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Green relives big day on the ground against Alabama

Matthew DeFranks | Friday, January 4, 2013

All it took was one hit for Mark Green to know what Alabama football was all about.

It was 1986 and Notre Dame visited Birmingham, Ala., for a date with the Crimson Tide. The on-field temperature was 112 degrees at kickoff as the October sun beat down on the artificial turf at Legion Field during Lou Holtz’s first season with the Irish.

When former Irish quarterback Steve Beuerlein faked a handoff and rolled out in the 28-10 Notre Dame loss, Alabama defensive end Cornelius Bennett did not bite. Bennett rushed into the backfield untouched and planted Beuerlein for a loss.

“He hit Steve Beuerlein as hard as I’ve ever seen anyone hit in the history of the world,” Green said in a phone interview with The Observer. “You could feel the ground moving from how loud the crowd got from that particular hit. It was unbelievable. From that point, they pretty much handled us the entire day.”

That win marked the only time the Crimson Tide have defeated the Irish in six tries. The two schools will face off again in the BCS National Championship Game on Jan. 7 when No. 1 Notre Dame takes on No. 2 Alabama.

The following season, the Irish welcomed the Crimson Tide into Notre Dame Stadium for a top-15 matchup between No. 7 Notre Dame and No. 11 Alabama.

“Alabama has a great tradition, great football program and everything and they beat the crap out of us [in 1986]. We felt that we owed these guys one,” Green said.

Green and the Irish got their revenge on Alabama with a 37-6 drubbing in 1987. The former Irish running back finished the game with 149 yards on 18 carries, highlighted by his 74-yard touchdown scamper that put Notre Dame up 30-6 early in the fourth quarter.

Green took a toss to the right and cut back left before outracing the Alabama secondary into the end zone while tight-roping the sideline.

“We’re taught as running backs to go to open air and I saw a cutback lane so I took it,” Green said. “I don’t think they expected that. Everyone that was pursuing me was going to the right.”

Green said he did not know if he stepped out of bounds although replays showed Green’s left foot dangerously close to the white line.

“I don’t know, I couldn’t tell you,” Green said. “I think that I didn’t touch out of bounds but foot may have gone over the line but it didn’t touch the ground, it was up in the air.”

Notre Dame racked up 465 yards while Alabama managed just 185. Green’s 74-yard run was almost half of the Crimson Tide’s total yardage as the Irish handed Alabama its most lopsided loss in three decades.

With the win, the Irish improved to 8-1 on the season and were showered with oranges from the stands of Notre Dame Stadium. But just a week later, Notre Dame’s Orange Bowl dreams came crashing down in a 21-20 loss to Penn State.

“We thought we were definitely in the discussion and we thought we were a contender until we went to Penn State and things changed a little bit,” Green said. “We went down to Miami and reality really, really, really set in.”

Miami routed the Irish in Notre Dame’s final regular season game 24-0. Notre Dame finished 1987 with an 8-4 record following a 25-point Cotton Bowl loss to Texas A&M.

“We had a touch of what it’s like to win football games at the beginning but towards the end of the season, we just kind of fell off the boat a little bit,” Green said. “It taught us how to win football games and it taught us how to lose football games.”

But in 1988, Green’s senior season, the Irish broke through and won the school’s 11th national championship.

“It still follows each and every one of us,” Green said. “At one point in time, you can honestly say you were the best in the country.”

Green, who played in the NFL for the Chicago Bears, said that Irish team has an argument as one of the best teams of all time. In every NFL game Green played, a member of the 1988 team was on the opposing sideline.

“The likelihood of a guy in high school putting on the shoulder pads and making it to the NFL is one-in-a-million. One in a million guys actually play in the NFL,” Green said. “If you have a team of 22 starters and you have 21 of those 22 players get drafted into the NFL, that means you have 21 one-in-a-millions.

“That’s my best for saying that was probably one of the most talented football teams ever.”

Green, 45, now works in the education department of Aramark, a food service and facility management company. He lives in Chicago and has a daughter and two sons.

Contact Matthew DeFranks at mdefrank@nd.edu