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Throwback Thursday: Notre Dame Bye Week Edition

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Catholics vs. Convicts ... Cheers to 30 Years!

pat terrell notre dame miami
Pat Terrell (15) breaks up a pass intended for Miami receiver Leonard Conley (28) on the game-deciding two-point conversion attempt to seal Notre Dame’s win.
Photo: JOHN BIEVER, SI

I may have only been a senior in high school in the fall of 1988, but I remember exactly where I was when the Notre Dame Fighting Irish defeated the Miami-Florida Hurricanes , on a play that will forever be remembered in Notre Dame history. With this being a bye week, and the 30th anniversary of the Catholics vs. Convicts game; I thought I’d share a few of Pat Terrell’s thoughts on that epic game.

Patrick Terrell may be best remembered in Notre Dame football lore for his one shining play in the 1988 Notre Dame - Miami game. In a game described as “Catholics vs. Convicts”, No. 1 Miami pulled to within one point of Notre Dame with a touchdown, with less than one minute to go in the fourth quarter. Miami coach Jimmy Johnson made the decision to go for the two-point conversion, and called for a pass play to the right corner of the end zone. Pat batted down quarterback Steve Walsh’s pass at the last possible second, securing the win for the Irish, and helping them roll onward to an undefeated 12-0 season and the national title. Today he flies jets, and builds runways and buildings. There might have been a time when he could “leap tall buildings in single bound.” Sorry, that might have been Superman, or was it really Pat Terrell? One thing we know for sure, Pat never wanted his feet to touch the ground.

Often times when you play football at a school like Notre Dame, at some point in your career you have your fifteen seconds of fame. However, not often does your fifteen seconds of fame propel your team into playing for the national championship. That is exactly what happened to Pat, “I played all of those years in the NFL and in so many big games at Notre Dame and I remember that game (Notre Dame – Miami 1988) more than any other. I remember it like it was just yesterday. The matchup between Notre Dame and Miami in 1988 was very tight. Every play was crucial, critical. When it came down to that last play, it was just one of many equally intense plays in that game. Our defensive coach, Barry Alvarez, was amazing. He always had us extremely prepared for what we were going to be up against. That game was only my second start. He had quite a challenge getting me ready. All he knew was that I was fast, crazy and wanted to hit people. For him to line me up in the right place, I owe so much to him.”

“We ran that play several times in practice. We knew that was a big part of their offense. When I lined up, Leonard Conley was who I was defending, and he was actually from my neck of the woods. So here we were, across from each other at the collegiate level, just as we had been in high school. I’m right back at home going up against the same guy. I was fortunate to be in the right position to be able to make a play that ended up being very memorable. If it wasn’t for George Williams putting the pressure on quarterback Steve Walsh, maybe he would have gotten the throw off sooner and maybe I would not have been there. There was a lot more to that play than the moment I batted down the ball.” Tony Rice suggested I ask Pat why he only batted down the ball. Why didn’t he CATCH it? “Tell Tony because I wanted to make it dramatic. ANYONE can catch the ball.”

Football is a game of respect. Pat and his teammates had a feeling going into that 1988 season that they were going to be good and that they’d be able to compete for a national title. “When I talk about respect, you still have to go out there and earn it. Deserve it. Certain teams, Miami for example, had no respect. In fairness to them, we didn’t deserve their respect. They beat us the year before, and the year before that they embarrassed us. Here they were, in our house. We were lined up pregame practicing punt returns and Rocket was lined up in the back. They came out, trampled over Rocket, and then ran right through our drill. I knew this was not going to be pretty. It was actually our third-teamers out there fighting. All of the first string guys knew better. I was all fired up for the game and I didn’t want to expend any unnecessary energy fighting. I just stepped back and enjoyed the fight. In regards to Coach Holtz and Jimmy Johnson, Lou’s pregame speech was true.”

”Men, I have no doubt that you are going to do well today. You’ll be fine, you’ll be fine. But I have one favor to ask of you. Save Jimmy Johnson’s ass for me.” ~Lou Holtz

“The funny thing is, it was a very moving speech (like most, if not all of them, were.) Not once did Lou not have us fired up for a game. But after this particular speech, never was I so fired up and tickled to go out there and play a game. Here is this little guy asking us to leave Jimmy Johnson’s ass for him. That was some serious confidence because Jimmy Johnson would have tossed Lou’s ninety-pound ass all over that field.”

Although the game winning play at the end of the Notre Dame – Miami game is most likely what you and I remember Pat for, it’s not his most memorable moment from his time spent playing football for the Fighting Irish. “Probably the night after we won the national championship. You knew that you had done something special. It was fun to see your parents celebrating with you and excited. They realized, more so than you did, how big of a deal it was. Sharing it with my family was tremendous. To know that you and your teammates, with whom you accomplished this amazing task, would always have that in common for the rest of your lives – it’s indescribable. We were all just floating on air. Not tired and sore, floating on air.”

As much as I enjoy listening to Pat and the guys talk about that Catholics vs. Convicts game in 1988, this story from Pat’s post football days is hands down one of my favorites.

Pat, like all team sport athletes, always has a story about his teammates. “I was an airline pilot during the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Shortly after 9/11 it seemed as if the TSA was changing our hijack procedures almost on a weekly basis. One week I was trained to do one thing, the next week I was trained to do something else. Roll the plane, no wait, do this instead. It was insane. At that point I was still in pretty good “football shape” and decided I would have my own anti-hijacking procedure. My policy was that prior to every flight I would walk up and down the aisle of my plane so that my passengers could see me. Know this: if you intend to hijack my plane there is going to be one big angry dude in the cockpit.”

“One day, I’m preparing for a flight and I’m doing my little stroll and I see this guy leaning into the aisle and his eyes are as big as golf balls, it was Tony Rice! Tony knew I was a practical joker, and the last time he saw me I was still playing in the NFL for the Green Bay Packers. He could not for the life of him figure out why I was in a pilot uniform. Here I am, so happy to see him and so I invite him to come up and see the cockpit, and his eyes are still as big as golf balls. So I say, ‘come up and meet the crew.’ I have never seen Tony Rice drop an ounce of sweat. He is Mister Cool under pressure, and here was Tony sweating buckets. Tony looks at me and says, ‘Man, you know how to drive this thing?’ and I reply, ‘I know how to fly it!’ He looks back and says, ‘Pat, uh, I’m gonna go back to my seat and I’ll talk to you when we land.” (howling with laughter)

Well, I hope you enjoyed today’s Throwback Thursday post! Enjoy the bye week, and I’ll see you in San Diego at Navy!

Cheers & GO IRISH!

Today’s post contains excerpts from, “Echoes From the End Zone: The Men We Became.”