11 more agonizing Saturdays left on the Calender before college football gets started again. Fill it up by watching classic football games or by staying busy with other hobbies.
I was going to move on to the 80s with my Saturday series of blogs but remembered the 1979 Cotton Bowl.
January 1, 1979, Notre Dame Fighting Irish vs the Cougars of the University of Houston. This was the kind of game that built that legend that is Joe Montana. Joe Montana, as far as I am concerned,
was the best QB to ever play the game. I know it’s popular to hate Notre Dame, but I can never hate a school with that kind of historical significance and any school that once had the one and only Joe Montana playing for them.
Dallas, Texas on New Year’s Day can be 70 degrees or it can be 20 degrees. You just never know what you are going to get in Texas regarding weather. On January 1, 1979 it was 22 degrees and they had the worst ice storm they had seen in 30 years.
The playing turf was incredibly awful and was to be torn out after the game. Horrible game conditions made for a sloppy turnover infested game.
The University of Houston was an underrated school back in those days under Head Coach Bill Yeoman. Other than a 2-8 season in 1975, and a 6-5 record in 1977, the Cougars were pretty good throughout the 70s under Yeoman and running their famous Houston Veer Offense. Their best years were 1973 and 1979 when they went 11-1. Houston is an important school in the history of college football because Bill Yeoman was the first coach in the South to offer black athletes scholarships at a white Southern University. They were definitely ahead of their time in college football and recruited a lot of outstanding talent out of the Houston area and from East Texas. Most of the talent coming out of Texas comes from Houston, Dallas or East Texas. Southern and Western parts of Texas are mostly wasteland as far as producing top football players. It’s those 3 areas of Texas that produce what the media loves to call SEC quality talent.
The Houston Cougars were a more than worthy opponent for the Irish that day and that would have also been true if it had been 70 degrees.
Notre Dame took a 12-0 lead, but the Cougars came charging back and took a 20-12 lead into half time.
Joe Montana was uncharacteristically awful for most of this game and threw a couple of interceptions in the second quarter setting up Houston scores. Turned out that Joe Montana had the flu and back up QB Tim Koegel took over for an ailing Montana for a part of the 3rd quarter.
Notre Dame gave Joe Montana some Chicken Soup at half time in hopes of helping him feel better which explains the game being called ‘The Chicken Soup Game’.
Poor Koegel was hardly at fault, either. He kept hitting Notre Dame receivers and they kept dropping the ball.
Notre Dame was just out of sorts. One would have thought that the cold would affect the Cougars since Houston is nearly in the Tropics. But, the Irish seemed to struggle with the cold conditions.
By nearly the end of the 3rd quarter, Houston had scored 34 straight points and was up 34-12. Things were looking bleak for Notre Dame and especially at the end of the 3rd quarter when Montana threw his 3rd interception.
For all of the problems Notre Dame had, their defense hung tough most of the game. The Fighting Irish offense kept putting the Notre Dame Defense in horrible situations and they gave it their all trying to keep the Cougars out of the End Zone. After Montana threw his 4th interception in the 4th, the defense stepped up yet one more time and kept the score at 34 which made all the difference.
Announcer Paul Hornung a former Notre Dame player got frustrated with Montana during the broadcast and said that Montana needed to take something off of his throws on a day like that one.
Notre Dame got a break on a punt attempt by Houston when the Punter dropped the ball and then got the ball partially blocked. A personal foul against Houston put the Irish at the Houston 10 yard line. But, no dice, the Irish still can’t do anything as Montana and the offense continued to struggle. They can’t even score from the Houston 10 yard line.
This game was over. Houston started playing their back up QB.
The Notre Dame defense continued to play with all their hearts. Then, the special teams rose up and got a punt block which was returned for a TD.
Something about that play seemed to spark the Irish and especially Paul Hornung the announcer. Maybe the chicken soup had finally kicked in for Joe Montana and things started to get better for the Irish offense.
Momentum is a funny thing. Notre Dame can do little right for 3 and 1/2 quarters and suddenly they can do little wrong. It was 34-20 after the punt block return and the 2 point conversion.
Montana led them on a very impressive drive and scored himself on a bootleg and they were again successful on a 2 point conversion. Suddenly it was 34-28 with 4 minutes left.
Notre Dame defense continued to shine as the Houston Cougars attempt to run the clock out.
Notre Dame got the ball back with 2:25 remaining on the clock and Montana promptly led them on a drive.
It wasn’t quite that easy as Montana had a nice run and he fumbled the ball.
Announcer Paul Hornung could not hide his disappointment with the fumble at 1:50. Hornung had a hard time not showing his bias that day.
Notre Dame defense rose to the occasion yet again and stopped the Cougars. Not enough can be said about the Irish defense that day.
Hornung couldn’t even say the Houston coaches name right. Bill Yeoman was a helluva coach in his time and deserved his name being said right on national television and I never got why Hornung got so much publicity either.
Houston punted, but the Irish had the block on and were off sides on the play. Houston was now in a 4th down and less than a yard to go situation and elected to go for it.
Irish defense once again stopped the Cougars short of a first down.
28 seconds remaining at the Houston 29 yard line. Up and down Hornung is obviously up again and full of hope. CBS might could have found a color guy for their broadcast that wasn’t clearly pulling for one team.
Montana ran the ball for 11 yards while holding the ball like a loaf of bread like he did in the last fumble. Most every Irish fan in the country, no doubt, was holding their breath while he ran. First and 10 at the 18 yard line.
Montana hit Kris Haynes at the 8 yard line with 6 seconds left. Luckily, Haynes was near the sideline because the Irish were out of time outs.
Montana tried to hit Haynes again and missed with 2 seconds left on the clock. Montana went to Haynes for the 3rd play in a row and this time hit him for a TD with no time left tying up the score. Extra point makes it 35-34 for one of the great comebacks of all time.
As the great Paul Hornung said, Joe Montana has done it again.
Hornung was right. The great Joe Montana did do it again and that’s why he will always be a legend in both college football and the NFL.
This game could have been a blow out if not for the Notre Dame defense when they held it together in spite of numerous turnovers by their own offense.
But, when the game was on the line Paul Hornung actually said it best.
Joe Montana had done it again.