LIKE THIS YEAR, WE KNEW WE WERE PLAYING AN ALABAMA team that was extremely formidable, and we did not have a plethora of great players. I was the only All-America in the game for us. But we played well enough as a unit to pull out a game in which few prognosticators gave us anything but a fighting chance. Most had us pegged as significant underdogs. UPI named Alabama its national champion well before a matchup that was billed the Game of the Century. We were ranked No. 4.
Truth be told, I was far less concerned about those slights than I was my own fitness level. I actually couldn't practice the two days before the game because my knee had gotten very sore from earlier indoor practices on an AstroTurf field. The pain was such that I had to get a cortisone shot on each of those two days. Before kickoff I pounded five or six aspirin and took the field, ready to execute coach Ara Parseghian's game plan.
We were determined to give 'Bama a brawl, and they gave just as good as they got. For two quarters we looked great. Then they came back and slapped us around like puppies. In their two hot quarters, they scored 23 points. But thanks to our success throwing the ball (even though we had only one wide receiver), a kick return for a touchdown, and our defense stiffening down the stretch, we came out ahead by one point. 24--23. After that the AP voted us No. 1.
Still, I felt for Alabama, which was by far the toughest team in the country. But that's just the way things happen. I've played enough football games in my life that I thought we should've won but, for whatever reason, we didn't.
If we had to play Alabama again, we still wouldn't be favored, although the spread might be closer. Ever since that game I've rooted for them because I saw the class in 'Bama. I reconnected with many of the players from the 1973 team later in life, and they were just always really nice guys.
This year's Notre Dame team is loaded with great guys too, and we'd all very much like to see them accomplish what we did in '73. It has been so much fun to watch Notre Dame coming back from where they've come from and, in some of their games this season, with such dramatic flair.
We fans and alumni are not expecting anything more from the team than what it's done all year, and that's to play hard. If that results in another championship, we'll be ecstatic. If not, we'll accept defeat and keep on loving this team with all our hearts—and no more or less than the teams before them. That sense of togetherness, and the sense of togetherness on the team, is why I believe the Irish have a better chance to repeat history, 40 years later, than people might think.
WHEN WE PLAYED NOTRE DAME IN THE 1973 SUGAR BOWL for the national championship there wasn't the kind of buildup there will be for this year's BCS title game. We were only on national TV once during the regular season, and we didn't have to read about ourselves every day on the Internet. We viewed Notre Dame as just another opponent. We didn't think of the mystique of the Fighting Irish; we just wanted to knock the hell out of them.
We were an incredibly deep and talented team. We played three quarterbacks, three sets of running backs and two sets of offensive linemen. It worked for us all year, but against Notre Dame we never could get into a flow, and we were down 14--10 at half. We still felt that we could come back. I only played 16 snaps, but I was in the game early in the fourth quarter when we called for a halfback throw. I handed the ball to Mike Stock on what looked like a sweep play. Then Stock stopped, passed it back to me, and I was able to score a 25-yard touchdown. We missed the extra point but led 23--21.