In the late 1970s Notre Dame had an All-America offensive star
with a catchy name, a somewhat undersized body and a knack for
coming through in big games. No, it wasn't Joe Montana--he never
made All-America. Vagas Ferguson did, and without him the
Fighting Irish might not have won their only national
championship of that period.
Ferguson was a 6'1", 194-pound halfback who wasn't terrifically
fast but avoided tacklers the way Albert Belle shuns the media.
When the Irish stunned Texas 38-10 in the Cotton Bowl to win the
1977 national title, the game's offensive MVP was Ferguson, a
sophomore, who rushed for 100 yards and scored three touchdowns.
He finished his career two years later with a then school-record
3,472 rushing yards.
Ferguson, now 42, didn't revel in receiving attention or awards.
While growing up with six siblings and three cousins in his
grandparents' home in Richmond, Ind. (his mother died when he
was eight, and his father lived nearby), he learned all about
teamwork. As he looks back on the 1977 champions, it's their
selflessness he most treasures. "Nobody was better than anybody
else," Ferguson says. "The MVP wasn't important. It was that we
won as a team."
After four mostly forgettable NFL seasons with the New England
Patriots, Houston Oilers and Cleveland Browns, and a year with
the Chicago Blitz in the USFL, Ferguson retired. He describes
his pro football career as "a luxury. College wasn't about me
going to the next level. I got my experience, I enjoyed it, and
I was prepared to do something else." He spent six years as a
sales rep in Chicago for a company that sold electronic wiring
cable and then returned home to serve as athletic director at
Richmond High and earn his master's in education from Miami of
Ohio. Today he's an assistant principal at the high school, in
charge of discipline for about half of the 1,800 students. "I
came back to this level," he says, "because I wanted to work
with kids who had problems. I try to keep kids in school."
September 19, 1999
Ferguson also serves as the board president of a community
center in a disadvantaged neighborhood of Richmond. Across the
street from the center is Ferguson's house--home to Ferguson
(who's divorced); his 14-year-old daughter; his 16-year-old son
(he also has a 25-year-old son); a nephew, 12; a cousin, 30; and
the grandparents who raised him, Joe and Hattie Walker, both in
their 80s. How does Ferguson keep such a large household running
smoothly? As in football, he says, "it takes a team effort."
"The MVP wasn't important," he says of the '78 Cotton Bowl. "It
was that we won as a team."