Brady Quinn is one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play for Notre Dame. Quinn played in many memorable games for the Fighting Irish, but a particular road game during his career stands out more than any other: A trip to Neyland Stadium to face No. 9 Tennessee.
On the latest episode of 247Sports’ Social Distance series, Quinn talked to Barton Simmons about Notre Dame’s trip to Neyland Stadium in 2004.
“My sophomore year, we had to go down to Knoxville, Tennessee for basically a night game,” Quinn said. “It was as loud of an environment as I’ve ever been around.”
Quinn was just a sophomore at the time as he led Notre Dame to a 17-13 win over the Volunteers. He threw for just 158 yards and a touchdown on 12-for-23 passing. Quinn’s lone touchdown pass came in the first quarter to give the Irish a 7-3 lead on an 8-yard pass to Anthony Fasano.
“It was a 4:00 or 5:00 p.m. kick, but it got dark there pretty quick,” Quinn recalled. “It was as loud of an environment as I’ve ever been around. To get out of there with a win, and I had an uncle who played ball at Kentucky — so that was a huge rivalry for him. They drove down from Lexington, Kentucky. How excited he was. How excited we were. That was one I’ll never forget.
“My center John Sullivan turned around at one point and gave me a look. After that series, I went off to the sidelines. I was like, ‘What were you trying to say?’ He said, ‘The ball was moving. I swear to you, it was so loud, the ball was moving on the ground during third down.’ Literally, our tackles couldn’t remember anything I was saying. We tried to go silent count, but it was tough.”
In that 2004 contest, Tennessee freshman quarterback Erik Ainge suffered a separated right shoulder right before halftime, and junior Rick Clausen took over in the second half. Tennessee held a 10-7 lead at the half, but the Irish would take a 14-10 lead after intercepting Clausen and returning it for a touchdown in the third quarter.
The Vols would inch closer with a 33-yard James Wilhoit field goal with 1:33 left in the third, and UT cut the Notre Dame lead to 14-13. But a 39-yard field goal by Notre Dame’s D.J. Fitzpatrick with 7:28 left in the game gave the Irish a 17-13 lead that they would hold on to.
That game in Knoxville was the first of two match-ups for Quinn against the Vols. Tennessee traveled to South Bend, Indiana the following season to take on Notre Dame, but that contest went even worse for the Vols.
In the ’05 match-up in South Bend, Tennessee fell 41-21 as it dropped to 3-5 on the season. Neither team was ranked heading into the game, but Note Dame exited 6-2 as it went on to finish 9-3 and No. 9 in the country.
Notre Dame jumped out to a 14-3 lead in the first quarter on a pair of Quinn touchdown passes. He found Anthony Fasano from 43 yards out and Maurice Stovall for a 35-yard touchdown, respectively.
Following a three-yard rushing touchdown from Arian Foster and a two-point conversion from Bret Smith, the Vols had stormed back to tie the game at 21-all entering the fourth quarter. Notre Dame went on to outscore Tennessee 20-0 in the fourth quarter to win.
Quinn accounted for his third touchdown pass of the game — a 3-yard toss to current San Francisco Giant pitcher Jeff Samardzija — to start the fourth quarter before a pair of Notre Dame field goals and an Irish pick-six off of Erik Ainge. Quinn finished 20-of-33 for 295 yards and three touchdowns in the win. He didn’t throw an interception while Ainge thew two for UT.
The Notre Dame star went on to be drafted No. 22 overall in the first round of the 2007 NFL Draft by the Cleveland Browns. Quinn played for five teams during his seven-year NFL career. In the midst of playing for the Browns, Broncos, Chiefs, Jets, and Rams, Quinn threw 12 touchdowns to 17 interceptions.
This isn’t the first time an opposing player has called Neyland Stadium a raucous environment despite getting a win in Knoxville. Two separate Oklahoma football players have recounted their experiences in Neyland from the Sooners-Vols match-up in 2015, calling it a once-in-a-lifetime experience and the “loudest stadium” they played in.