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THE LURE OF NOTRE DAME FOOTBALL

 
FORT ERIE, ONTARIO - Notre Dame is having the football season of a lifetime surging towards their first undefeated campaign and possible national title since 1988.
 
The Fighting Irish have been my team ever since they captured the 1973 national championship with a 24-23 win over the Alabama Crimson Tide in the Sugar Bowl on New Year’s Eve. That night QB Tom Clements stood deep in his end zone with less than a minute remaining - before hitting little used Robin Weber on a 35-yard, post pattern to earn the first down and preserve the victory.
 
I became further enamoured with Notre Dame football in the spring of 1975 when Clements signed with the then CFL’s Ottawa Rough Riders. Despite being a huge Tiger Cat fan, I marvelled at Clements’ exploits during his four seasons in Canada’s capital city.
 
I witnessed first hand Ottawa’s 23-20 Grey Cup win over Saskatchewan on Sunday November 28th 1976 at CNE Stadium in Toronto. Like the Sugar Bowl, Clements came through in the waning moments hitting TE Tony Gabriel on a post pattern for the winning TD. It’s the only Grey Cup I’ve ever seen in person.
 
When Clements came to Hamilton in 1979, I was on top of the football world. I’ve already written at length in a previous blog how I contacted Clements in Kansas City in 1980 about a possible return to the Tiger Cats after he left Hamilton in 1979. I don’t need to expound any further.
 
While Clements’ tenure in Hamilton didn’t produce even a Grey Cup appearance - it did result in many a fine moment in the Tiger Cat black and gold. Those moments further etched my fanaticism for Notre Dame football and their star pivot from the early 1970s.
 
While Notre Dame football has experienced many a dark season since the Lou Holtz era of the late 80s - the decorated program received a much needed boost in the early 1990s with the movie “Rudy.”
 
“Rudy” tells the true story of Daniel E. “Rudy” Ruettiger and his desire to play football for the Irish. Rudy toiled two seasons as a practice team member including Clements’ senior season of 1974.
 
His appearance in the game’s final two plays in an October 1975 matchup against Georgia Tech is what true Hollywood movies are made of.
 
I was so moved by the movie when it made the theatres in the fall of 1993 - I interviewed Ruettiger over the telephone from his South Bend home. He gave a glowing account of his time at Notre Dame and how it spawned the movie.
 
I also managed to track down actor Sean Astin, who played Rudy along with Ara Parseghian, the legendary coach during Clements’ and Ruettiger’s tenure at ND. Astin enjoyed playing the role of Rudy while Parseghian had the utmost respect for Ruettiger and Astin’s portrayal..
 
No one is more associated with the Irish than 1958 Heisman Trophy winner Paul Hornung. The “Golden Boy” played QB in South Bend before being converted to RB in Green Bay under Vince Lombardi.
 
I was able to contact Hornung over the phone in 1998. My 30-minute interview with the former Notre Dame star and NFL Hall Of Famer is something I’ll treasure for a lifetime.
 
As the Irish improved to 10-0 courtesy of their recent win over Boston College - my memory runs rampant with my own personal connections to the legendary football team and what those connections represent in the overall history of one of US college football’s most colourful programs.
 
Part I - my personal connections to Notre Dame Football
 
Next Week Part II - Bear Bryant and the Crimson Tide of Alabama
 
 

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