RECORD: 11-0 ALL-AMERICAS: MIKE TOWNSEND, FS. WITH A SWEET 24-23 WIN IN THE SUGAR BOWL, NOTRE DAME WRESTED THE TITLE FROM ALABAMA
HE DOESN'T throw picture passes, unless you want to count the ones that hang. As a passer, therefore, you must rank him for getting it there and not for any contributions he might make to the art of flight. Nor does he run with blinding speed or power, only gusto. As a runner, therefore, you might consider him for a demolition derby, but never a Grand Prix. He is not very big and not at all brash and as quarterbacks go, he will never be known as Broadway Tom or make the Monday-night broadcast team. But Tom Clements, 20, of McKees Rocks, Pa., is at this moment the quarterback of the national champion Notre Dame footbaIl team. If you witnessed his emergence, you saw a happening.
The game was not particularly pretty, but like Clements himself it was certainly to the point. One, to be exact. Notre Dame, an underdog scratching, came from behind three times to beat top-ranked Alabama 24-23, in a flash wresting the championship from the hands of Bear Bryant's Crimson Tide and setting it firmly into those of Ara Parseghian's not-unlucky Irish. A sign popped up in the west-side lower deck of rusting, creaking Tulane Stadium immediately after the issue was decided: GOD MADE NOTRE BAME NO. 1. God, but with Clements's help.
Forget the breaktaking shifts of fortune that went on in this battle of two undefeated, supercharged college teams before Clements's last heroic act. Forget how Alabama fell behind in the first quarter, feeling its way against the intricacies of the Notre Dame attack and the bewildering scaffolds of the Irish defense. How the Tide abruptly gained composure and the lead, at 7-6, only to lose it back again on Al Hunter's 93-yard kickoff return. And then to take it again at 17-14; and once more lose it, and take it again at 23-21 on a Bryant nifty--a halfback-to-quarterback pass. Forget that as the game wound down, the teams tightened up, fumbling the ball back and forth: five times in all.
Forget even Clements's winning drive, a 79-yarder to a field goal that required old Mediocre Tom to carry the ball three times and to loft a 30-yard floater to Dave Casper to set up the kick. "I really thought it was going to be intercepted," said Clements of the pass, and it certainly should have been, as there were two defenders beside Casper. But homemade signs in grandstands don't lie.
Instead, return with us now to the last two minutes of play. The last act of Tom Clements. Alabama has punted 69 yards to the Notre Dame one and is menacing the Irish offense. On third down at the two, Clements hands off to a running back. Oh, no, he doesn't. He takes it back, calmly (with gusto) withdraws into the end zone and spirals a 35-yarder to tight end Robin Weber, who is all alone near Bear Bryant on the sideline. That was it. Notre Dame ran out the clock. Clements, of course, had the ball when the game ended.