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Adams: Top 10 Irish sports moments of the last four years

| Monday, February 15, 2021

Let’s have some fun with this nostalgic piece looking back on my Notre Dame sports experience. Sure, some more moments could occur this spring in the men’s and women’s basketball or hockey realms (or any sport for that matter) that could reshuffle this list, but for now I’m willing to put it in stone. So let’s get to the best of the best of the last four years in Notre Dame Athletics.

10. Rex Pflueger’s Carrier Dome game-winner (Jan. 6, 2018)

A hundred bucks to anyone who actually remembers this play. No one? Well, that’s to be expected from a throwaway moment in a throwaway game in essentially a throwaway season.

This game was after both Bonzie Colson and Matt Farrell went out with injury, so Mike Brey’s starting lineup was: T.J. Gibbs, Rex Pflueger, D.J. Harvey, Austin Torres and Martinas Geben. Gibbs and Pflueger each played all 40 minutes while Elijah Burns, John Mooney and Nik Djogo all logged double-digit minutes off the bench.

The Irish only shot 30.4% from the field and 23.8% from three, while Syracuse shot 39.1% and 44.4%, respectively. The difference? The Irish had as many offensive rebounds as they did defensive: 21. One of those rebounds came as Gibbs missed a contested fastbreak layup and Pflueger put it back in midair with 2.6 seconds left to give Notre Dame the 51-49 win.

To this day, my dad and I joke about the “athleticism” Pflueger showed on the play as he barely got off the ground and sort of kicked his legs out as he put it back up and fell to the ground. It holds a special place in my heart.

9. Tony Jones Jr.’s 84-yard rumble vs. Iowa State (Dec. 28, 2019)

You’ll find I reference my dad a lot in this, and the way we joke about this play (much like Pflueger’s) gives it a lot of weight. After all, Notre Dame was in the game formerly known as the Camping World Bowl (now the Cheez-it Bowl) against a 7-5 Big 12 team.

I love Tony Jones Jr. He was kind enough to redo an interview with me for our Irish Insider after I accidentally failed to record the first one — and he even joked that he was pretty sure it wasn’t recording but didn’t want to say anything. That said, no team should ever let Tony Jones Jr. run the stretch on them for 84 yards.

Go watch the play. I’m pretty sure that he ran out of gas at the 20-yard line and threw a stiff arm in order to let the defender push him the rest of the way to the endzone. It was absolutely magnificent.

8. Kyle Hamilton’s pick-6 vs. New Mexico (Sept. 14, 2019)

Speaking of magnificent, even Disney couldn’t have scripted it better than this. I haven’t watched that new “Rudy” rip-off about a Clemson safety on Disney+, but I’m sure it pales in comparison to not just “Rudy,” but K-Ham’s pick-six on his first ever play from scrimmage as a true freshman in Notre Dame Stadium.

Again, my dad makes an appearance as I remember him coming out of the tunnel from a trip to the concession stand (because my parents came to visit that weekend so I sat with him at the game) right as Hamilton snagged the Daelin Hayes-deflected pass and took it to the house to open the scoring at Notre Dame Stadium in 2019. Given all the hype we had heard about Hamilton after 18 intercepted passes in fall camp, it seemed a fitting moment (and the one where my dad was full steam ahead on the Hamilton bandwagon).

7. Laying the beatdown on USC (Oct. 21, 2017)

Who doesn’t love it when your team absolutely DESTROYS their archrival? I mean, Sam Darnold bobbled the snap on the very first play and Te’Von Coney ripped it away. From there it was Brandon Wimbush making the Trojans look silly with touchdown passes to Equanimeous St. Brown and Kevin Stepherson or on majestic runs. From there, the Joe Moore Award-winning offensive line that featured Mike McGlinchey and Quentin Nelson helped Josh Adams find paydirt a few times for good measure.

6. Maui Brey (Nov. 22, 2017)

’Nuff said? If not, just know that back when Notre Dame men’s basketball wasn’t perpetually underwhelming, they managed to beat Wichita State (in thrilling comeback fashion) in the 2017 Maui Invitational Championship, and afterwards head coach Brey took his shirt off and draped a lei around his neck in the locker room.

