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posted: 1/7/2013 5:30 AM

DH rewind: Notre Dame's last national championship win

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Editor's note: This column by Mike Imrem is a reprint from the Jan. 3, 1989 edition of the Daily Herald after Notre Dame beat West Virginia to win its eighth national championship. The headline that day: Magic was missing in Fighting Irish's boxing of 'eers

TEMPE, Ariz. -- No, no, no. This isn't the way Notre Dame's football team is supposed to win national championships.

The Irish are supposed to do it on the last play of the game.

Preferably on a 52-yard field goal aided by a wind that just shifted mysteriously.

Or a 48-yard Hail Mary pass that bounces off three defenders and two priests.

Or a 98-yard run by a little guy in a green outfit carrying a wooden stick.

That's how Notre Dame is supposed to win national championships.

The one way they absolutely aren't supposed to is by beating West Virginia, 34-21, in a Fiesta Bowl mismatch that required nary a miracle Monday night.

Notre Dame is back where it belongs atop the world of college football, its eighth national championship tainted only by the ease with which it was clinched.

This one was too easy, not only over before it was over, but over before it began. Each team had played 11 games this season, but at kickoff the Irish already were 12-0 and the Mountaineers 11-1.

Not minutes after the final play, Notre Dame fans were unfurling Phoenix Gazette front pages with "IRISH WIN" bannered across the top. They could have been printed a month ago, like pro wrestling results.

"In my heart," Irish coach Lou Holtz said afterward, "I was scared to death of West Virginia. I saw their explosiveness."

There was no Mountaineer explosion, only an implosion. What the Irish didn't do to them, they did to themselves.

"We didn't get the job done," said West Virginia center Kevin Koken. "They stuffed us."

Thus all the West Virginia jokes, the ones the Mountaineers hate, came to life.

You know, the boys from the hills looked like they were playing barefoot and pregnant, for that matter.

Maybe they left their game on the field against the Bowling Greens on their schedule or were looking ahead to the Moonshine Festival in Cabin Creek.

Yes, all the references to Minnie Pearl, Jed Clampett, flatbed trucks, bib overalls and especially "Hee Haw" became a reality.

They all came to life as the 'eers -- really, that's what they call themselves -- had their 'eers boxed by the Irish.

The worst joke of all was that West Virginia quarterback Major Harris was rendered a minor-leaguer compared to Tony Rice, his Notre Dame counterpart.

Harris sustained a, er, minor injury to his left shoulder on the Mountaineers' first series and never did shake it off completely.

Meanwhile, Rice completed 7 of 11 passes for 213 yards -- that's 30 yards a completion -- and 2 touchdowns.

The disparity in their performances more than anything else turned this ballyhooed brawl for it all into a maul, that's all.

"They beat us up," said 'eers coach Don Nehlen. "They beat us up front by being more aggressive on both lines of scrimmage."

As a result, the game was dull, a national championship happening that already had happened in Notre Dame's November victory over Southern Cal.

The only time the Irish Fiesta threatened to become exciting was the third quarter, when West Virginia cut its deficit to 26-13 and returned an interception to the Notre Dame 26-yard line.

Then the Irish pushed the 'eers -- I love that word -- back 14 yards and forced them to punt.

"We didn't flinch," Holtz said.

"That was the turning point," Nehlen said.

"Yawn," the Irish said.

Notre Dame's players were so bored, they tried to amuse themselves by seeing how many personal-foul penalties they could draw in the final minutes.

"Our players were completely wrong along those lines," Holtz said. "I'm so upset over the penalties, it ruined some of the joy and thrill for me."

Not enough, though, that he couldn't flash a big smile, rat-a-tat-tat his usual spiel and accept all the national championship trophies awarded his Irish.

"This is the happiest moment of my life," Holtz said. "Knute Rockne would be proud of this team. It did everything that was asked of it. It's what Notre Dame football is all about."

No, no, no.

The miracle was missing.

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