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UConn's Most Important Football Wins: #2

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The death of Jasper Howard and three heart-breaking losses in a row followed UConn into Notre Dame Stadium in November 2009, where they would stun the Irish and end the Charlie Weis era.

Jonathan Daniel

Box Score

How much more heartbreak could the UConn football team face in 2009?

Following a superb victory against Louisville, Jasper Howard was murdered. There are no words to describe that pain.

UConn lost the next three games in heart-wrenching fashion. The four-point loss at West Virginia. The last-second, 80-yard touchdown dagger by Howard’s friend Tim Brown in a loss to Rutgers. An up-and-down offensive bonanza against Brian Kelly and undefeated Cincinnati in primetime on ABC.

Who knew that Notre Dame Stadium would be the scene of a UConn revival?

Personally, this was my most anticipated game in UConn history. My Dad and his entire family were Notre Dame grads. In fact, the family still gives me grief for not attending. My uncle had retired out to South Bend and, for likely the first time in his life, he hosted a house of fans from the wrong team for a weekend. It still hurts that UConn could – should? – still be playing Notre Dame every year.

As that Saturday before Thanksgiving dawned, it felt like something big was going to happen. The Notre Dame faithful were on edge as it was becoming very evident that the Charlie Weis experiment was disintegrating on a weekly basis. The pregame walk with Weis walking arm-in-arm with his players seemed to signal that.

For UConn, they had played three tremendous games in a row against bowl teams – the Big East was surprisingly strong in 2009 – and came up short. Did they have another supreme effort in the tank?

To complete the scene, the weather was perfect. I could write 500 words on the weather. Crystal blue skies. Zero clouds. Temperatures in the 60’s. This is South Bend, Indiana in late November! I got an honest-to-goodness tan in the stands.

And those stands – they were packed with UConn fans. Nebraska fans were made out to be legends when they took over Notre Dame Stadium in 2000 during an epic game, when #1 Nebraska and Eric Crouch won in overtime. There were almost as many UConn fans there in 2009, that’s how insane the UConn turnout was.

The game itself was probably the best game UConn ever played in, in terms of big plays, star performances, controversial calls and excitement.

For all of the deficiencies Charlie Weis has as a college football coach, recruiting offensive talent is not one of them and Notre Dame in 2009 was loaded. It’s unfair to have two wide receivers as good as Michael Floyd and Golden Tate.

In this game, both Floyd and Tate went over 100 yards with a touchdown. Jimmy Clausen threw for over 300 yards. Armando Allen ran for over 100 yards. Notre Dame rushed to a 14-0 lead and there was a brief moment where it felt like Notre Dame was going to put its foot down.

Instead, Jordan Todman broke off a spectacular 43-yard touchdown run, punctuated by Todman doing Touchdown Jesus in the end zone – a move that earned the wrath of Randy Edsall and firmly established Todman as an all-time legend.

In the third quarter, down 17-10, Todman struck again with a 96-yard kickoff return that reminded my Dad of Rocket Ismail from two decades prior. Football should have sound effects so we could hear the "Whoooosh!!" as Todman blasted through the Notre Dame kickoff team and ran straight into a delirious UConn band.

Notre Dame would take a 20-17 lead. With just over 7 minutes to go, UConn took possession around midfield. On the next 11 plays, UConn would run the ball 11 times. Twice, Andre Dixon scored a touchdown. Twice, those touchdowns were called back with questionable holding calls. UConn settled for a field goal and a 20-20 tie.

"They’re not going to let us win!" screamed my UConn buddy. It certainly started to feel that way.

With just under a minute to go, Armando Allen fumbled and UConn took over in Notre Dame territory. Two more Dixon runs set up a Dave Teggart field goal on the last play of the game…that hooked wide.

It was a stomach punch miss.

The first overtime featured two spectacular touchdown catches – one by Kashif Moore and one by Michael Floyd. To start the second overtime, Notre Dame settled for a field goal.

Given a third chance to win the game, UConn would deliver. Andre Dixon ran into the corner of the endzone – no flags – and UConn had done the unthinkable.

At the top of Notre Dame Stadium, we hugged like maniacs, pumping our fists and screaming. Famously, Randy Edsall’s emotional on-field interview was nearly drowned out by deafening "U-C-O-N-N" chants. Walking out of the stadium, UConn fans found each other and celebrated. In the parking lot, we turned our stereo up to 11 and partied like conquerors for hours.

The Notre Dame fans seemed almost bemused by the celebration. It reminded me of the Miracle on Ice, when the Soviet players watched the USA kids celebrate and longed for that feeling of joy that leaves with too many victories. Notre Dame football was cratering while this upstart that existed at the top level for less than a decade was dancing on hallowed ground.

The Notre Dame game proved to be a springboard for UConn in 2009. They crushed Syracuse the following Saturday. They beat USF on a last-second field goal in the snow to end the regular season. They demolished South Carolina in the bowl game. It was the best four-game stretch of football that UConn has ever played.

To this day, I believe the 2009 UConn team was superior to the 2010 version. This game served as proof and helped set the hype machine in overdrive for the following season.

For me personally, there are so many moments I will never forget from that game. But the one that stuck with me the most was the F-16 fighters, having completed their flyover, still visible in the distance over Touchdown Jesus as the opening kickoff took place. It was a postcard steeped in the history of college football.

And somehow, UConn was part of it.

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