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Throwback Thursday: 1979 Cotton Bowl — Notre Dame VS Houston

One for the story books

Joe Montana Runs With Football

As the festive cheer of the Christmas holiday begins to settle, and the echoes of carols fade away, it’s time for a riveting journey back in time. While we may not have a positive Notre Dame vs. Oregon State clash to dissect, we can certainly rewind the tape to a classic bowl game showdown that left an indelible mark on college football history.

In this week’s Throwback Thursday column, let’s transport ourselves to the gridiron spectacle that unfolded during the 1979 Cotton Bowl, where the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame squared off against the formidable Houston Cougars. This clash wasn’t just a football game; it was a moment frozen in time, filled with drama, excitement, and the essence of collegiate rivalry.

Join me as we dust off the pages of history to revisit the legendary match-up that showcased the grit, determination, and skill of two powerhouse teams. The 1979 Cotton Bowl remains a testament to the glory days of college football, where every play unfolded like a chapter in an epic saga.

So, buckle up as we embark on a journey back to the days when the roar of the crowd and the clash of helmets echoed through the Cotton Bowl stadium, defining an era of football that continues to resonate with fans and enthusiasts alike. Notre Dame vs. Houston – a clash of titans that etched its place in the annals of sports history.

One for the (Story) Books

written by Mike Kenahan, 1979 Notre Dame Football Review

They call it the Cotton Bowl “Classic,” and for the 43rd annual event which featured Notre Dame’s thrilling 35-34 comeback victory over Houston, that label more than fit the bill. Cotton Bowl officials went so far as to say that the ‘79 Classic was the greatest in the history of the event. If not that, then it was certainly the most bizarre. How else would you describe a game in which: at one point, both teams’ kicking units were lined up on the field ready to kick off to each other; the Great North Wind, gusting at 30 miles per hour, deserved the defensive player-of-the-game award; 39,500 people decided not to show, up for a game they had paid $12.50 each to attend; the first six scores came as the result of turnovers, and the winning point was scored with four goose eggs on the scoreboard where the time used to be displayed?

The weather deserved much of the credit for making the 1979 Cotton Bowl Classic one to remember. Temperatures during the game hovered around 20 degrees above, with a windchill factor of minus six degrees. Cotton Bowl historians quickly proclaimed that the wind, cold, and ice combined to form the worst weather conditions in the history of the Classic.

Moreover, the weather’s effect on the play was more than significant. Icy patches on the artificial surface made it tough to negotiate cuts and slants on the run. Near frostbitten fingers made it difficult, if not impossible, to throw the ball accurately, to catch the passes that were on target, or to grip the ball with any assurance once in’ possession of it. Thus fumbles and interceptions marked the style of play throughout most of the game.

If there was any hint, outside of the weather, as to how different this game was to be, it was the coin toss at the start of the game. Notre Dame won the toss and elected to go with the wind. This left the option of kicking or receiving up to Houston. When they chose to kick off into the wind this confused everyone. So much so that after several specialty team changes and field position changes, the Irish and Cougar kickoff units would up facing each other on the field. Houston Coach Bill Yeoman explained that, “We wanted to kick all along. And after they took the wind and we said kick, it confused them.

Soon things were finally squared away and Houston kicked off to the Irish to start the 43rd annual Cotton Bowl Classic. Randy Harrison made things happen right away as he returned the kickoff 56 yards to the Houston 34-yard line. After three running plays Notre Dame was faced with a fourth-and-one situation. Heavens tried to go over right tackle but was stopped for no gain.

Houston took over and marched the ball all the way to the: ND ‘ 36, with Randy Love and Emmett King sharing the running chores. However, with second and six at the 36 King fumbled the ball and Jay Case recovered it for the Irish. Notre Dame made the most of the turnover as the Irish drove 66 yards in nine plays for the game’s first score.

Key plays in the series were a 27-yard screen pass to Jerome Heavens, which gave ND its first down, and a 2-yard pass over the middle to Dean Masziak, who made a fine grab to give the Irish a first and goal at the Houston 6. Three plays later Montana dove over the right pylon on a three-yard run around end for the TD. A bad center snap ruined the point-after attempt.

Keep reading Mike’s story in the Scholastic on Page 41.

Here are a couple of videos to continue the walk down memory lane:

As we wrap up our nostalgic journey through the 1979 Cotton Bowl, the echoes of cheers and the glory of yesteryear linger in the air. The clash between Notre Dame and Houston showcased the essence of college football, reminding us of the timeless moments that shape the sport we love.

Now, as we pivot towards the present, anticipation builds for the upcoming battle between the Fighting Irish and the Oregon State Beavers. The gridiron awaits another chapter, and the question looms large: Can Notre Dame summon the spirit of triumph once again, or will the Beavers emerge as the conquering force?

Share your thoughts on the Notre Dame vs. Oregon State showdown. Do you believe in the Fighting Irish’s prowess, or do you foresee the Beavers securing victory?

Cheers & GO IRISH!