In late September the athletic board talked informally in favor of a bowl bid, and in late October the alumni board unanimously endorsed the recommendation and sent a committee to Father Hesburgh with the news. About this time, of course, word was being leaked around the world that Notre Dame might be interested in a bowl, but most postseason sponsors paid little attention, mumbling to themselves, "We've been down that road before, and we don't want to blow Penn State or Missouri on the basis of a rumor."
Comes now the drama of how the Cotton Bowl got the Irish when it was working double time to grab Penn State, hoping to arrange the only bowl game that would make any sense, since Ohio State was out of things—No. 2 Texas or Arkansas against No. 3 Penn State—with the faint, dim, desperate possibility that this game could match No. 1 against No. 2 if somehow the Buckeyes lost to either Purdue or Michigan.
The adventure began on Nov. 12 when the race seemed to be between the Cotton and the Orange for Penn State. At the time it appeared that Penn State could have its choice of the undefeated Texas-Arkansas winner in Dallas or then undefeated Tennessee in Miami. The Vols had yet to lose to Ole Miss.
On that day in Dallas, a Wednesday, a man named Field Scovell, the vice-president of Southland Life Insurance and co-chairman of the Cotton Bowl Selection Committee, got a phone call from Ed Haggar Jr., a Notre Dame alumnus in Dallas, who said that the Irish wanted to go to a bowl. Phooey, said Scovell, who got in touch with Ed Haggar Sr. to check out his son's information. "He knows more about it than I thought he did," came the father's reply.
Further checking revealed that Notre Dame might prefer the Orange Bowl against Penn State for a lot of reasons—good trip, nighttime TV, big exposure with the Eastern press. "This made us wonder what had happened to Tennessee," Scovell says. "We heard the Orange Bowl had Tennessee and Penn State in bed together. But we decided to go after Penn State, anyway, unless Notre Dame was really serious."
On Friday, Nov. 14, Scovell and Wilbur Evans, the executive director of the Southwest Conference, fought their way in planes and cars through snowstorms to Penn State for the Nittany Lions' game against Maryland, fully prepared to issue an invitation to Coach Joe Paterno at noon on Monday, the official date that bowl invitations could be tendered. All the while, however, they were talking by phone to their deployed Notre Dame watchers and feelers.
On Friday night at Penn State, Paterno told the Texans that he personally favored the Cotton but that he felt his team probably wanted to go back to the Orange Bowl. He said they would vote on Sunday. "Our only case was that we'd have a higher ranked team, cither Texas or Arkansas, for them to play," Scovell says. "But in all that snow I could sort of understand voting for the sunshine."
The following day Tennessee got stung by Ole Miss, and every bowl except the Gator lost interest in the Vols. Ohio State crushed Purdue and remained No. 1. Texas remained No. 2, Arkansas three, Penn State four.
Had Joe Paterno wanted to gamble at this point, or wanted to keep his team more than alive in the trot for No. 1, he could have enticed his players to vote for the Cotton. At least by doing this he would have been certain of meeting the No. 2 team and possibly the No. 1 team if Ohio State were upset by Michigan. Besides this, who was to say that all of the awardgivers of a national championship, those that would wait until after the bowls to decide—the Football Writers, the AP and Helms—might not favor an impressive 11-0 team over Ohio State's 9-0, and especially if Michigan played the Buckeyes a close contest?
As far as the Cotton Bowl was concerned, a Penn State in the hand was better than a Notre Dame in the rumor. But, alas, the feeling sank through to Scovell and Evans that Penn State was lost. So they spent all day Sunday telephoning Notre Dame friends and getting ripples of encouragement. The day passed, Sunday did, with Scovell and Evans wondering how Penn State had voted, while calls came from Notre Dame pals, offering such intriguing phrases as, "It's warming up...." "The Irish prefer the highest rated team possible...." "They like the conference tie-up of the Cotton as opposed to a purely commercial bowl sponsor...." "It's really getting hot...." "You'd better haul it to South Bend...."