Dan Devine, the nation's fifth most victorious active coach, is not considered to be cut from the same oratorical bolt as those who have preceded him at Notre Dame. His propensity for incomplete sentences often leaves interviewers in shock. His idea of a speech before his team goes onto the field would be "Don't forget your helmets, men." Up there Rockne has been groaning.
But last week Devine found just the right words to pump up his team. The result was that on Saturday, outlined against a blue-gray October sky, Notre Dame's Fighting Irish throttled Southern California 49-19. The victory came at a particularly opportune moment for both coach and team. The Irish, a No. 1 preseason pick by many, had been unimpressive against mediocre opposition (except for Pitt, they had not faced a Top 20 team) and even managed to get beaten by Mississippi. This in turn had started the wolves to howling again for Devine's hide. A bumper sticker which sold for $1 outside Notre Dame Stadium before the USC game said, DUMP DEVINE. Somebody painted over Devine's name on his parking place outside his office and made it read "5 minute parking." But with this win and a 5-1 record, three of the four major bowls (the Rose is excluded because of its Big Ten-Pac 8 commitment) are lusting after Notre Dame. "Cheer, Cheer For Old Notre Dame" is back on the charts. Up there Rockne is smiling.
Observers could see it building all week. On Monday and Tuesday the Irish practiced with such vigor that the coaches had to ease up the drills to prevent mayhem. On Wednesday, after an excellent workout, the taciturn Devine became almost loquacious as he told his team, "I think we could grab ourselves a drink of Nutrament and play them under the lights right now and win."
Then on the day before the game the players found their tennis coach, Tom Fallon, in their dressing room—to sing a few Irish ballads. But definitely not light-hearted ditties like When Irish Eyes Are Smiling. Instead, he sang The Wearin' of the Green, a song that laments, "They're hangin' men and women for the wearin' of the green."
October 31, 1977
Devine had only just begun. Unknown to all but a few intimates, he had ordered green jerseys for the wearin' on Saturday—the first time the Fighting Irish had donned such shirts since 1963. The players, who warmed up in their conventional dark blue jerseys, didn't know of the ploy until they were handed their starting game shirts back in the locker room moments before the kickoff. When Notre Dame came onto the field, the crowd of 59,075 erupted into startled cheers and Southern Cal started checking to see if it was in the right stadium.
Still, the Trojans, who had lost to Notre Dame only once in the past 10 years, took the opening kickoff and marched for 42 yards, only to fail to score when a field-goal attempt was short. The Irish then broke this season's precedent of not scoring in the first quarter by driving 80 yards in 11 plays the first time they got the ball, the touchdown coming on a four-yard blast by Dave Mitchell.
But 7-0 against explosive Southern Cal is nothing. Sure enough, with 10:44 to play in the half, Notre Dame's Terry Eurick was popped hard on his own five, the ball squirted loose and USC Linebacker Mario Celotto grabbed it and took three steps into the end zone. The kick tied the score, and the feeling was in the air that No. 5-ranked USC was getting ready to demonstrate why it was No. 1 before losing to Alabama—and why it might well belong back at the top of the heap.
Ted Burgmeier, a 186-pound Notre Dame cornerback, did not share that feeling. In his sophomore year, playing split end, he caught an 80-yard pass against North Carolina to win the game; as a junior he had 10 unassisted tackles against South Carolina. But, on a team with an abundance of stars, Burgmeier was a household name only if he didn't step outside his own house. In the closing minutes of the first half last Saturday, however, Burgmeier assured himself a place in the Notre Dame pantheon.
With 2:37 remaining and the score still 7-7, Joe Montana, a third-string quarterback earlier this fall, carried the ball in from a yard out to make it 13-7. Then came the extra point attempt, with Burgmeier holding for kicker Dave Reeve. But the snap was bad, skidding back to Burgmeier, who bobbled it. Jumping up (he's used to jumping up—he's also a pole vaulter), Burgmeier bolted to his left. Just as he was about to try to run it in, he spotted Halfback Tom Domin open in the end zone and, with a shotput motion, lofted the ball to Domin, who made a spectacular catch just inbounds.
So USC, which had figured to go in at the half down by only one TD, was trailing 15-7. And the storm was not over. Trojan Quarterback Rob Hertel tried to pass to Randy Simmrin, but Defensive End Ross Browner deflected the ball and Luther Bradley picked it off in mid-air for his 15th career interception, tying the Notre Dame record. With less than a minute to go, and the ball on the USC 34, Burgmeier trotted in to hold for the field-goal try. Except it was a fake. Burgmeier took the snap, placed it down and Reeve swung his leg. At which time Burgmeier gathered up his package and raced around the right side to the 13. On the next play Montana, who completed 13 of 24 for 167 yards, threw a nifty touchdown pass to his All-America tight end, Ken MacAfee, who was to end the day with eight receptions and two touchdowns. Burgmeier was on his way to hold for the extra point when the press-box announcer said, "Burgmeier will hold—we think." He did this time, and it was 22-7 at the intermission.
After the game Burgmeier was enjoying the fruits of his labor as he lounged in his apartment. "I'm not usually the one in the sun," he said. "I'm kind of tickled." On Wednesday night he had been sick to his stomach from worrying about the game; later in the week he decided to help his wife out in the kitchen by making his first cake, marble with chocolate icing. It was very uneven. On Saturday there was nothing uneven at all in Burgmeier's performance. In addition to the above heroics, he intercepted a pass on his own 14, preventing a likely touchdown. Turning back upfield, he made a pirouetting zig-zag run of 38 yards that if straightened out would have taken him across the USC goal line instead of to the Trojan 49. He also had four unassisted tackles during the afternoon and joined in four others.
As the Notre Dame players clattered into their dressing room at halftime, they faced a magazine cover from 1974. It was a photo of star USC Tailback Anthony Davis running over Notre Dame defenders and the caption was "What a comeback!" That was the game in which Notre Dame was ahead of the Trojans 24-6 at the half, only to have USC roar back and win 55-24. The import of the cover was not lost on the players.
When the second half started, the official scorer needed time-outs to keep up with the Notre Dame blitz. Linebacker Bob Golic, brilliant all afternoon, blocked a punt, and Defensive Tackle Jay Case picked it up and went 30 yards for a score. Montana passed again to the sensational MacAfee for another touchdown; Montana made it across again from the one; and in the dying seconds junior Quarterback Rusty Lisch passed four yards to Kevin Hart for the final TD. USC was held scoreless through the third quarter and got its remaining 12 points in the last 15 minutes when its tragedy was already set in concrete.
Late Saturday night Devine was looking across South Bend from the 14th floor of a bank building, surrounded by a few friends. He was relaxed enough to reflect on the DUMP DEVINE stickers and his own style. "If you try to copy somebody else," he said, "it works O.K. until you go in at halftime and revert to your real self. Then the players are really confused."
Immutable Dan Devine is back on the high road. It is the one that is painted green.