As someone well versed in the vagaries of college football once said, a cliché is a cliché is a cliché. It was not Ara Raoul Parseghian, a coach who can dish out the hackneyed lines as fearlessly as the next man. But last week his Fighting Irish provided a jolting reminder that the reason one hears all those trite locker-room sayings each spring is because they have a persistent way of proving true every fall. In fact, as the leader of the defending national champions, Ara has all along been predictably saying, if not wholly believing, "It is far more difficult staying on top than it is getting there."
That is what Notre Dame seemed bent on proving when it went out last Saturday and got itself upset by Purdue 31-20. More startling still, the Boilermakers managed their miracle by apparently trying to disprove another cherished cliché: A game is never over until the final gun. Thirty-point underdogs at best, Purdue exploded for 24 points faster than it takes a Notre Dame lineman to whip out the statistics showing that the Irish were the second-best defensive team in the nation last season.
The Boilermakers' 24 points were in fact the most any team has ever scored on an Irish team in the first quarter. And, as Ara himself might have said, that was all she wrote.
For the benefit of the stunned fans in Notre Dame stadium who couldn't believe their eyes, this is what happened in that rapid-fire quarter:
October 6, 1974
On the second play Notre Dame's Al Samuel bobbled a pitchout that was recovered by Purdue End Rich Oliver on the Irish 32. Then the Boilermakers' Mike Terrizzi, playing with a severely strained shoulder, passed to Olympic sprinter Larry Burton for 23 yards. On fourth and one, Terrizzi scored around end. Purdue 7, Notre Dame 0. Time elapsed: 3 minutes, 16 seconds.
Stopped on their 21, the Irish punted and three plays later Purdue's Pete Gross, the leading rusher for the day, slanted off left tackle and raced 52 yards all but unmolested. Purdue 14, Notre Dame 0. Time elapsed: 6:57.
After Tackle Ken Novak, a 6'7", 274-pound behemoth who tossed Irish runners around like rag dolls all afternoon, dropped Samuel for a four-yard loss, Quarterback Tom Clements tried to get Notre Dame moving with a dangerous pass into the flat. Linebacker Bob Mannella picked it off on the run and went 21 yards for another Boilermaker touchdown. Purdue 21, Notre Dame 0. Time elapsed: 7:38.
The Irish slowed the frantic proceedings long enough to register a first down on a pass-interference call before once again being forced to punt. But then, led by Running Back Scott Dierking, the Boilermakers shifted to a power drive that culminated in a 47-yard field goal by Pete Schmidt. Score: Purdue 24, Notre Dame 0. Time elapsed: 12:47.
Historic first quarters are hard to recover from, but Notre Dame tried as Clements, zeroing in on his favorite receiver, Pete Demmerle, led the Irish on an 80-yard scoring march early in the second quarter. The touchdown made the score 24-7, and so it remained until half-time as a portentous rain soaked both the large home crowd and the new 1973 national championship flag that had been hoisted to much raucous acclaim in the sunny pregame ceremonies.
The gloom lifted a bit in the third quarter when, following a 15-yard crash up the middle, Notre Dame's Wayne Bullock scored on a plunge to pull the Irish to within 10 points. Terrizzi, forced to leave the game in the second quarter because of his injured shoulder, stood ready to return if an emergency arose. But none ever did as replacement Mark Vitali, a sophomore appearing in his first college game, rose to the moment by connecting on a pair of key passes early in the fourth quarter that set up another Purdue touchdown.
Clements, whose 22 completions in 37 attempts were good for 264 yards, hit Demmerle on a long scoring toss in the waning minutes but it was not enough to offset three interceptions. Or as a woebegone Parseghian put it, "We played one too many bad first halves and it cost us the game."
The upset ended Notre Dame's winning streak, the longest in college football, at 13, and started Purdue's, the headiest, at one. Coach Alex Agase, noting that his team lost to Wisconsin 28-14 and tied Miami (Ohio) 7-7 so far this season, said, "We not only had to play to win today, we had to play to win some respect."
Not bad as clichés go, but his later remark in the crowded Purdue locker room was better. "This may seem small to you guys," Agase told reporters, "but it seems like a palace to me." Of Tom Clements, the Heisman hopeful, he said, "He's such a super player, he's so dangerous that he can break open a game at any time."
The fact that he didn't only heightened the sense of déj√† vu for Notre Dame followers. In 1950,1954 and 1967, for instance, it was the Spoilermakers who ended undefeated streaks of 39, 13 and 12 respectively with upset victories over the Irish.
All of which reminds Ara Parseghian of another of his favorite sayings that he is certain to impress on his youthful charges in the weeks to come: "Adversity has the effect of eliciting talents that which under prosperous conditions may have remained dormant."