And a stroll down bowl memory lane. Background: Ernie Nevers, who played for Pop Warner, yep the guy they named youth football after ran for Warner at Stanford in the Rose Bowl after the ’24 Season, played in 1925….. Of course the Irish had Knute Rockne as coach and Harry Death, Elmer War, Don Pestilence and Sleepy Jim Famine in the backfield and won 27-10
It would be 44 autumns , a depression, World War II, FDR’s three terms, the atom bomb and JFK’s assassination that would pass before the Irish would play in a bowl again.
But one of America’s great salesmen, Hoss Brock of the Cotton Bowl kept sending Cowboy Hats to Moose Krause and asking how Moose liked them. He did.
And sure enough after the ’69 season, when Darrell Royal was running the Wishbone at Texas, and squeaked past Arkansas in early December, Moose persuaded the administration to let Ara and his lads go to “neutral” Dallas to play the Horns in the Cotton Bowl.
Well, now those Texans were going to show Notre Dame how the game was played, and overwhelm the Irish with the speed of the wishbone backfield with James “Slick” Street, at Quarterback, Bridge City’s Steve “Woo-Woo” Worster running the fullback dive and speedsters Koy and Bertelsen running the Irish ragged on the perimeter. After all Bevo and his men had averaged 40 points a game during the regular season. One historical note: Texas was the last college football championship team that was all-Caucasian. Ara famously gave a detailed answer or two to reporters questions in that excitable high-pitched voice. When Darrel Royal got up, in response to the first question about game strategy he drawled “We’ll just dance with the one whut brung us.” And the crowd went wild.
But the Irish shocked Texas, slowing down the wishbone, and Joe Theisman sliced up the Horns secondary, as three of the four Horsemen watched from a special box. LBJ and Nixon also attended. It was a big deal. Each team got 25 first downs, but it was the last one Texas got, on a wobbly pass from Street to Cotton Speyrer that gave the Horns a first and goal at the 2 and little Billy Dale ran it in for the final 21-17 margin that gave Texas the victory. The Irish team liked the Cotton Bowl, was a fair match for Texas, and the Irish thought they might return to the Cotton Bowl.
Texas was even more efficient with the wishbone, averaging more than 40 points a game as it ripped throught its schedule 10-0. The Irish started strong, but struggled offensively in home wins over LSU and Georgia Tech, and then fell to USC in the rain. Well, this time, Texas writers said, the Horns would not take Notre Dame lightly and would run them into the ground.
Ara had a “mirror defense” ready to counter the wishbone, and held Woo-Woo Worster to 42 yards in 16 carries.
Gatewood had joined Theisman, and the Irish raced to a 21-3 second quarter lead and brought home the Cotton Bowl Trophy with the final margin 24-11. So much for Texas speed. Anybody else out there?
Tom Clements had taken over as Irish QB, and Ross Browner, Luther Bradley, and Willie Fry (Willie Fry? Will he Bake? Will he taste good?) had bolstered the D. In Dixie, one Paul “Bear” Bryant was itching to get his hands on the Irish. The Bear had adopted the bone and ripped through the SEC schedule, winning every game by two touchdowns or more and averaging over 40 points a game.
So the unbeaten Irish agreed to play the Tide on New Year’s Eve in rickety old Tulane Stadium in the original Sugar Bowl. Dixie was on fire to get their hands on the big, slow, Catholic Yankees.
“Beah” would show the Irish how the game was played! Richard Todd and Wilbur Jackson, Sylvester Croom and Woody Lowe had just too much speed for the Irish! The announcers, in the bygone era were Chris Schenkel, Bud Wilkinson and Howard Cosell. And as New Year’s Eve began in the Big Easy, Ara led his Irish onto the field for the “slaughter.”
Ara’s offense moved the ball and Wayne Bullock punched in a touchdown, but the extra point was botched. In the second quarter Randy Billingsley put the Tide up by 1 as he punched it in from the 6. Then on the ensuing kickoff, the Irish responded to the “speed differential” With the return team’s blockers covering their assignment like the dew covers Dixie, Alphonse Hunter took it 93 yards to glory. Adams apples bobbed in the Tide section of Tulane stadium, and Bryant knew what he was up against.
