Unbeatable: Notre Dame's 1988 Championship and the Last Great College Football Season
It is difficult to separate Notre Dame football from the religious foundations of the university. Appropriately, the up-and-down sagas of the Fighting Irish are often measured by the word resurrection. Notre Dame has been the subject of several football resurrections during the course of its fabled college football history. They were a powerhouse through the Knute Rockne and Frank Leahy eras but fell on hard times in the 1950s. In 1964, they turned to Ara Parseghian, who returned them to their glory days on the gridiron. That story was chronicled by Jim Dent in RESURRECTION and reviewed on the pages of Bookreporter.com in 2011.
In 1980, Notre Dame hired Gerry Faust, the successful coach of Moeller High School in Cincinnati, to lead their football fortunes. He led them to disaster. Faust was a devout Catholic and a coach with high ethics but was not up to coaching at the college level. During his tenure at Notre Dame, he won 30 games and lost 26, not nearly enough to meet the demands of the true alumni as well as the “subway” supporters. When his team was humiliated by Miami of Florida in a 58-7 drubbing, it was time for him to go.
"As the Irish return to national prominence on the football field, sports fans will enjoy the story of their second resurrection during their undefeated season."
The second resurrection of Notre Dame football was placed in the hands of Lou Holtz, then the coach at Minnesota. UNBEATABLE by Jerry Barca is the story of Notre Dame’s return to football glory and their national championship team of 1988. As the Irish celebrate the 25th anniversary of the last undefeated national championship team at Notre Dame, Barca looks at the 1988 season through the eyes of the players and coaches who led the Irish to a Fiesta Bowl victory over West Virginia in a battle between undefeated teams. There was no BCS National Championship game on January 2, 1989, when Notre Dame defeated the Mountaineers 34-21. Polls crowned the winner. It would be Notre Dame’s 11th national championship, and although they played Alabama for the championship this past season, they were trounced convincingly 42-14.
Barca does a workman-like job of telling the story of this magical season. Along the way, he acknowledges that Notre Dame, a school with high academic standards, was required to relax those lofty requirements to enroll some players who might otherwise have been denied admission. Tony Rice, who quarterbacked the team, enrolled at Notre Dame under the provisions of NCAA Proposition 48. Rice came to Notre Dame with less than the minimum acceptable grades to be eligible to play as a freshman. But by his sophomore year, his grades allowed him to play and he quarterbacked the Irish for part of the 1987 season. Rice was a talented option quarterback who, while not an accomplished passer, had the ability to make the big plays. As the 1988 season concluded, he led the Irish to wins over Miami of Florida, Penn State and USC. Those victories vaulted Notre Dame to a number one national ranking and the Fiesta Bowl game.
Lou Holtz was the man who molded Notre Dame into a championship team. Many of his players were holdovers from the Faust regime, but Holtz was a dynamic recruiter and players such as Rice, Ricky Watters and Rocket Ismail brought talent and speed to the football program. Barca covers each game of the season with entertaining asides on the players, coaches and history that is Notre Dame football.
Whether you are a Notre Dame lover or hater, if you love college football, this is a book for you. As the Irish return to national prominence on the football field, sports fans will enjoy the story of their second resurrection during their undefeated season.
Reviewed by Stuart Shiffman on September 20, 2013