When Notre Dame got its measles and flu shots last week before leaving for Los Angeles to face Southern Cal and its talented, if recently contagious (with measles) quarterback, Rodney Peete, Irish defensive end—linebacker Frank Stams was itching to get an inoculation. Stams wanted the shot, he explained, because he planned to be in Peete's face all afternoon at the L.A. Memorial Coliseum.
On Saturday, Stams, a 6'4", 237-pound fifth-year senior, made good on his threat. Among his game-high nine tackles (Southern Cal linebacker Scott Ross also had nine) were two solo sacks and an assist on another. On the first of those sacks, which came at the very end of the second quarter, Peete ended up with a bruised left shoulder. Then, in the fourth quarter, as Peete frantically searched for an open receiver, Stams caught him from the left side, and Irish tackle George Williams finished him off from the front. Five minutes later Stams bounced off a block by Trojan fullback Leroy Holt to sack Peete once again as he tried to break out of the pocket.
But the most resounding lick that Stams laid on Peete wasn't a sack or a tackle. With less than a minute left in the first half, cornerback Stan Smagala intercepted a USC pass. As Smagala raced down the sideline, Peete started toward him. Just as Peete began to pick up speed, Stams flattened him with a blind-side block that he must have learned to throw during his days as Notre Dame's starting fullback three years ago.
The blow knocked the wind out of Peete, who didn't get up for more than a minute. "I didn't go looking for him," said Stams, who also recovered a fumble to set up a touchdown. "I picked up the next opposite-colored jersey, and it just so happened to be Rodney Peete's. He was the last guy who could make the tackle or force the runner inside toward the pursuit."
December 5, 1988
"Frank has played well in the big games," said Barry Alvarez, Notre Dame's defensive coordinator, afterward. "He comes front and center in games like this."
In Notre Dame's 31-30 win over Miami on Oct. 15, Stams caused two fumbles, recovered a third and tipped a pass, which was intercepted and returned for a touchdown. He also had three tackles and was named MVP of the game.
"I don't think you should sit at your locker after a game and say what if I'd done this or done that," said Stams while sitting at his locker after Saturday's game. "You've got to be all over the field, giving everything on every play."
Said Alvarez, "He's helped set the personality of our defense." If so, a personality profile of the Irish defense would show it to be:
•Tough. After the Miami game, Stams spoke enviously of Irish linebacker Wes Pritchett, who had played much of the game with a broken hand. Said Stams, "That's what it's all about out there—pain."
•Selfless. When asked to move from fullback to defense, Stams responded, "Hey, where do you want me to play?"
•Fun-loving. Stams opened a press conference after the Miami game by asking, "Did anyone see Elvis? I left him two tickets in Section 30." He likes to tell unsuspecting freshmen that Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz wants to see them—immediately.
•Businesslike. Stams is what the Chicago Bears' Mike Ditka would call a "Grabowski," a blue-collar player. Stams grew up in a family of Greek immigrants in Akron. His name, before his parents changed it, was Forte Stamotopolis. And names don't get much stronger than that.
After Notre Dame defeated Penn State 21-3 three weeks ago, Nittany Lions coach Joe Paterno said, "Frank Stams has come to the front. He's a fifth-year kid who has been waiting for his time. Until this year, he has just been another football player. He has come along and given Notre Dame leadership."
Unfortunately for Peete, Stams's time seemed to have arrived last Saturday at the Coliseum.