- Before the Fighting Irish take on Clemson in the Cotton Bowl, sports media's most prominent Notre Dame father-son duo look back on their own playing days and discuss what makes this team different.
As Notre Dame gears up for its first College Football Playoff appearance, two of its biggest fans root loudly every morning on ESPN’s airwaves as early as 6 a.m. ET.
Both Mike Golic Sr. and Mike Golic Jr. are hosts on ESPN Radio’s Golic and Wingo and former Notre Dame football linemen. Golic Jr. played on the offensive line for the 2012 Irish team that went 12–0 and made it to the National Championship Game, while his dad was a defensive lineman in the 1980s.
In a pre-playoff conversation, both Golics opened up about following the unbeaten Irish this season, re-living seasons past, controversial pinstripes and more.
Sports Illustrated: How much fun have you guys had watching Notre Dame dominate this season?
Mike Golic Sr.: From my perspective, it’s a lot less nerve-racking. It’s certainly different from 2012, when I had two kids on the team [Mike Jr. and Jake], and you live and die with each game. It was a lot more intense for me and my wife. Now, there’s a hell of a lot less pressure and angst.
Mike Golic Jr.: It’s different on my end too, because when I was playing there we’d always have a game next week to worry about. So as you’re going through the season, you don’t really have the time to take it in. You’re worried about the next five minutes of the game. For me now, it’s nice to get to do this from the fan’s eyes, to get to gloat about how good our team is and to talk trash to my friends.
SI: Junior, since Notre Dame’s schedule is so similar year-to-year, do you ever feel like you’re re-living 2012?
Jr: Yeah, it was actually funny. It was the week of the Southern Cal game this year, when they were getting ready to clinch. I came home one day, and on ESPN, they were showing our game from 2012 when we clinched. So I went back and re-lived it. I even live tweeted it, just going through and trying to see the plays where I gave up pressure. I’m an O-lineman, so I’m wired to remember all my mistakes much more than any good play.
Sr: Lemme tell you what—it was so funny, because I was watching that [2012 USC] game in my house, and we actually texted each other. His first text back was, “Oh my god, I have to see the pressures I gave up.” It was like he was still playing. After each series, he was talking about, “Oh man, I needed to get that block.” Dude, enjoy—you guys won the game! This happened six years ago and you won. He is such an O-lineman. O-linemen are such a special crew, that they hang onto that stuff.
SI: O.K., clearly you two played on different sides of the line. Junior, evaluate Notre Dame’s O-line. Senior, evaluate the D-line play this season.
Sr: Mike and Jake’s year, Notre Dame had the No. 1 defense in the country. And they had individual playmakers, from Stephon Tuitt to Kapron Lewis-Moore to Manti Te’o. Something they’ve lacked the last two years is that they had to pressure the quarterback more on scheme than on individuals. This is the one year where you can start ticking off the individual players that are able to win their battles and get pressure on the quarterback without having to blitz.
Jr: O-line-wise, you could argue last year was one of the best Notre Dame offensive lines ever. You had two top-10 picks from the left side of the line. They won the Joe Moore Award for the best line in college football. You knew you were replacing that—and Harry Hiestand, who had been the O-line coach since my last year in 2012. And the resiliency this group showed is a testament to the depth and hard work of the unit. Really, from the Navy game on, you started to see them get more of a sense of their identity. You saw them start to jell and put some good things on tape. I thought they protected for [quarterback] Ian [Book] really well down the stretch. It’s a good bunch of guys who have a sense of what it means to be a Notre Dame offensive lineman.
SI: That USC game at the end of this season, with a playoff berth on the line. Notre Dame is down 10–0 in the first half. How much are you sweating?
Sr: Quite honestly, I actually thought they’d blow out USC by 20. It’s just like 2012: It’s right in front of us, it’s a rivalry game and you need to win to go to the final four. They came out and looked flat. USC gameplanned them well in the beginning. I thought, “Oh my god. We need to adjust and wake up.” I was a little surprised at what I was seeing there, I have to admit.
Jr: People always say, ‘Oh, play like you have nothing to lose.’ USC is one of the few teams I’ve ever seen actually do that in the way they approached the game. But give Notre Dame credit. They made the adjustment. Once they got through that third quarter, the trepidation started to go away a little bit.
SI: Ian Book was a man on a mission in the second half against USC. What was your reaction when Brian Kelly made him the starter early in the season?
Sr: Well, you saw it around college football. You saw Tua Tagovailoa win the job off of a guy in Jalen Hurts who was 26–2. You have a guy in Kelly Bryant who was 16–2 as a starter, and he gets benched for a true freshman. With Ian Book, for a number of weeks he’s led the nation in completion percentage. The offense became much more efficient. It became a little more of a pro-style offense.
Jr: Brandon [Wimbush] is an impressive kid. I’ve gotten to talk to him for the last couple of years, and I root hard for him. It was great to see him make the most of his opportunity in the Florida State game when Ian was hurt. But with Ian, you saw the emergence of some of those playmakers, like Miles Boykin. I got to go to practice during Michigan week, and I just saw the giants we had in the wide receiver group. It opened up a big part of our offense that we knew could be a strength.
SI: Time for the real business. What did you both think of the Yankees-inspired pinstripe uniforms Notre Dame wore in the Bronx?
Sr: I’m always amazed at the amount of vitriol when Notre Dame does something like that. I’m always looking at it from the players’ side. It’s one time a year. They went with the theme of Yankee Stadium, throwing the pinstripes in. I loved it, and I know a lot of people, even my mom quite honestly, didn’t like it. She liked everything except the helmets. She thought they should have been gold. And yeah, she’s an 88-year-old lady who’s stuck in that tradition. But I love the fact that they’ll go outside the lines a little bit. And the players love it, as well. And it’s only one time, then they go right back to the traditional uniforms.
Jr: I thought the helmets were awesome. I’m probably gonna go back and bug our equipment manager until I can get one off of him and add it to the collection. My only complaint is, as an offensive lineman, having to wear pants with vertical stripes is not really all that flattering. Especially in the road whites, those parallel lines tend to jut out a little bit in some awkward spots.
SI: The stripe issue reminds me of the Steelers’ bumblebee throwbacks.
Jr: Oh, yeah. That’s horrible for a lineman.
SI: Plans for Notre Dame–Clemson? Family watch party?
Jr: At this point, it looks like I might be “working” a little bit, and I say working in air quotes, because once it hits game time I’m going to run screaming in the other direction and watch the game with my friends in town. Everyone will be watching, and this is where it gets nerve-racking. Everyone knows what happened to our team when we were on the big stage [in 2012]. This team has to pay for the sins of a lot of teams in the past. It’s unfortunate, but that’s how public perception works. I’m excited for these guys. I think they’re ready.
SI: I know Mondays on Golic and Wingo, you take votes on who “won the weekend.” Maybe the Monday after the game, it’ll be Notre Dame.
Sr: Lemme tell you, we will be insufferable if Notre Dame wins that game, without question.
SI: What would Trey’s reaction be?
Jr: If I were him, I just wouldn’t show up. Let us do the show for the day. Get out of the way. It’s not like we let him get a word in anyway.
Sr: Oh my god, yeah. His best bet would be to pull a hammy before that show and not be able to make it.