The 70's would be quite a decade for Notre Dame, the school and the sports teams. With bowl games now back, the football program had become turbocharged. There was even new energy in the bars, creating a drinking boom that allowed Frankie Bolelo's knucklehead son, Nickie to run a successful bar business at the eponymous Nickie's.
Hank Stram's Kansas City Chiefs won the Super Bowl over Kansas City (35 toss power trap, boys!!) and Stram had been a Notre Dame assistant. Of course the winning coach of the first two Super Bowls had been coached, as an undergraduate by a fellow who later coached at Notre Dame. You see, a guy named Frank Leahy had coached the offensive line at Fordham. He coached it so well thay named it the "seven blocks of granite." And one of the blocks of granite was Vince Lombardi, some talent, but Leahy coached him up.
Alcindor had left UCLA with three national championships, but college basketball's spotlight turned to three seniors who could score a little. Rick Mount, Calvin Murphy and Pete Maravich. President Nixon signed into a law a bill prohibiting TV advertising of cigarettes. So watching TV was safer. Expecially juxtaposed to walking through jungles in Viet Nam, Laos and Cambodia. In April, 4 students were shot by national guardsmen at Kent State. Kent State's nickname is "Golden Flashes." You do the math.
The Irish attacked spring practice with zest. It would be Theisman's senior year. Larry Dinardo would anchor the OL, supported by John Dampeer. TE Mike Creaney was catching whatever balls that Tom Gatewood didn't. The defense looked imposing. Walt Patulski, Mike Kadis and Greg Marx manned the defensive front, with Clarence Ellis, Ralph Stepaniak and Mike Crotty in the back.
American music took a respite from the stormy 60's. Simon and Garfunkel, the Carpenters, B.J. Thomas and Bread were near the top of the charts. Jack Nicholson broke new ground on ordering toast in "Five Easy Pieces" but nobody was bold enought to try that trick with Fat Shirley at the Mishawaka diner.
South Bend eagerly awaited the football season. Theisman had a shot at the Heisman, but he would get serious competition from Archie Manning at Ole Miss and Jim Plunkett at Stanford. Manning was folkloric at Oxford. One of football's sweetest facts is that, yet today, the speed limit posted on the Ole Miss campus is 18. That was Archie Manning's number for the Rebels. Truth is, he was very good in college and the NFL, but he was even better once they put him out to stud.
The Irish opened with a convincing 35-14 win over Nortwestern in Chicago. Ara beat Notre Dame when he was at Northwestern and beat Northwestern when he was at Notre Dame. But there was still concern as we awaited Purdue. Not this time, Boilers!! Notre Dame routed Purdue, in a rainstorm, 48-0. The next day, the SBT's Joe Doyle offered that the Irish had gotten three hundred yards on the ground, three hundred in the air, and could have gotten 300 by sea if they had needed to.
The buzz really began the next week. Notre Dame went into Spartan Stadium and dominated Michigan State 29-0. It was national championship level football. The Irish handled Army, 51-10, in South Bend, Mizzou in Columbia, 24-7 (on Bill Barz' greatest day, Navy in Philadelphia, 56-7 and Pitt in the Bend 45-14. So far, the 17 point win over Mizzou was the lowest margin of victory.
On election day, two gubernatorial races were noteworthy. The ones in California and Georgia. The winners were Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter.
Now, Ara's teams always seemed to improve throughout the season. Somehow, in 1970, the wheels seemed to come off the offense in November. Georgia Tech and Rock Perdoni came in and the Irish barely squeaked by, 10-7. Writing it off as a mulligan seemed harder the next week, when only a field goal oushed us past LSU 3-0. Even Lindsay Nelson had a bad couple of weeks on the Castleman D. Chesley network Sunday morning replays, for when he promised to "move onto further action," there just wasn't any.
Next was Southern California, in Ara's house of horrors, the Coliseum.. Drenching rain was a poor substitute for sunny skies, and the Trojans leaped on the Irish d early and often. Theisman, and Gatewood, on his way to a then unheard of total of 77 catches for the season, kept fighting back, but the Irish formula for the first 7 games was thrown out, and as heroic and record-setting as Theisman was, it was not enough, and the Irish lost their first game of the year 38-28. The only absolution would be a rematch with unbeated Texas in "NEUTRAL" Dallas at the Cotton Bowl.
Angst and agita were the order of the day. Which Irish team would appear on New Year's day, that juggernatut of the first seven games or that courageous, but limping, warrior of the last three? (Psst! this was ARA!) The Irish were ready and Hornslapped Steve "Woo-Woo" Worster into three fumbles and entry into oblivion. And the Irish shut down Jim Bertelsen too. The Horns were ready neither for the Irish pass rush or Ellis, Stepaniak and Crotty. Joey T, in his final game, made big plays even with his feet and the Irish d simply castrated the quaalude laced Bevo 24-11. The Eyes of Texas? Weeping!! Oh, give them a tissue. Nebraska squeaked into the national title, but the Irish and Ara liked this bowl victory stuff. Let's see what next year brings.