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Looking back at the Pitt-Notre Dame rivalry

Jerry DiPaola
| Thursday, Nov. 1, 2012, 11:59 p.m.
The final game at Pitt Stadium, where the Panthers defeated Notre Dame, 37-27, on Nov. 13, 1999, in front of 61,000 fans.
The final game at Pitt Stadium, where the Panthers defeated Notre Dame, 37-27, on Nov. 13, 1999, in front of 61,000 fans.

Pitt has played Notre Dame 67 times — more than any opponent other than West Virginia, Penn State and Syracuse. Finding the most memorable wasn't easy, but we came up with five, with the help of author Sam Sciullo, who wrote the book “Pitt Football Vault,” and senior associate athletic director E.J. Borghetti, whose father, Ernest, was an All-American tackle at Pitt in 1963.

1. Nov. 6, 1982— Pitt Stadium, 20-Notre Dame 31, 1-Pitt 16

In an attempt to motivate his players, who were 10-point underdogs, Notre Dame coach Gerry Faust compiled a list of the greatest upsets in Irish history and passed it out before the game. In Dan Marino's senior year, top-ranked Pitt was undefeated and coming off three consecutive 11-1 seasons. But Notre Dame rallied to win in front of 60,162 people, holding Marino without a touchdown pass for the first time in 19 games. The deciding plays for Faust's greatest victory at Notre Dame were a 76-yard draw by freshman running back Allen Pinkett and a flea-flicker from running back Phil Carter to quarterback Blair Kiel to wide receiver Joe Howard, the first time that play worked in three tries. Notre Dame also took advantage of fumbles by Pitt's Jeff Casper and Julius Dawkins. “They felt they lost the game for us,” first-year Pitt coach Foge Fazio said.

2. Nov. 15, 1975— Pitt Stadium, Pitt 34, 9-Notre Dame 20

Junior running back Tony Dorsett ran for 303 yards, a Pitt record and the most against Notre Dame to this day. Dorsett also holds the NCAA record for most career yards against an opponent (754). Among the 56,480 in attendance included Penn State coach Joe Paterno, who was scouting Pitt for next week's game. Maybe Paterno also wanted to see Rudy Ruettiger, the legendary Notre Dame walk-on who made his only appearance for the Irish the week before against Georgia Tech. Pitt's victory stole the show. The Panthers broke an 11-game losing streak to Notre Dame and recorded coach Johnny Majors' first victory at Pitt against a ranked opponent. “No other win in my entire career compares to this,” he said, a year before topping it by winning the national championship.

3. Nov. 13, 1999— Pitt Stadium, Pitt 37, Notre Dame 27

Pitt was in the midst of losing five of its final seven games and Notre Dame coach Bob Davie was under fire, but those among the 61,000 who attended the final game at Pitt Stadium won't forget it. Students carried the goal post (recovered by police) and coach Walt Harris off the field. Later, Harris was prophetic with this quote: “I just wish we didn't have to tear a stadium down to get them to come to a game. I don't know what we are going to do for an encore.” After the game, Marshall Goldberg, an All-American running back on Pitt's national championship teams of 1936 and 1937, rode onto the field in a Brinks truck, got out, opened an elegant brown box and quickly shut it. The idea was to capture the air (and aura) of Pitt Stadium and reopen the box the next season in the first game at Three Rivers Stadium.

4. Nov. 1, 2008— Notre Dame Stadium, Pitt 36, Notre Dame 33 (4 OT)

The longest game in the history of both schools was settled by kicker Conor Lee's five field goals, four in the extra sessions. Quarterback Pat Bostick, filling in for injured starter Bill Stull, threw three interceptions but forced overtime by tossing a 10-yard touchdown pass to Jon Baldwin with 2:22 left in regulation. LeSean McCoy rushed for 169 yards and a touchdown on 32 carries. Bostick, whose father, Patrick, brought an entourage to the game that included his son's midget league coaches, grew up in a Catholic family, so the game meant a lot to him. “I was nervous as all get-out. I didn't play too well, but it was a good fight.” Bostick credited linebacker Scott McKillop for helping keep Pitt in the game. “He embodied every bit of the fight and no-quit attitude we had on our team.”

5. Nov. 13, 2004— Notre Dame Stadium, Pitt 41, Notre Dame 38

Tyler Palko became the first quarterback to throw five touchdown passes against Notre Dame — a feat matched by USC's Matt Leinart two weeks later — and led the game-winning drive that ended with Josh Cummings' 32-yard field goal with one second left. Nonetheless, everyone wants to talk about the profanity Palko blurted out — and later apologized for — in his nationally televised postgame interview. Palko, who now has a financial services practice in Pittsburgh, said people remind him of it “every time they talk to me.” After the game, coach Walt Harris held up the game program that featured on the cover Pitt wide receiver Billy Gaines, who died in a fall in summer 2003. “This game was dedicated to the memory of Billy Gaines, who was with us today and provided us the impetus to get the job done,” Harris said.

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