanksgiving Day, and sadly, just six days after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on Nov. 22, 1963, neither team was ranked as the Irish took a 7-6 fourth quarter lead over the mistake-prone Orangemen. A 35 yard touchdown pass from Rich King to Mike Koski with just over 3:30 left and subsequent two-point conversion pass from King to Dick Bowman gave the ‘Cuse the 14-7 victory. Syracuse finished 8-2 and ranked 12th but did not play in a bowl game.

2003 – The late Walter Reyes was unstoppable. There’s simply no other way to describe the Orange tailback’s performance in Syracuse’s season-ending 38-12 blitz of the unranked Irish in front of 48,170 at the Dome. His five rushing touchdowns (all coming with still 10:00 plus to play) and 30 points were both Dome records, and he added 189 yards total on 19 carries. Syracuse finished 6-6 and did not play in a bowl game.

2005 – There was no foreshadowing how bad the Greg Robinson run would end, even when during his first season at the Orange helm he guided SU into South Bend with a seven game losing streak to face the No. 6 team. With SU up 3-0 early, Irish quarterback Brady Quinn and running back Darius Walker got rolling and before long it was 24-3 after three quarters of what turned out to be a 34-10 N.D. win. Quinn threw for 270 yards and two scores, and Walker ran for 123 yards. Syracuse lost its eighth straight game in the process and finished its worst modern season ever at 1-10 (Buffalo).

2008 – The one shining moment in the four year, 10-37 disastrous run of Robinson. Not only did the Orange embarrass the more talented Irish and vaunted head coach Charlie Weis on their home turf 24-23 days after Robinson was given his dismissal notice by athletic director Daryl Gross, but in class fashion, Robinson interrupted his victorious postgame on-field NBC interview with reporter Alex Flanagan while the Notre Dame alma mater played through the stadium. Syracuse finished 3-9.

2014 and 2016 – In games played at MetLife Stadium, instead of one of the two played at the Dome, Notre Dame won 31-15 and 50-33, respectively, in matchups featuring coaches Scott Shafer and Babers and N.D.’s Kelly. Syracuse finished 3-9 in ’14 and 4-8 in ’16.

As it now stands, Notre Dame is next scheduled to play in Syracuse in 2022 and 2029, SU at South Bend in 2025 and 2026.

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About Brad Bierman 848 Articles
Now in his sixth decade of covering SU sports, Brad was sports director of WSYR radio for eight years into the early 1990s, then wrote the Orange Watch column for The Big Orange/The Juice print publication for 18 years. A Syracuse University graduate, Brad currently runs his own media consulting business in the Philadelphia suburbs. Follow him on Twitter @BradBierman.