Editor's note: This is the fourth in a four-part series examining the relationship between BYU and Notre Dame and the impending start of a six-game football series between the Cougars and the Fighting Irish. Today: How the BYU-Notre Dame series started, and a look back at the six previous games.
PROVO — It was no coincidence that BYU's six-game football series with Notre Dame was announced the same day that the Cougars announced they would be going independent and signing an eight-year broadcasting agreement with ESPN.
Scheduling the Fighting Irish helped legitimize the move to independence and energized the Cougar fan base.
"Our vision is to play football games across the country against many of the storied football programs in their legendary stadiums and to those same highly regarded programs return to Provo to play in LaVell Edwards Stadium," athletic director Tom Holmoe said on Sept. 1, 2010.
Turns out, BYU's relationship with Notre Dame has been decades in the making.
The two teams have met six times on the football field — starting in 1992 — with the Irish holding a 4-2 series lead.
BYU and Notre Dame meet on Oct. 20, 2012, and on Nov. 16, 2013, with both games in South Bend. After that, the two teams will play a four-game, home-and-home series between 2014 and 2020. Exact dates for those games will be announced later.
It all started with former Cougar athletic director Glen Tuckett, who managed to schedule the first six games — a pair of two-for-ones — with the legendary Fighting Irish.
So how did he accomplish that feat?
When it comes to scheduling, a lot of it involves who you know. For 12 years, Tuckett sat on the NCAA television committee with then-Virginia athletic director Gene Corrigan. During that time, the two established a strong friendship.
Then, when Corrigan became the A.D. at Notre Dame, they started talking about scheduling a football series between the Cougars and Irish. The two schools had already faced each other in a memorable NCAA Tournament basketball game, when BYU's Danny Ainge went coast-to-coast for the winning layup against Notre Dame to propel the Cougars to their first, and only, Elite Eight appearance.
"We thought it would be good if our schools played in football. It worked out," Tuckett once told the Deseret News. "I said when we get Notre Dame on the schedule, they should bronze me and send me back to Murray."
The first meeting between the pair of private, religious-affiliated schools (some have affectionately dubbed the series as "The Mormons vs. The Catholics") took place in 1992 in South Bend, with the Irish pounding the Cougars, 42-16.
The following year, in 1993, Notre Dame came to Provo with a No. 3 ranking. The Cougars were coming off their worst loss ever, a 68-14 humiliation at UCLA. But Irish coach, and showman, Lou Holtz spent the week extolling BYU's virtues and bemoaned having to play in Provo against "an angry Cougar."
The Irish jumped out to a 31-0 lead and throttled BYU, 45-20, before the largest crowd ever to watch a game at LaVell Edwards Stadium — 66,247.
Still, there was little shame in losing those two games. Notre Dame had lost only one game in each of those two seasons.
But BYU exacted a measure of revenge in 1994, as the Cougars recorded a stunning 21-14 upset over the Irish at Notre Dame Stadium.
BYU's win prompted questions about Holtz's job security, knocked Notre Dame (which had a No. 17 ranking coming into the game) out of the national polls for the first time in eight years, ending a string of 85 consecutive regular season games with a national ranking, and saw the Irish score its fewest points at home since 1986.
"It's like a nightmare," then-Notre Dame defensive coordinator Bob Davie said after the loss. "It's devastating."
And it wasn't just that BYU beat Notre Dame, it was how the Cougars did it — with a smash-mouth style of play that featured a physical, punishing defense and running back Jamal Willis, who rushed 18 times for 75 yards and caught five passes for 83 yards and scored two touchdowns. Willis' two-yard, fourth-quarter TD was the game-winner.
Notre Dame finished the year with a 6-5-1 record. And the Irish haven't really been the same since.
The Cougars and Irish picked up their series from 2003-2005. In the first game, Notre Dame, which was off to it worst start in 40 years, crushed BYU, 33-14, in South Bend. It marked the Cougars' seventh loss of the season and guaranteed back-to-back losing seasons for the first time since 1971.
BYU won the next game, in 2004, in Provo. In his debut in a Cougar uniform, freshman wide receiver Austin Collie chased down and made a finger-tip catch of a Matt Berry pass and raced into the end zone for a 42-yard touchdown that lifted BYU to a 20-3 advantage midway through the third quarter. That TD turned out to be the game-winner in a 20-17 triumph in the '04 season-opener.
It was the first game of the last season for both Cougar coach Gary Crowton and Irish coach Tyrone Willingham. Both teams finished with losing records..
The last time the two programs met, in 2005 in South Bend, it featured the inaugural seasons for BYU's Bronco Mendenhall and Notre Dame's Charlie Weis..
The Irish pasted the Cougars, 49-23, as quarterback Brady Quinn threw for 467 yards and a school-record six touchdowns and wide receiver Maurice Stovall hauled in 14 passes for 207 yards and a school-record four touchdown catches. The win snapped a four-game home losing streak for Notre Dame and marked Weis' first home victory.
Weis lasted five seasons before Brian Kelly took over in 2010. Kelly is looking to wake up the echoes of Irish football lore.
Notre Dame, a storied program that boasts 11 national championships (the most recent in 1988) and seven Heisman Trophy winners, will soon open the next chapter of a series with a fellow independent program that has one national title and one Heisman winner — BYU.
BYU vs. Notre Dame series at a glance
Year Site Result
1992 South Bend Notre Dame 42, BYU 16
1993 Provo Notre Dame 45, BYU 20
1994 South Bend BYU 21, Notre Dame 14
2003 South Bend Notre Dame 33, BYU 14
2004 Provo BYU 20, Notre Dame 17
2005 South Bend Notre Dame 49, BYU 23