Oct. 4, 2013
By John Heisler, Senior Associate Athletics Director
The University of Notre Dame football program--and the University at large--like the idea of being in Texas this weekend.
That message came through loud and clear at the Shamrock Series luncheon Friday at the Worthington Renaissance Hotel in downtown Fort Worth.
Nearly 550 guests looked on as master of ceremonies Jack Nolan from Fighting Irish Digital Media interviewed Irish athletics director and vice president Jack Swarbrick, former Notre Dame players Tim Brown and Robin Weber (both from Dallas) as well as Irish head coach Brian Kelly.
University president Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., offered the invocation and some brief remarks: "We created these Shamrock Series games to bring Notre Dame to some of the great Notre Dame cities of this nation. It's a way of making Notre Dame present here in Texas."
Prior to Swarbrick's interview, attendees viewed a video featuring relatives of Knute Rockne and Gus Dorais re-enacting the 1913 summer that pair spent on the beach at Cedar Point Resort in Ohio perfecting the forward pass, then a seldom-used weapon.
"I love to talk about that (1913) team," said Swarbrick.
"That one game (a 35-13 win over Army at West Point) changed the way college football was played. It was only 13-7 (Notre Dame led) at half and then there was a 72-yard pass play early in the third period. You look back on that game, and it's interesting that maybe the single most important play in Notre Dame history was sent in by an agnostic coach (Jesse Harper) to a Jewish quarterback (Dorais) and a protestant wide receiver (Rockne).
"Harper was hired as the last hope to turn the program around. His approach was to play all across America (at Penn State, Army and Texas). It was a vehicle to promote the program and that's at the heart of the Shamrock Series.
"The ACC give us great opponents from Boston to Miami. We're going to be in California with Stanford and USC. We need to get to this part of the country on a regular basis.
"Being independent is all about this. We need to be national in everything we do. Being independent lets us promote the University nationally.
"The Shamrock Series gets bigger every year. The best part is the anticipation. People build it into their vacation plans. It's a celebration of Notre Dame. The question I get the most these days is, `Where are we going next?'"
Swarbrick also lauded the ability of all 26 Notre Dame sports to combine athletic and academic success.
"This past year we had the most number of teams ever in the NCAA Championships and the most number of teams with perfect APR scores. We don't want to do one without the other."
He noted the fact the Irish played in the Bowl Championship Series title game and also ranked number one in football graduation rates:
Swarbrick closed by talking about the current Irish squad:
"I get to practice a lot, almost every day when I'm in town. I love the dynamics of this group. We've set the bar high with this schedule. It takes time to replace some of the leaders we had last year.
"I love the progress and the attitude and the way they go about their business. I expect they will get better every week because that's what Brian Kelly-coached teams do."
Nolan visited with Brown and Weber coming off highlights from their playing days--including Brown's two punt return for scores against Michigan State in 1987 and Weber's huge catch that preserved possession for the Irish in their 1973 Sugar Bowl win over top-rated Alabama.
Said Brown: "I probably won the Heisman on that second return. It was a play that probably should have never happened because there was no blocking. I was on the bench getting oxygen. I told (assistant coach) George Stewart they better block the punt because I was out of breath."
Weber suggested his Sugar Bowl reception marked the only time Clements ever threw him the football in either a game or practice: "I was the blocker in a two-tight end offense. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time."
Weber also told a story of nearly losing his contact lenses in the team hotel the day of the Sugar Bowl. He'd left the lens case at the Irish practice facility and had irrigated the lenses in his room with two paper towels. The towels and lenses ended up in the trash, but Weber went to a basement dumpster and amazingly found the wet paper towels with the lenses intact.
Brown remarked on the first meeting with new coach Lou Holtz not long after the 1985 season: "Chuck Lanza (who was in the audience Friday) had his feet up on the ledge in the auditorium and he (Holtz) kicked them off. He took control of the room right away. He was tough. He wanted to know if you were there for yourself or for Notre Dame.
"He did his relaxation sessions with us Friday nights before games, and I carried that with me as a player for a long time. I would get on the floor and relax before every game."
Weber echoed some of the same thoughts about Ara Parseghian:
"We'd be walking to practice in a drizzle and you'd hear players saying, `Ara stop the rain, Ara stop the rain,' and sure enough it would stop. He expected excellence and you wanted to be as good as he wanted you to be."
Weber (he looked the part in cowboy boots, a western shirt, jeans and a blue blazer) noted he had no intention of going to Notre Dame--but when the Irish ended their bowl ban and played in the Cotton Bowl against Texas after the '69 season it caught his eye.
Brown talked about leaving a hotbed area of football to go to the Midwest: "I wanted to get a great education. I wish my brother (Donald) was here because he was a big subway alumnus and he convinced my parents I should go to Notre Dame."
After trips to Yankee Stadium, Washington, D.C., and Chicago in Kelly's first three seasons, he likes the idea of Texas as a Shamrock Series destination: "We know how important this area is to Notre Dame. They play great high school football in Texas and they are high schools that fit our profile." He noted that Irish assistant Kerry Cooks comes from Irving, was just named to the Texas High School Hall of Fame and "has great connections here."
Here are more Kelly thoughts on his team and tomorrow's game:
"We haven't played our best football yet. We're not a finished product. I like our energy and direction. I'm excited to watch us tomorrow and see if we can play without turning it over. There's not a huge margin in college football these days. Look at the Texas-Iowa State game last night. You've got to battle wherever you are. If you turn it over, like we did against Oklahoma, you put yourself in a tough position. You can't give us easy points.
"Arizona State has a very good offense. They gained 600 yards against a USC defense that had been playing extremely well. Their quarterback, Taylor Kelly, can throw it and run it and we've got to keep him in the pocket. We can't give up the big play--we've got to eliminate those this week. And we've got to find that balance on offense."
Other Irish players in the audience in addition to Brown, Weber and Lanza included Rick Mirer, Reggie Brooks and Tom Gibbons.
Proceeds from the event went to the Notre Dame Club of Dallas scholarship fund, which currently provides partial aid for 22 students at Notre Dame.