Picking Up Where They Didn't Leave Off

Chagrined by the 5-6 record last year, Notre Dame came out roaring in its '82 opener against Michigan
September 26, 1982

Outlined against a blue-white metal halide September sky—surely the damnedest backdrop ever for a Notre Dame football game—Faust raved again. In classic literature Faust is a madman; in real life, well, no one has gone quite that far in describing Gerry Faust. But at this particular moment the 47-year-old Notre Dame coach was, certifiably, a mad man, as in angry—ranting and railing, stomping up and down the sidelines, eager to have at the official who had just bestowed what Faust considered the gift of a pass interference call upon Michigan. Now, with only a little more than two minutes remaining, the Wolverines, behind 23-17, were on Notre Dame's 35-yard line and driving for a touchdown and victory. "I didn't know what to think," said Faust.

He might have looked for solace out beyond the north end of Notre Dame Stadium—the way Ara always could on football Saturday afternoons in South Bend—to the wall of Memorial Library. But Musco Mobile Lighting, Ltd., which had illuminated Notre Dame Stadium to the extent that it seemed to be the climactic scene in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, hadn't trained its Klieg lights upon the giant TOUCHDOWN JESUS mosaic looming somewhere out there in the dark. "I prayed anyway," said Faust.

Which may or may not have had something to do with the fact that three plays later Michigan Quarterback Steve Smith completed a pass to Split End Vincent Bean on the Irish 30, only to have Irish Free Safety Dave Duerson strip the ball from Bean's grasp. Thus Notre Dame preserved its rightful victory and Faust was free to leap and skip and dance and pummel the air like a high school coach in celebration of his greatest win since—well, since Faust's Moeller High School team beat Massillon in 1980 to give him his seventh undefeated season in 18 years as the Cincinnati school's head coach.

Faust was so keyed up that his postgame words flew out of his mouth like blasts from an air horn:

"Gosh almighty that was a thriller!"

"Oh didn't our young men play fantastically!"

"I don't think we could have done anything better than we did tonight!"

"I'm so happy for the kids, the players, the alumni, all the fans and the University of Notre Dame!"

And, he might have added, for Faust, who no longer needed to worry that his second season at Notre Dame would pick up where his first left off. There were critics, plenty of them, who, after Faust's miserable 5-6 record in his inaugural season at South Bend, felt that his rah-rah style was something that had gone out with leather helmets. "Oust Faust" and "Send The Holy Roller Back To Moeller" were the phrases heard in South Bend over the winter. And there was an uneasy quiet in town last week because no one, not the fans, not the students, not the players, not Faust himself, knew how the 1982 Irish would react to the changes he made in the off-season. Which included hiring Carl Selmer, a former Miami head coach and an assistant at Nebraska for 11 years, as offensive line coach and Ron Hudson, a former UCLA assistant, as quarterback and receivers coach, and changing his own style from an on-the-field practice coach to one who watches his minions from the remoteness of a tower. But everyone did know the answer would be apparent to the whole world on Saturday night. When the game was over, no anti-Faustian comments were to be heard.

It was a vindication of the most glorious kind for Faust, beating a Michigan team thought by its coach, Bo Schembechler, to be capable of winning the national championship. Moreover, it was Michigan that had given Faust his baptismal beating a year ago, and the Irish never seemed to get on track after that. "There was so much talk before last year and we didn't back it up," said Notre Dame senior Tight End Tony Hunter, who would catch seven of Quarterback Blair Kiel's 15 completions (out of 22 attempts) for 76 yards. "It was a nightmare that started when Michigan whipped us 25-7 when we were ranked Number One and ended when we were embarrassed by Miami while losing 37-15 on national TV. We decided this year to keep our mouths shut."

"I was really scared," said sophomore Defensive Tackle Mike Gann. "Until the first play. Then, when we handled Michigan so well right away, I knew we'd be okay." Indeed, Gann and his defensive cohorts had an almost sinfully easy time with the Michigan offensive line. End Kevin Griffith sacked Smith three times, and five other Irishmen each got him once. But of all the wondrous statistics, the Notre Dame defensive unit should be best remembered for having held Michigan to a net total of 41 yards rushing. Forty-one yards on the ground for the Wolverines! Last season Michigan averaged 274.4 yards per game. The last time Michigan got as few as 41 yards on the ground was in 1970, Schembechler's second season, when the Wolverines gained just 37 yards rushing and lost to Ohio State 20-9.

No wonder, then, that Bo kept the press out of his locker room for 30 minutes after the debacle and was spitting bile when he finally opened the door. "I didn't recognize that team out there," he said. "The offensive line got whipped. They simply played terrible. The defense didn't tackle well. We couldn't run the ball and we couldn't stop their backs. I've never had a team come apart on me like that. I can't figure it out."