The game seesawed, and with 9 minutes left, the Irish, down 23-21, used Ara/Pagna creativity and grit to go 79 yards in 11 plays to set up a Bob Thomas chip shot. Irish 24-23. Sure Bama tried to answer, pinning the irish deep, but then Clements drifting back into a sugary end zone, lofted a sweet arc to Robin Webber for the settling first down. Notre Dame had its national championship, Bryant the first of his four losses against the irish. Bryant died winless against Notre Dame.
In a weird year for the Irish, Purdue thumped the irish in South Bend, and then the Irish got crushed in the psychodrama in the Coliseum. The Tide ran the regular season table again, but with less offensive explosiveness. But they wanted revenge against the Irish. And the game was set at the old Orange Bowl in colorful Little Havana.
This time, the Tide speed would overwhelm the Irish. Willie Shelby was their newest burner. Well, the lads were not going to let Ara, in his final game, taste defeat. Early on, Al Samuel recovered a Shelby fumble and Bullock punched it in. Unlikely hero Mark McLane ran in from the 9 and the Irish had functional control with a 13-3 lead. The Irish did not score again, but didn’t need to. The Irish Defense was making up for Purdue and SC, and only let the Tide score on a desperation bomb with 3 minutes left. Final Notre Dame 13-Alabama 11. Bear Bryant had moved to 0-2 against the Irish.
Well, wouldn’t you know we’d see the Eyes of Texas again. The Tyler Rose, Earl Campbell, recruited out of legendary Tyler John Tyler by Royal, was being coached up by Fred Akers. They ripped through the regular seaon, averaging over 40 points per game. Campbell was on his way to the Heisman Trophy, Brad Shearer, DT, on his way to the Outland trophy, And Akers had gone after true speed, to the Hill Country in Lampasas for Johnny “Lam” Jones, out in the flatlands of West Texas to Hamlin for Johnny “Ham” Jones and to the well, whatever, of Youngstown, Ohio for AJ “Jam” Jones. When folks tried to stop Campbell, Lam, Ham and Jam were heading to the end zone.
The Irish had started in chaos, Devine chaos. A loss at Ole Miss, quarterback frenzy against Purdue, but then the team seemed to settle down during the off week before Army. Joe Montana being named quarterback may have had something to do with that.
Browner, Fry and Bradley were 5th year seniors, McAfee was setting records at tight end, and Jerome Heavens and Vagas Ferguson were the running back tandem. The Irish destroyed Southern Cal in the Green Jersey game and cruised home the rest of the way. So the game was set for “neutral Dallas.”
Now of course in the Dallas Morning News, the Austin American Statesman, the Houston Post and the Fort Worth Star Telegram, writers wrote apocalyptic tales of impending doom for our Fighting Irish. Opinion was unanimous. Campbell, Shearer, and Lam, Jam and Ham?. The slow Irish were about to get a fast comeuppance.
So, January 2d dawned. But ‘ol 89 was playing for the Irish. The pride of Western Reserve High in Warren, Ohio. You see, this kid, in his first game in ’73, blocked a punt against Northwestern, jumpstarting the Irish to an unbeaten season. This kid, in ’75, at the North End of the Stadium, blocked USC punt attempts on SUCCESSIVE PLAYS. This kid, in ’76, ran down Tony Dorsett after a 50+ yard run. But this kid, Ross Browner, had something left in the tank for Texas. With the game barely two minutes old, Browner, one of those slow Domers, leapt into the Horn backfield, stuck out his left hand and batted away an attempted pitch by Randy McEachern, the Texas quarterback. The irish recovered and got a quick field goal. Seldom does an early play indicate the ultimate outcome. That is the rule. Browner’s surprise of MCEachern and all the Texas Exes is the exception.
The Irish reached the end zone three times in the second stanza for a 24-3 lead, and Texas scored before the half only because they were aided by an interference penalty as the half expired. The Irish added a perfunctory touchdown in the 3rd and the 4th, for the final 38-10 margin.
Shearer never recovered. Montana outplayed Campbell, and Heavens and Ferguson each ran for more than 100 yards. The rubble bounced on the Fairgrounds. Here’s the pattern: the Southern team wins the pregame print battle. Notre Dame wins on the gridiron.
Chicken Soup, Montana and Cichny in the ’79 Cotton Bowl! Lovely, but we won’t cover it here.
