Updated: October 3, 2011 at 12:00 am
In 1999, Sports Illustrated listed Notre Dame Stadium as the 18th-best sporting venue of the 20th century.
It’s hard to imagine any list of best sporting venues not including Notre Dame’s football home. It’s the “House That Rockne Built,” the home of seven Heisman Trophy winners, Touchdown Jesus and even “Rudy.” When Air Force plays at Notre Dame on Saturday, it’ll be a pretty memorable experience.
“There is great history,” said Air Force coach Troy Calhoun, who visited Notre Dame Stadium as a player in 1986 and as a head coach in 2007. “You talk about the lore and the tradition involved there. But you have to get down to what matters, you have to get straight to the blocking and tackling.”
Notre Dame has history and a storied venue, but it hasn’t been the flagship program of college football for a long time.
The last time Notre Dame won a national championship was in 1988. The last Heisman winner was Tim Brown in 1987. Most of Air Force’s players were born after those milestones.
Since 2000, Notre Dame has had more losing seasons (three) than 10-win seasons (two). The Irish’s last season with fewer than three losses was 1993. Speaking of Notre Dame football seems more about nostalgia than relevance.
For men in their early 20s, the Notre Dame name doesn’t resonate like it once did.
“I’ve never really been a fan of Notre Dame, I’ve always hated how everybody has always loved Notre Dame,” Air Force quarterback Tim Jefferson said. “It’s one of those things where I say, it’s just another team on the schedule.”
Air Force shouldn’t be intimidated by playing at Notre Dame, considering the Falcons usually schedule a high-profile nonconference game. Last year, they played at Oklahoma.
“It’s going to be fun, but it’s going to be another football game,” Jefferson said. “We played Oklahoma last year, a Top 10 team, and took them to the wire, so we’re not afraid of going into a big-time stadium or anything, of playing a big-time opponent. We know what Notre Dame is capable of. We know we have a tall task on our hands, but we’re coming ready to play.”
Notre Dame still has some cache with Air Force fans. Folks still talk about Terry Maki’s blocked field goal against the Irish in 1985, and A.J. Scott returning it for a touchdown. The win at South Bend in 2007 is spoken of highly, never mind that Notre Dame went 3-9 that season.
“I know their history and all of that, and I know it’s a big stage and it will be loud and they have a lot of tradition,” inside linebacker Brady Amack said. “I’m excited to play out there.”
Air Force comes into this game feeling pretty good, off a 35-34 win at Navy. On Monday, quarterback Tim Jefferson, Amack and outside linebacker Alex Means were named the Mountain West’s offensive, defensive and special teams players of the week, respectively. Amack won the Walter Camp Football Foundation’s national defensive player of the week honors for his 23-tackle performance.
But the Falcons are going against a team that may be the most talented they will face this season. At least Air Force coach Troy Calhoun believes the Irish have as much talent as all but a handful of teams.
“They are a big-time talented football team,” Calhoun said. “Talent-wise they have to be among the top 10 teams in the country.”