By his past standards, Bo's postgame fulminations were mild, lending credence to the recent spate of reports from Ann Arbor that Schembechler has mellowed, that he is really having fun now. At any previous point in his 13 years at Michigan a Wolverine performance like the Notre Dame disgrace would have brought on a full-blown Woody Hayes tantrum. Under the circumstances, Bo had to be considered a model of decorum. The redoubling of his love affair with Michigan came last spring when he spurned the $2.5 million over 10 years offered by Texas A&M (the job that Jackie Sherrill then took) to stay in Ann Arbor for a modest raise—to $85,000 a year—and a pizza franchise. Honest, a pizza joint. Just last week in a laid-back, feet-on-his-desk chat with a visiting journalist, Bo told how the Texas A&M people were still romancing him in the basement of his Ann Arbor home, even after he had decided to turn down the job, when a Michigan booster named Tom Monahan barged into the house. "I came upstairs and Tom said, 'Bo, before you make up your mind, let me give you something.' I said, 'Tom, it's all over. I'm not going.' Tom said, 'I don't care.' And he gave me a Domino's Pizza franchise. So now I've got a pizza franchise."

With a 20-9 win over Wisconsin already under their belts, all the Wolverines seemed more confident about the Notre Dame game than any squad had been for any big game in the Schembechler era. And that included Bo himself. How else can you explain Bo's saying on Friday afternoon, "I'm more worried about how I'm going to tape my TV show. We'll get back home at 2:30 a.m. Sunday, and I'll have to go straight into the studio. I'll be falling asleep on the air."

Will Bo ever say such a thing again?

Did anyone, even Bo, think that Michigan's fumbling the ball away on the third play of the game—Bob Clasby knocked it loose while sacking Smith on the Michigan 22 to set up a 35-yard field goal by Mike Johnston—would be a harbinger of a Wolverine collapse of such magnitude? Not even 59,075 howling Notre Dame fans would have guessed that. But when the Wolverines netted the inglorious total of minus-six yards for their first three possessions, people began to suspect that something strange was going on in the sci-fi glare of those lights.

It was Smith's second fumble—when he collided head on with Larry Ricks, his own tailback—that really lit Bo up. Four plays later, just as the second quarter started, Notre Dame's senior fullback, Larry Moriarty, on his way to a 116-yard evening, slashed off left end, broke a tackle at the line of scrimmage and dashed 24 yards for a touchdown.

"Moriarty [who alternated at fullback with John Sweeney and Mark Brooks last season, carrying the ball just 20 times for 94 yards] really surprised me," said Schembechler. "I don't know if he's a good back or if we're just that bad at tackling—and I'm not being facetious."

Faust kept up the pressure. On Notre Dame's next possession he ordered a third down quick kick by Kiel—who doubles as the Irish punter—that went 59 yards and put the Wolverines into yet another hole. After Michigan punted, Notre Dame mounted a 55-yard drive, which ended when Tailback Greg Bell fumbled while smashing up the middle and lunging toward the goal line. "What about Bell's fumble?" Faust was asked after the game.

"You mean the touchdown?" the coach said. "That was a touchdown. Our kids said it was a touchdown. I didn't say it was a touchdown. Don't say I said it. Say I said they said it." O.K., they said it, but it was Notre Dame's only turnover of the game, and after Johnston booted a 37-yard field goal—the Irish senior had kicked only two field goals in his life before Saturday, both in high school—Michigan was lucky to be trailing 13-0 at the half. The Wolverines hadn't made a single third-down conversion. Nor would they the entire evening.

Still, they were only befuddled, not disheartened, at halftime. "We figured we could get back in it," said Smith. "Two TDs isn't much." And there was just no way Michigan, which had been outrushed in the first half 141 yards to 29, wouldn't come out stronger. Moreover, Anthony Carter had yet to be heard from.

Not that the Notre Dame crowd hadn't called for Carter, the senior receiver/kick returner who has averaged an NCAA record 17.4 yards each time he has carried the football, and who has scored one touchdown for every four passes he's caught in his Wolverine career. Friday night, at the Notre Dame pep rally, which is one of the few true-to-tradition surviving pep rallies left in the nation, Hunter got up before several thousand fellow students and said, "Maybe you all saw a movie called The Warriors. Maybe you remember when one of the rival gang members called over to the Warriors [Hunter switched over to a taunting, singsong voice] 'Warriors, come out and play-ay!' Now I want you all to yell 'An-thony, come out and play-ay!' " And several thousand students and alumni did. And they did it again Saturday night, riding into the third quarter with that 13-point lead. "An-thony, come out and play-ay!"

