Sept. 10, 2017
By John Heisler
Thirty-seven years after he and his Notre Dame football teammates met top-ranked and unbeaten Georgia in the Sugar Bowl, former Irish All-America center John Scully was back on campus this weekend for a reunion of sorts.
It was the first time the Irish and Bulldogs met since that game capped the 1980 senior season for Scully—and it was the first time Georgia played at Notre Dame Stadium.
Among those on the other side of the line of scrimmage that New Year’s Day in the New Orleans Superdome was Georgia senior safety Scott Woerner.
Scully and Woerner had met when, as fellow first-team Associated Press All-Americans, they took part in the taping of that team’s presentation on the Bob Hope Show.
A few months later Woerner became the third-round pick of the Atlanta Falcons in the 1981 NFL Draft—and the Falcons selected Scully in the fourth round. The two were paired together as rookies, and they later shared an apartment together during their Falcon rookie season. They’ve stayed in touch over the years (in part via John connecting through the Facebook page of Scott’s wife Marianne). John even walked Marianne’s mother down the aisle at the Woerner wedding.
“We developed a really close and lasting connection in a relatively short period of time,” says Scully. “They’re good, genuine people. Scott brought me down to meet his family in Jonesboro, Georgia. I was kind of a city boy from New York, and I remember shooting one of those muzzle-loading muskets.”
Scully also recalls heading to Athens, Georgia, one Saturday when he and Woerner were NFL rookies to take in a Georgia football game.
“Everybody on campus knew who he was,” recalls John, a Huntington, New York, product and a 1980 Irish captain.
And Scully had a chance to return the favor this weekend--as Scully, Woerner (a 2016 College Football Hall of Fame inductee) and their families met on campus where John briefly served as tour guide.
Then came the fork in the road.
Some hours later, Scott and Marianne (they live in the north Georgia mountains where Scott is a high school teacher) took their seats in Notre Dame Stadium for the prime-time matchup between the Irish and Bulldogs.
Scully and his wife Annette? They might have shared a pre- or post-game toast with the Woerners—but instead they were long since back at their home in Joliet, Illinois, ready to watch the game on television.
It’s not that John isn’t interested. In fact, maybe he’s almost too interested. He still gets nervous and intense when the Irish play—and he’s not sure his offensive lineman-sized body fits well into a bleacher seat (he had joint replacement surgery on both shoulders last fall).
“We watch at home. Maybe I should reevaluate my system of thinking about these things,” he says with a laugh. “Maybe I’m 59 going on 12.”
So he comes to South Bend on some number of home-game weekends to tailgate—sometimes to meet up with daughters Britt and Annie, both Notre Dame graduates--and then drives home to watch from Joliet. Many times he ends up listening to the start of Notre Dame games on his car radio.
Scully doesn’t recall dozens of details from that 17-10 Georgia win in the Sugar Bowl—though he does remember Bulldog freshman running back Herschel Walker dropping by the Notre Dame team hotel after the game to say hello to Scully and a few other Irish players.
Amazingly, Georgia won that game despite completing only a single pass.
“That (statistic) alone gives you the depth of how long ago it was,” says Scully.
Scully had a distinguished career with Notre Dame (also winning a national championship ring as a reserve freshman offensive tackle on the 1977 Irish title team) to go with nine seasons with the Falcons (he started at guard for seven seasons). Yet he readily admits he’s better known around campus these days as the guy who wrote “Here Come the Irish,” with vocalist Cathy Richardson (she became the lead vocalist for Jefferson Starship in 2008) offering her version just prior to kickoff of Notre Dame home football games.
“The music recognition comes with greater regularity than anything involving football,” says Scully, “That’s the truth, and it’s a great thing.”
Though he continues to work in the insurance business, he and Grammy Award-winning producer Jim Tullio also collaborate on music projects. And Scully, an accomplished pianist, still performs at various Notre Dame events.
Scully hasn’t lost his offensive lineman mentality. That’s why he loved Notre Dame’s 422 rushing yards on opening week against Temple.
“It keeps your defense off the field, it enables you to control the pace of the game and that way you don’t need to have a young quarterback thinking he has everything on his shoulders,” he says.
Scully looked forward to his reunion with the Woerners in South Bend.
But his plan was to celebrate an Irish victory from Joliet.