The Breaks of the Game

The Breaks of the Game

In today's world of should've, would've, and could've, it's important to remember some teams make their own breaks.

Well all have them. Built-in, dismissive, argumentative excuses why a game, season, or play didn't go our way.

And by now we've heard them all, or at least a reasonable facsimile of them all. Coaches, players, broadcasters, writers, parents, bettors, and fans…especially fans, have an excuse, reasonable or not, as to why his or her favorite lost at a particular moment.

We blame the refs. We blame the coaching staff. We blame the previous coaching staff. We blame turnovers: "If we hadn't turned it over…" – which is still my personal favorite: Oh really, professor? The turnovers hurt?

Every season, teams that "should have" been 10-3 somehow finish 7-6. Likewise, teams that somehow finish 5-7 "could have" been 9-3.

And though we'll blame anything convenient at the time, deep down, and usually a few years after the fact, we know that the close wins and losses were likely caused by the breaks of the game. And these close games, the games that could go either way in the final period, are why we love and watch sports. And they generally favor the better team, as well. They're also how champions are crowned; legends are made; coaches are fired; and those of us not good enough to play in front of 80,000 can feel better about ourselves…at least for seven more days.

So how have recent Irish coaches fared against the football gods? Who's been lucky? Who's been good? And who's just continually run out of time?

I'm glad you asked…

Below is a list of the Notre Dame coaching records for Lou Holtz, Bob Davie, Tyrone Willingham, and Charlie Weis – with a focus on the games, both won and lost, that were (reasonably) decided during the fourth quarter. Logic or, "the eye test" was a factor once or twice (if it felt like a blowout, it probably was a blowout), but the focal point of the research centered on one theme: Was the game reasonably decided (win or lose for either side) by events during the fourth quarter?

Aside from a few rare instances that admittedly could provide readers with room for quibbling/wiggle room, the list, I assure you, is accurate. I'll leave the 50 or so plays that led to each win and loss (talent, coaching, play-calling, officiating, execution) to be argued another day.

"Luck is the residue of design" – Branch Rickey

Lou Holtz: 100-30-2 overall – 30-22-2 in games that were (reasonably) decided during the 4th Quarter

  • 1986 Record (5-6). Breaks of the Game Record… 1-5
  • 1987 Record (8-4). Breaks of the Game Record… 2-2 (includes a 26-15 home win over USC)
  • 1988 Record (12-0 National Champions). Breaks of the Game Record… 3-0 (does not include the 27-10 win at #2 USC as Divine Intervention does not represent a reasonable hope for a comeback)
  • 1989 Record (12-1). Breaks of the Game Record… 5-1 (includes the season-ending, streak breaking loss at Miami)
  • 1990 Record (9-3). Breaks of the Game Record… 5-3
  • 1991 Record (10-3). Breaks of the Game Record… 3-2 (including the Sugar Bowl)
  • 1992 Record (10-1-1). Breaks of the Game Record… 2-1-1 (a season of blowouts)
  • 1993 Record (11-1). Breaks of the Game Record… 2-1 (does not include the misleading 27-23 final score at Michigan)
  • 1994 Record: (6-5-1). Breaks of the Game Record…1-3-1
  • 1995 Record: (9-3). Breaks of the Game Record… 3-2
  • 1996 Record: (8-3). Breaks of the Game Record… 2-2

"Time is making fools of us again" – J.K. Rowling

Bob Davie: 35-25 overall – 18-17 in games that were (reasonably) decided during the 4th Quarter

  • 1997 Record (7-6). Breaks of the Game Record… 4-3
  • 1998 Record (9-3). Breaks of the Game Record… 4-2
  • 1999 Record (5-7). Breaks of the Game Record… 3-6
  • 2000 Record (9-3). Breaks of the Game Record… 5-2 (includes USC, a game in which the Irish won by 17 but led 31-21 with 12 minutes remaining)
  • 2001 Record (5-6). Breaks of the Game Record… 2-4 (does not include Purdue, a 24-18 final, but a game in which the Irish led 24-9 heading into the 4th Quarter)

"Fortune brings in some boats that are not steered" – William Shakespeare

Tyrone Willingham: 21-15 overall – 13-7 in games that were (reasonably) decided during the 4th Quarter

  • 2002 Record (10-3). Breaks of the Game Record… 6-1
  • 2003 Record (5-7). Breaks of the Game Record… 3-3 (includes at Purdue, a game in which the Irish were beaten up, but the scoreboard read 16-10 entering the final period)
  • 2004 Record (6-5). Breaks of the Game Record… 4-3

"In skating over thin ice, our safety is in our speed" – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Charlie Weis: (current record: 29-21 overall – 11-10 in games that were (reasonably) decided during the 4th Quarter)

  • 2005 Record (9-3). Breaks of the Game Record… 3-3 (includes both the 20-point win vs. Tennessee as the game was tied entering the final period and the 14-point Fiesta Bowl loss to Ohio State )
  • 2006 Record (10-3). Breaks of the Game Record… 3-0 (does not include the game at USC)
  • 2007 Record (3-9). Breaks of the Game Record… 2-3 (for the sake of reference: Purdue, UCLA, BC, Navy, and Stanford)
  • 2008 Record (7-6). Breaks of the Game Record… 3-4 (San Diego State, MSU, Stanford, UNC, Pitt, Navy, and Syracuse. Michigan was not included).

The moral of the story? - Other than, of course, fortune favors the (talent) rich - is simple: Win big - Lou Holtz was 70-8 in relatively lopsided football games while coaching the Irish.

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