Kiel boomed a 51-yard punt after the Irish's first possession of the second half, and Carter drifted back several yards, to his own 28, to field it. He decided it was indeed time to play. John Sweeney and Joe Johnson had Carter covered well enough on the catch, but Carter just sprang between them with instantaneous full acceleration, then ran along the left hash mark, broke away from Kevin Kelly at the 50 and went unmolested the rest of the 72 yards for a touchdown though there were two ominous signs: one, the fleet Carter was nearly caught from behind by Chris Smith, and two, Michigan's John Lott apparently clipped on Kiel, the last Notre Dame player between Carter and the end zone. But no flag was thrown. The PAT was good, and with almost the whole second half to go, it was 13-7. Carter, however, was through for the evening. On the touchdown run he had aggravated a groin pull suffered on a late hit in the first half.

The Irish responded with a 49-yard field-goal drive and then a 62-yard touchdown drive, Bell running seven yards for the score on a brilliant change-of-direction play after Faust had ordered a daring fourth-down Kiel-to-Hunter 15-yard pass that kept the drive alive.

Michigan's answer was a 42-yard field goal from Ali Haji-Sheikh, making it 23-10 with 13 minutes left in the game. Now it was strictly desperation time for Smith. Schembechler has staunchly defended his junior quarterback for two seasons, but around Ann Arbor they say it's a pity that Carter has never had the opportunity to play with a legitimate thrower. True to form, Bo stuck with Smith even though he benched the other backfield starters, Ricks and Fullback Greg Armstrong, replacing them with Rick Rogers and Eddie Garrett. And Smith did hook up on a 32-yard pass to Bean, to give Michigan a first down on the Notre Dame 39 with 7:45 to go.

Then came the true immaculate reception—practically under the nose of TOUCHDOWN JESUS. The play began with Smith faking a hand-off to Rogers up the middle. Smith then faded back and heaved the ball downfield toward Gilvanni Johnson, who was double-teamed at the Irish 27 by Duerson and Stacy Toran. Duerson batted the ball and it caromed over Toran's shoulder. Johnson, also defending in the area, yelled "Ball! Ball!"—the signal that the ball was still available for interception. "I was looking for it," said Toran, "but I couldn't find it." The ball was spinning, seemingly glued to Toran's back as if it were a gyroscope. At which point Rogers, who had gone downfield after the fake, showed up on the scene, plucked the ball off the defender's back, spun 270 degrees and took off for the end zone. "I felt him brush me and then I saw him go," said Toran. "It was history." It was also 23-17 on the scoreboard.

"I never saw a play like that in my life," said Faust, "and I never want to see one again. Unless it happens for our side. But I learned one thing after last year: Don't hang your head. Last year I know I would have hung my head, but I didn't believe we could lose the game on flukes after playing so well. I just told the young men we had to control the football."

But Notre Dame could only keep the ball for six plays, and had to kick it away. Starting at his own 20 with 4:12 left, Smith passed to Tight End Craig Dunaway for one first down and then to Bean for another. On third-and-eight from midfield, Smith threw for Steve Johnson at the Notre Dame 35. The ball was low and Johnson might have made the catch on his knees, but Cornerback John Mosely got his right hand around Johnson and tipped the pass away. A yellow flag flew—and Mosely was called for interference. That was the call that sent Faust into his angry dance.

"I was pretty upset," said Faust. "I said, 'What's going on here? What's going on here? Somebody's trying to take this away from us!' "

Righteous character that Schembechler is, he would be the last person in the stadium to suggest that Notre Dame didn't deserve to win. "Heck, that last touchdown was something," he said. "The way we came back.... If we would have won the game, it would've been one for Ripley—or the Gipper!"

Duerson's interception put Ripley on hold, but maybe it was one for the Gipper. And maybe 50 years from now they'll remember the night the Irish whipped Michigan under the Golden Domelights. The night Gerry Faust could truly say, "We woke up the echoes a little bit today."

PHOTOThe swarming Irish defense yielded only 41 yards to Michigan's vaunted running game. PHOTOFullback Moriarty gained 94 yards in all of '81...and 116 against Bo Saturday night. PHOTOBell's third-quarter TD made it 23-7. PHOTOMoriarty helped clear the way for Carter, who averaged 4.8 yards on 14 carries. PHOTOAutry launched the Notre Dame offensive by scooping up Smith's first-quarter fumble. PHOTODuerson snuffed out Michigan's last-gasp drive by stripping the ball from Bean. PHOTOA frantic Faust had to be restrained after a late pass interference call on the Irish. PHOTOThe Immaculate Reception began with Duerson batting the ball intended for Johnson.
1
PHOTOThe caroming ball popped up and onto Notre Dame Cornerback Toran's shoulder pads.
2
PHOTOIt stayed there while Toran, hearing the call "ball," searched in vain to find it.
3
PHOTOMichigan's Rogers arrived on the wild scene and alertly snatched the ball away.
4
PHOTORogers then pivoted from the surprised defenders to get himself running room.
5
PHOTOTucking the ball away, Rogers took off for the goal line and a Michigan touchdown.
6
PHOTOBo seemed mellow before the game, but events in South Bend set his teeth on edge.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)