— On the campus of the University of Notre Dame, football legends blend into the crowd, and whatever is happening at the moment always seems small against a looming, iconic past.
But after a win over Southern California late Saturday, this year's Notre Dame team holds an unlikely ticket to college football's national championship game and a chance to add theirs to a list of many special seasons in South Bend.
They would join the 1966 national championships who went 9-0-1 behind a defense that allowed just 38 points all season and accumulated six shutouts along the way. And the perfect 1973 team that upset No. 1 Alabama, 24-23, in the Sugar Bowl.
There's the 11-1 team in 1977 that vaulted from No. 5 to the national champion's spot with a Cotton Bowl domination of Texas, 38-10.
And, of course, there are the 1988 Irish who edged Michigan to open the season, toppled No. 1 Miami in October, and then beat No. 3 West Virginia in the Fiesta Bowl to claim a record 11th national title.
Even with that history, this could be one of the most special teams in Notre Dame history.
This team wasn’t even ranked in the season’s first Associated Press Top 25 poll. An online poll in The Goshen News before the season started asked people how they thought Notre Dame would do. More than 400 people voted, but only 19 thought the Irish would play for a national championship.
Notre Dame raised eyebrows with a season-opening crushing of Navy, in a game played in Dublin, Ireland, in August. But, many people reasoned, that was a weak Navy team, and Notre Dame was bound to come back to earth once they got back on this side of The Pond.
That opinion was reinforced in Notre Dame’s home opener in South Bend, when the Irish needed a field goal in the final moments to beat unranked Purdue, 20-17.