September 24, 1979
In the late 1970s Notre Dame had an All-America offensive star with a I catchy name, a somewhat undersized body and a knack for coming through in big games. No, it wasn't Joe Montana—he never made All-America. Vagas Ferguson did, and without him the Fighting Irish might not have won their only national championship of that period.
Ferguson was a 6'1", 194-pound halfback who wasn't terrifically fast but avoided tacklers the way Albert Belle shuns the media. When the Irish stunned Texas 38-10 in the Cotton Bowl to win the 1977 national title, the game's offensive MVP was Ferguson, a sophomore, who rushed for 100 yards and scored three touchdowns. He finished his career two years later with a then school-record 3,472 rushing yards.
Ferguson, now 42, didn't revel in receiving attention or awards. While growing up with six siblings and three cousins in his grandparents' home in Richmond, Ind. (his mother died when he was eight, and his father lived nearby), he learned all about teamwork. As he looks back on the 1977 champions, it's their selflessness he most treasures. "Nobody was better than anybody else," Ferguson says. "The MVP wasn't important. It was that we won as a team."
After four mostly forgettable NFL seasons with the New England Patriots, Houston Oilers and Cleveland Browns, and a year with the Chicago Blitz in the USFL, Ferguson retired. He describes his pro football career as "a luxury. College wasn't about me going to the next level. I got my experience, I enjoyed it, and I was prepared to do something else." He spent six years as a sales rep in Chicago for a company that sold electronic wiring cable and then returned home to serve as athletic director at Richmond High and earn his master's in education from Miami of Ohio. Today he's an assistant principal at the high school, in charge of discipline for about half of the 1,800 students. "I came back to this level," he says, "because I wanted to work with kids who had problems. I try to keep kids in school."
Ferguson also serves as the board president of a community center in a disadvantaged neighborhood of Richmond. Across the street from the center is Ferguson's house—home to Ferguson (who's divorced); his 14-year-old daughter; his 16-year-old son (he also has a 25-year-old son); a nephew, 12; a cousin, 30; and the grandparents who raised him, Joe and Hattie Walker, both in their 80s. How does Ferguson keep such a large household running smoothly? As in football, he says, "it takes a team effort."