Lou was in charge of the Irish and after squeaking by Michigan, the Irish were unbeaten. Meanwhile, in Morgantown, a kid from Pittsburgh named Major Harris was leading a Mountie offensive explosion. They had hung half a hundred on Penn State, Maryland and BC. They had Undra Johnson running the ball, Reggie Rembert and Grantis Bell catching it, and Bo Orlando in the secondary. If Harris could get 50 on Penn State, he could get 50 against the Irish. Or not.
Well, the Irish scored the game’s first 16 points. Rice was a crisp 7-11 for 213 yards, touchdown passes to Frank Jacobs and Ismail, and a 57 yarder to Watters. Stams, Gordon, Ale, et al held Nehlen’s Mounties to a mere 282 yards in the 34-21 finale. Major Harris was never heard from again.
1989-1990 The Colorado Buffaloes
Bill McCartney, recruiting heavily from California and Texas, assisted by Gerry Dinardo, Mike Hankwitz and Bob Simmons had developed a juggernaut in the Flatirons. Sal Aunese, the quarterback, was dying of cancer, but the Buffs still had Darian Hagan, Erich Kissick, Joel Steek, Eric Bienemy, Jay Leeuwenberg, Chad Brown and others. The Buffs ran through the ’90 schedule.
And the matchup was set for the 1990 Orange Bowl, with the quickness of Hagan and Bienemy expected to be too much for the Irish. The Irish allowed 186 first half yards, but stiffened with their backs to their own goal posts. The first half ended in a scoreless tie, and then the Irish slowly established its offense in the second half, winning the game 21-6 and knocking the Buffs out of the National Championship.
The 1990 Buffs ALSO included Mike Pritchard and Kanavis McGee, but lost to the Illini at Champaign-Urbana, and squeaked by Mizzou at Faurot with the benefit of a pre-replay 5th down. The ’90 Irish were good, but had lost the Rice gang.
So there was a rematch in the ’91 Orange Bowl. It was a tight defensive struggle, with the Irish O, growing under Mirer, not as fluid or powerful as the ’89 bunch. The reliable Craig Hentrich had missed an extra point, and the Irish trailed 10-9 with time running out. The Buffs punted and it was fielded on the 8 by Raghib “Rocket” Ismail. In the greatest punt return since Billy Cannon’s against Ole Miss on Halloween night, 1959, Rocket juked and danced his way through the first wave and burst into the clear, easily waltzing into the end zone for an apparent Irish win. But there was that flag, and a scowling Lou Holtz as Greg Davis was called, marginally, for a clip. Colorado’s margin of 10-9 held and they shared the national championship with Georgia Tech. When do you think THAT will happen again?
1991 Florida Gators
Well now, Heisman Trophy Spurrier had returned to Gainesville as the Head Ball Coach. The Gators stumbled against Syracuse but then swept through the SEC schedule averaging an unheard of 38 points per game in the conference. NFL prospect Shane Matthews was Spurrier’s star pupil in the intricate passing attack. Errict Rhett and Willi McLendon were two big time backs of a kind the Irish had not yet seen in the season (let me know if you hear that one again!) Aubrey Hill and Willi Jackson were America’s quickest pair of receivers, and the Gator D, now patrolling what Spurrier named “the SwamP” was led by Brad Culpepper and Kevin Carter.
The Irish agreed to the matchup in the Superdome. Poor Lou, he was about to be outwitted and outquicked by the brilliant Spurrier. Even breakfast waitresses got into the act when one dumplin’ told Lou that while Cheerios belonged in a bowl, that the Irish did not.
Florida got a toudchdown pass in their first drive to the quicksilver Jackson, but, despite gaining yardage could muster only three field goals for the rest of the half for a 16-7 lead at intermission. Nevertheless, Gator fans chomped their way to delirium.
In the second half, the Gator O got frustrated because the Irish D would not let them get touchdowns. Meanwhile, the powerful Irish O line was grinding down the Gators with Culver and Tony Brooks as Messrs. Outside with Bettis running inside. The dam broke, or was smashed by the irish in the fourth quarter, with Bettis waltzing 49 and 39 yards into the Gator end zone for the final, shocking 39-28 margin.
Guys, we’ve been watching this script for over 40 years now. The trail of broken dreams is littered with Texas, Alabama West Virginia, Colorado and Florida. And, guys, the script won’t change. The only thing that counts is January 7th, on the field of honor. We’ll take our chances! Go Irish.
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