"The Rocket Ismail has done it again! Touchdown, Notre Dame!"
Dick Enberg's words hardly began to resonate through the television speakers when Bill Walsh ripped the hearts out of Notre Dame fans nationwide.
"I see a flag, Dick. I see a flag."
Indeed he did. Rocket Ismail's breathtaking run to the endzone would be called back and the rest was history. Colorado would survive the Orange Bowl, just like they had survived Missouri with a fifth down, Stanford with a last second touchdown, Tennessee with a tie, Washington with more late game heroics, as well as a gauntlet of a Big 8 Season including #22 Oklahoma and #2 Nebraska, and now they would be crowned AP National Champions despite a tough-luck loss to Illinois early in the season. Sure, it took a few acts of incredible luck, and one really sad moment for the Fighting Irish, but the Buffs would have a trophy for their case.
But the story here wasn't just about Colorado. It wasn't even about the heartbroken Irish faithful. No, there was another team and set of fans absolutely crushed by that little yellow flag in the Orange Bowl. An undefeated team at that, and a team that had just finished off destroying Nebraska with two fourth quarter touchdowns in the Citrus Bowl -- Georgia Tech. Going into bowl season, the Yellow Jackets knew the stakes - win by a lot and hope that the AP and Coaches #1 Colorado Buffaloes lose or tie - and did everything asked of them. Surely the voters wouldn't give a championship to a team that had not only tied once that season, but had also lost outright to Illinois. As many would soon find out, dissent on what made a Champion would soon come to light. With a comparison record of 11-1-1 and 11-0-1, the Coaches decided the undefeated Yellow Jackets, somewhat bereft of the toughness of schedule the Buffs had, were Champions and we had ourselves a bonafide conversation that would end up being one of the first major sparks in a bonfire of activity across all of College Football.
The Times They Were A Changing
Think of 1991 as the initial flash point of where we are today. Before BTN, SECN, Whatever it is the Pac 12 has, LHN, and really ESPNU, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday games, and the monstrosity that is the College Football media machine, Notre Dame made a move that would make fans of everyone not Fighting Irish, a little mad. What was that? Notre Dame broke free of its ties to the larger College Football Association - the entity deciding TV deals at the time, and signed exclusively with NBC. It was unprecedented and it provided more dominoes to fall. in fact, consider the following events:
- Big East forms stealing Miami, Rutgers, Temple, Virginia Tech, and West Virginia from their respective conference affiliations
- Big Ten announces the addition of Penn State moving east for the first time and planting seeds for media rights superiority
- Notre Dame goes to NBC and will reap the benefits for pretty much always
- SEC goes to CBS in a pretty ridiculous deal at the time
- SEC gets geared up for their own expansion into the twelve team territory with the addition of Arkansas and South Carolina forming the first Championship Game for a D1 conference
- SWC essentially dies and sets the seeds for the Big XII