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Night Openers For Notre Dame Becoming The Trend

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Louisville, where Notre Dame opens this season on Labor Day night, won the lone previous meeting between the two schools in 2014, 31-28.
Louisville, where Notre Dame opens this season on Labor Day night, won the lone previous meeting between the two schools in 2014, 31-28. (Matt Cashore/USA Today Sports)

For the fourth time in the last five years, and 18th overall, the 2019 Notre Dame football season will begin with a night game.

To no one’s surprise, it was announced this week that the Labor Day opener (Sept. 2) versus Louisville at Cardinal Stadium will have an 8 p.m. EDT start.

It will mark the first time ever the Fighting Irish will play on Labor Day, although they have had several other openers during a weekday. In 2021, Notre Dame again will open on Labor Day, this time at Florida State, which is also destined to be at night. Then the 2022 season begins Sept. 3 at Ohio State — another event tailor-made to appear in prime time.

Here is the history of Notre Dame's 17 night openers (13-4 record), highlighted by an eight-game winning streak from 1974 until 2001.

Sept. 22, 1956: SMU 19, Notre Dame 13

Heisman Trophy winner Paul Hornung became the first Irish quarterback to both pass and run for more than 100 yards in a game during this defeat, but this began a 2-8 season.

Sept. 9, 1974: Notre Dame 31, Georgia Tech 7

In head coach Ara Parseghian’s final year of coaching, the reigning national champions saw this originally scheduled game in November moved to a Monday night opener because of a reported $2.5-million offer from ABC. .

Sept. 15, 1975: Notre Dame 17, Boston College 3

For the second straight year, ABC moved up a Notre Dame game to Monday night, this time for the head coaching debut of Dan Devine. The Irish also win at Purdue five days later, earning them the Sports Illustrated cover the following week.

Sept. 18, 1982: Notre Dame 23, Michigan 17

First-ever night game at Notre Dame, with Musco Portable Lighting, has the Irish open brilliantly in head coach Gerry Faust’s second season after a 5-6 collapse in the first included a 25-7 loss to the Wolverines.

Sept. 10, 1988: Notre Dame 19, Michigan 17

The march to Notre Dame’s most recent national title (we don’t want to use the word “last”) began with four field goals from walk-on Reggie Ho (the last with 1:13 left) and a Michigan miss on the final play.

August 31, 1989: Notre Dame 36, Virginia 13

Reigning national champs, just like 15 years earlier, played in August for the first time in this seventh annual Kickoff Classic at Giants Stadium. The score was 33-0 by halftime.

Sept. 15, 1990: Notre Dame 28, Michigan 24

The No. 1 Irish rallied from a 24-14 deficit in sophomore quarterback Rick Mirer’s starting debut to defeat the No. 4 Wolverines, earning Mirer the Sports Illustrated cover with the headline “Golden Boy.”

Sept. 3, 1994: Notre Dame 42, Northwestern 15

In his highly anticipated starting debut, at Chicago’s Soldier Field, sophomore quarterback Ron Powlus made an even bigger splash than Mirer did four years earlier, completing 18 of 24 passes for 291 yards and four scores — leading to the infamous prediction from ESPN’s "Pope of College Football" Beano Cook that Powlus would win two Heisman Trophies.

Sept. 5, 1996: Notre Dame 14, Vanderbilt 7

Head coach Lou Holtz’s final season with the Irish requires a fourth-quarter rally in Nashville on a Thursday night after fumbling seven time (losing four). Marc Edwards scored the go-ahead TD with 4:59 left in the game after trailing 7-6.

Sept. 8, 2001: Nebraska 27, Notre Dame 10

Head coach Bob Davie’s final season at Notre Dame — despite signing a five-year extension nine months earlier — had the Irish behind 14-0 after running only one play on offense in Lincoln. Notre Dame would finish 5-6.

August 31, 2002: Notre Dame 22, Maryland 0

Thirteen years to the day, Notre Dame was back at Giants Stadium in the Kickoff Classic to begin the Tyrone Willingham era with a convincing win over the No. 21-ranked Terrapins.

Sept. 4, 2004: BYU 20, Notre Dame 17

The inauspicious start in Provo, Utah would help result in the ouster of Willingham after only three seasons following a 6-5 regular season.

Sept. 3, 2005: Notre Dame 42, Pitt 21

Head coach Charlie Weis’ debut at No. 23 Pitt sees a torrid display by the offense that would prompt many Irish faithful to believe they finally found their Messiah Coach in the 1978 alumnus.

Sept. 2, 2006: Notre Dame 14, Georgia Tech 10

The hard-fought contest in Atlanta saw No. 2-ranked Notre Dame with quarterback Brady Quinn rally from a 10-0 deficit to eke out the win.

Sept. 5, 2015: Notre Dame 38, Texas 3

It took six years before head coach Brian Kelly opened a season at night, but this first home opener under the lights in 25 years saw Malik Zaire complete 19 of 22 passes for 313 yards and three scores in the rout of the Longhorns.

Sept. 4, 2016: Texas 50, Notre Dame 47 (2 OT)

On the Sunday night before Labor Day in Austin, Texas avenged its shellacking from a year earlier in the opener to begin a miserable 4-8 season for the Irish.

Sept. 1, 2018: Notre Dame 24, Michigan 17

En route to a 12-0 regular season and College Football Playoff berth, Notre Dame roared to an early 21-3 advantage and raised its record to 6-0 against the Wolverines in home games at night, four of them in openers.


Talk about it inside Rockne’s Roundtable

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