The Notre Dame -Michigan rivalry has produced some great memories, and one of those has to do with a young man by the name of Harry Oliver who with one swing of his leg become an iconic piece of Fighting Irish history.
On September 20, 1980, Dan Devine was in his final season and his Irish were ranked 8th in the nation. Bo Schembechler’s Michigan Wolverines came into South Bend that day rated 14th and looking for revenge for a 12-10 loss in Ann Arbor the season before.
Tied 14-14 at the half, the game went back and forth, but big plays by Michigan, including a 67-yard kick return by the great Anthony Carter, and a last-minute touchdown pass gave the Wolverines a 27-26 lead. Ironically, the one-point deficit could be attributed to Harry Oliver, who had missed an extra point earlier in the game.
After the kickoff the Irish took over at their own 23 with 41 seconds on the clock. Devine, surprisingly inserted Freshman quarterback Blair Kiel, for his first ever college playing time. Kiel drew a pass interference on first down and followed that up with two completions first to RB Phil Carter and then to WR Tony Hunter who ran out of bounds at the Michigan 34 with 4 seconds on the clock.
Enter Junior Harry Oliver for the 51-yard Field Goal attempt. Oliver’s longest ever made FG to that point had been 38 yards, in a JV game…… oh and he was kicking into a 15-mph wind.
The snap operation with backup quarterback Tim Koegel holding was perfect, and as 59,075 in the stadium held their breath, Oliver swung and the ball sailed.
Pandemonium broke out in Notre Dame stadium as the ball barely cleared the uprights.
It’s said that that 15-mph wind died just before the famous kick. in fact, Oliver is quoted as saying that he was convinced that Touchdown Jesus on the Library building at his back, “gave the ball the needed nudge to clear the cross bar”.
Harry Oliver, who attended High School at famed Cincinnati Moeller and was coached there by Gerry Faust, finished his Notre Dame career with 26 made Field Goals. He went on to a successful career as an engineer in the construction business, mostly focusing on school and not for profit building projects in the Cincinnati area.
Oliver’s teammate in both High School and College, Tony Hunter, who caught the game’s final pass, recently commented that, “Harry Oliver was one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet. A little on the quiet side but engaging and quick to smile. Very serious about his kicking game…you couldn’t visit the Moeller practice field very often during summer and not see Harry with his bag of footballs and kicking field goals.”
Sadly on August 9, 2007, after a battle with cancer, Harry Oliver passed away at the age of 47 .
But as sure as the Irish and the Wolverines are rivals, his legend lives on.