It was the last time the Irish defeated a ranked team and the victory shot them up to No. 5 in the AP Poll, but after that it was all downhill as Bonzie Colson broke his foot the next game against Michigan State. Still, my dad and I hold onto that moment as the one where we fell in love with Brey as a head coach.

5. Muffet McGraw dancing a jig (Apr. 6, 2019)

On a personal note, Muffet McGraw is one of the most intimidating people I have ever met. To stand in a huddle around her on the Purcell Pavilion court with other media members during a pre-practice press conference was a trying experience for me.

That was juxtaposed after she danced a bit of an Irish jig on national television following a come-from-behind win over archrival UConn in the 2019 Final Four. I remember our women’s basketball beat group chat referring to her as the royalty that she was then and remains now.

4. Jake Evans nutmegs two Wolverines in the Frozen Four (Apr. 6, 2018)

Much like No. 7, you love to see your team — and I can say they were my team because the USC game and this one happened before I joined The Observer and became an objective journalist — beat an archrival on the biggest of stages.

With time running down in regulation, Notre Dame got a breakaway and captain Jake Evans simply overpowered his defender as he netted a shot to send the Irish to the national championship, then did the “Touchdown Jesus” celebration back to the bench. Still gives me chills (no pun intended, cause, you know, it’s hockey).

3. “Happy New Year, Irish!” (Jan. 1, 2018)

Oh, the glorious sound bites I’ve heard in the last four years. This one’s up there from the moment Ian Book became a household name among Notre Dame fans with a fourth-quarter, comeback-sealing touchdown pass to Miles Boykin in the 2018 Citrus Bowl.

A lot of the credit goes to Boykin for reeling the ball in and then making two LSU defenders miss, but the real piece de resistance for me is my dad blaspheming like I’d never heard before as he was in absolute disbelief over the play actually happening. Like I said, glorious.

2. Daelin Hayes’ 2nd-down, 2nd overtime sack of D.J. Uiagalelei (Nov. 7, 2020)

Go watch the replay of this (if you can’t already perfectly envision it because you’ve watched the highlights 10,000 times like me). Daelin Hayes, a defensive end, was lined up inside on this play. Gotta love the versatility of a 6-foot-3, 258-pound dude on the D-line.

There are so many moments from the Nov. 7 Notre Dame win over then-No. 1 Clemson, but this one stands out to me because it was where everyone in the entire stadium was ready to jump over the walls and storm the fields because we, much like the Irish defense, smelled blood in the water. Even more chills thinking about it.

1. Ice Twice (Mar. 30, 2018; Apr. 1, 2018)

Observer File
Former Irish guard Arike Ogunbowale, center, celebrates with her teammates after winning the national championship Apr. 1, 2018.

I put these two moments together because, to be honest, they kind of happened in a blur for me, but they would both be No. 1 worthy if not for the second one happening one game later than the first.

I was actually in New York over Easter Weekend when these games happened. I walked into my hotel room right as Arike Ogunbowale nailed her go-ahead stepback jumper on UConn in the 2018 Final Four — and right in front of Kobe “Black Mamba” Bryant – to eliminate the Huskies. Then, I was relaxing with my classmate/roommate watching the national championship game, growing ever more interested as Notre Dame stormed back, and we caused a small ruckus when Ogunbowale hit the game-winning fallaway three from the corner.

Two of the greatest shots in the history of college basketball, men’s or women’s. Not much else to say.


Gosh, this had me feeling sentimental. I really have been privileged to see some beautiful moments here. I guess I can chalk that up to the luck of the Irish.

To all the underclassmen reading this, I hope you get to witness your own special moments so that you can have a better list than even this, but beware that it’s a pretty high bar to clear. Maybe if Brian Kelly and co. finally break through in the Playoff you’ll have me beat, and I certainly hope that comes to fruition.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Hayden Adams

Hayden is the former sports editor of The Observer. When he's not working toward his four majors (physics and film, television & theatre) and three minors (journalism, ethics & democracy), you can probably find him hopelessly trying to save his beloved Zahm House from being wiped out. He plans to attend law school at a TBD location after graduation.

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