SI Vault
John Underwood
January 09, 1978
Though the odds were great, old Notre Dame won over all the No. 1-ranked Texas Longhorns on a day of astonishing upsets and lopsided scores
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January 09, 1978

Shake Down The Thunder

Though the odds were great, old Notre Dame won over all the No. 1-ranked Texas Longhorns on a day of astonishing upsets and lopsided scores

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As the Cotton Bowl showdown with undefeated Texas drew near, Notre Dame Coach Dan Devine recalled a day in practice when he suspected his No. 5-ranked team was not going to rise to the occasion. The players missed blocks. They missed passes. A couple even missed the team bus.

After that grim afternoon, Devine gathered his bemused athletes into a dressing room and delivered the kind of oration other Notre Dame coaches at other times have had paraphrased in bronze and on celluloid. "If you play like you're practicing," he said, " Texas will blow your butts out of the Cotton Bowl. The day is gone when people lay down for Notre Dame. Play like this, and you'll wake up in the second quarter and it'll be 21-zip."

Devine said two of his captains came to him later and said, "Thanks, Coach, we needed that."

What happened next would not be attributable in this day and age to anything as prosaic as an old-fashioned pep-talk, not even by Devine. But the day before the Cotton Bowl game, sitting on the edge of his motel bed wrapped in a scarf to protect a stiff neck, Devine said it was almost scary how the Irish had turned themselves around. "We're right back where we were before the USC game," he said, recalling with obvious relish that 49-19 Irish haymaker. "I don't think we can play any better than we're playing—or will play."

Devine glanced down at a list of "incentives" he had planned to bring up at practice that afternoon. The fact that Texas had become a seven-point favorite; that at the Cotton Bowl luncheon the Longhorns had been given seats of honor while the Irish had to scramble for places in the balcony; that Texas players had their initials on their gift watches. "Trivial stuff," Devine sniffed and threw the note pad aside. "It's not necessary. We're going to win."

Oh, my, how the Irish won!

There is a story about a dentist who was renowned for the speed of his work. As a patient would settle in the chair for a crucial extraction, the dentist would lean forward and say, "This won't take long...did it?"

In less than eight minutes in the second period of exactly the kind of game no one expected, Notre Dame performed surgery on Texas that was, if not painless, exquisitely deft. From a 3-3 tie, the practically perfect Irish—swift and sure on offense, overwhelming on defense—did some remarkable operating of their own, and before 76,701 chilled Cotton Bowl spectators could say bye-bye national championship, the score was 24-3. Though it would eventually mount to 38-10, the game was over right there.

Devine had said beforehand that this was, personally, his biggest game. His own self-darkened humor surfaces at such times. He quipped that a Chicago group of Notre Dame alumni had given him "moccasins for Christmas. Water moccasins." That line passed largely unnoticed (as well it might), but, for certain, Devine is a strangely beleaguered coach. It would seem ludicrous for a man with a 10-1 record, a No. 5 national ranking and 27 victories in 34 games during three years at South Bend, to feel that way, but he is probably right. He remains vaguely suspect. It was only natural that in the tumult of the Cotton Bowl victory he would repeat that it was his biggest win, and please take back the moccasins.

It was more than natural, it was logical that Devine would then reaffirm what Notre Darners have been contending all along: in the event of such a victory, the Irish now deserve to have what Texas has been harboring for weeks—the No. 1 ranking. "Yes," said Devine, lank hair in his eyes, and the stillest, smallest voice in the balmy Irish dressing room, "we ought to be No. 1."

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