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RIGHT MAN IN THE RIGHT PLACE
Ray Kennedy
September 30, 1974
Tom Clements may not be the best college football player in the country—he insists he is not—but he is quarterback of Notre Dame, the defending national champion, and he's the one who gets the Irish up
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September 30, 1974

Right Man In The Right Place

Tom Clements may not be the best college football player in the country—he insists he is not—but he is quarterback of Notre Dame, the defending national champion, and he's the one who gets the Irish up

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With a notably stronger passing arm this season, Clements is even more of a threat as a flinger on the run. One of his favorite maneuvers is to roll to the left and throw to the right, a contortionist's move that, as it did last week against Northwestern, often has him throwing with one or both feet off the ground. "Tommy's such a squirmy guy," says Pete Demmerle, the team's leading pass receiver, "that he's almost always able to clear the lane so that I can follow the ball better rather than see it fly out of a crowd."

For ultimate comparisons, ND Athletic Director Moose Krause flips back through his vast memory to other golden Irish quarterbacks he has known—Frank Carideo, Angelo Bertelli, Ralph Guglielmi, Paul Hornung, Daryle Lamonica, John Huarte, Terry Hanratty, Joe Theismann—and finally decides, "Lujack; like Johnny Lujack, Clements thinks he can do anything—and he can."

Coach Ray DiLallo realized that the very first day Clements, without any previous experience at the position, tried out for quarterback at Canevin High School. Within a few games Clements was starting for the varsity as a freshman. "Funny thing about Tommy," recalls DiLallo. "He was the whole team but yet he wasn't happy unless I yelled at him. There was no reason to, of course, but I used to do it because I think it made him feel like one of the crowd. He just didn't want to be lonely."

No one ever got lonely at the Clements' six-bedroom home in McKees Rocks. Like the father, one of Tom's older brothers is a doctor, and another is an engineer. One of his sisters is an anthropologist and another brother and sister are lawyers. "I wake up every morning feeling inferior," says the youngest in the family.

On Easter night 1971 Clements came home to a full-fledged family tribunal at the kitchen table. In turn each member of the Clements clan told him that he should not go to North Carolina to play basketball but to Notre Dame to play football, a sport that offered him more potential for development. Actually, the deal was all but clinched when ND Assistant Coach Tom Pagna came to town a few weeks earlier and ran straight into the piercing glare of the elder Dr. Clements. "You're looking at me just like my father used to," said Pagna. "Wait a minute. Clements? What kind of name is that? I'll bet it was Clementi in the old country. Right?"

Right he was and later, over a spread of eggplant parmigiana, the two paisanos discussed why God and Ara needed young Tom at Notre Dame. Reminded that his quarterback is Irish on his mother's side, Pagna says, "We've overcome that. The part that thinks and throws is Italian."

But even Pagna, who spends most of his waking hours with the team's offense, admits that he does not have the foggiest notion what is going on inside Clements' mind. For instance, does the fact that Clements chooses to bed down in the subterranean chambers of Sorin Hall, the ancient ruin of a dorm where many old football notables like Knute himself once lived, mean that perhaps Tom Clements is a little bit impressed with the legendary sons of Notre Dame?

No one knows and Clements as usual isn't saying. "The only time I ever saw Tommy open up," says Pagna, a dabbler in ESP, karma and all manner of things mystical, "is when I once started talking about reincarnation. I know I used to be Caesar, but I don't know who Tom might have been." Confucius, probably.

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