1969, early winter. The sport of men's basketball had overtaken football's two winter neuroses, handwringing and depth chart engineering. The Austin Carr gang was something to behold, illuminating those cold, Indiana, January and February nights. Carr had that charisma and transcendent athletic and skill level hitherto seen only on the gridiron and on Mike DeCicco;s fencing teams.
Michigan's head coaching job was open. The story (possibly apocryphal)goes that someone in the Michigan AD department called Jets' head coach Weeb Ewbank, fresh off Namath's upset over the Colts in the Super Bowl) for a recommendation. The story suggests that Weeb didn't know who Miami of Ohio's head coach was. But Weeb thought Miami had the best fundamentals Ewbank had seen on any college team that year. So the Maize and Blue reached out that coach, Schembechler, Glenn E., nickname "Bo." Seems Bo's college coach at Miami was Ara Parseghian. Ara was coached at Miami by the legendary Sid Gilman. Ara's NFL coach (cup of coffee only) was legendary Paul Brown. Ara, after being cut by the Browns, was hired to be an assistant to Woody Hayes at Miami. But Ohio State spirited Hayes away to Columbus, and the Miami folks elevated young Ara to the head coaching job, where he worked with Bo, a young linemen. Nice pedigree, Ara! Of course, we had terminated our series with Michigan. But Bo would eventually figure mightily in Notre Dame history (take bows, Chuck Male, Harry Oliver and take two long bows, Rocket!!).
In the Notre Dame AD's office, Moose Krasue's secretary opened a package from Dalla. She handed the contents, a cowboy hat, to Moose. Moose tried it on. He like it. And Chicago boy Moose began dreaming of cowboys, Texas and cotton. In Spring practice, the Irish looked strong. Theisman was growing more confident, and seemed compatible with rising sophomore receiver Tom Gatewood.. The defense looked stouter. Patulski, McCoy and Kadish anchored the front line, Bobo Olson led the linebackers and young Clarence Ellis was a rising start in the secondary.
In July, mirabile dictu, Neal Armstrong, US astronaut, set foot on the moon, "one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." A New York farmer named Max Yasgur was being pestered about renting his land out for a small local rock concert. Max thought it would be no big deal, and he agreed. His farm is close to Bethel, but the concert became promoted and known as "Woodstock." Performers included Hendrix, Joplin, Country Joe, Richie Havens, Jefferson Airplane, the Band, the Who, the Dead, the usual suspects.
As football season approached, most had ceded the 1969 national title to Ohio State's wunderkind Kern gang: Rex Kern, John Brockington, Leo Hayden, Bruce Jankowski, Jan White, Jack Tatum and the rest. Our Irish opened with a 45-10 win over Northwestern in the Bend. Notre Dame lookded good doing it. But the next week in West Lafayette, the Irish fell to Purdue 28-14. Mike Phipps had achieved the rare feat of beating Notre Dame three straight years as a starting QB. Was Theisman ready for prime time? Yep! The Irish raced past the Spartans 42-28 in South Bend, and the d got its first shutout. 45-0, over Army in New York. Next was Southern Cal. Ah! The (phanton) clip call against Dewey Poskon (Greg Davis, are you feelin' this??) on a gray day and the game ended 14-14. Well, Joey T. hadn't beaten USC yet, but he hadn't lost to them either.
At 3-1-1 the Irish began winning, and would not lose again, in the CALENDAR YEAR 1969. Therin lies the story. For Moose was getting a lot of calls from Field Scovell in Dalla, the Cotton Bowl boss. Theisman and Gatewood began looking like Hanratty and Seymour redux. The ground game would again average over 300 yards per game. The Irish pitched shutouts over Tulane, 37-0 and Navy 47-0. Pitt got a solitary touchdown in a 49-7 Irish win. As each week went by, you began to hear Moose talking with a twang. The Irish beat Georgia Tech 38-20 in the "throw fish at the Catholics" game (true). The Irish squeaked by Air Force 13-6 lto finish 8-1-1.
And a funny thing happened that very afternoon of the Air Force game about 200 driving miles away. Bo, and Michigan, and "little Barry Pearson" from St. Ignace in "Da Yoopee" beat "invincible" Ohio state 24-12. The National Championship was up for grabs. Moose finally consummated with the Cotton Bowl. It had been 45 years since Harry Pestilence, Don Famine, Sleepy Jim Death and Elmer War (this construction is Dan Jenkins') played Ernie Nevers and Stanford in Pasadena. The Irish were going to a bowl Texas. Longhorns. "NEUTRAL" Dallas. Texas had just finished an unbeaten season by beating Frank Broyles' Arkansas team 15-14 in Little Rock with James "Slick" Street's late game heroics. Before that Texas had doulble digit margins of victory in every game.
Ara, Pagna, Yonton and the Irish lads warmed to the task of preparing to face the mighty Horns. The Irish arrived in Dallas to skepticism and derision. Darrell was at his aphoritic best, noting his offense was dictated by "We'll dance with the one what brung us." But the fiery Ara was not backing down. The underdog Irish gave as good as they got, and held a late lead. But Slick Street was adept at late game heroics. He made a key red zone pass to Cotton Speyrer and then Billy Dale punched in the TD for the 21-17 margin. Texas won, but barely. A historical oddity is that the '69 Horns were the last entirely caucasian national champ. But the Irish and their leader LOVED THE experience. Maybe, someday we'd return to the Cotton Bowl and beat a team from the Lone State State. Once? Maybe twice? Maybe thrice? Era's Ara had expanded to bowl games. This could be interesting......