Nov. 12, 2000
by John Heisler
For the record, it's been exactly three years, two months and five days -- not that anyone's counting.
That's how long it's been from the first time Joey Getherall ran through the tunnel into Notre Dame Stadium as a freshman Irish football player until today -- when he runs through it for the final time.
Hard to believe, if you ask Getherall.
Plenty of stuff has happened for the diminutive Hacienda Heights, Calif., product and his fellow seniors in their four seasons.
Five straight wins to end the regular season as freshmen. A huge victory at 11th-rated LSU that November and a home win over 22nd-rated West Virginia the next Saturday. Scott Cengia's last-second field goal at Hawaii that made the Irish eligible for a bowl.
As sophomores in '98, they opened with an attention-grabbing home win against defending national champion Michigan. Eight straight midseason wins sent the Irish on their way to the Gator Bowl.
Then, in '99, Notre Dame rebounded from three early losses to Big Ten teams by a combined 19 points to get it to 5-3 heading into November. Then a loss at Tennessee pointed Irish hopes south.
Finally, there's been a senior season chocked full of electricity and loaded with heroic moments. Getherall has become the poster child, if you will, for these 2000 Irish, thanks to his give-it-120 percent, leave-it-all-on-the-field posture. He shrugs when you bring it up, but it's been that sort of unselfish attitude and style that has stood out this fall. As the saying goes, it's amazing what can be accomplished when no one cares who gets the credit.
And these Irish don't seem to care. They've regained a confident air, but they seem to understand it's still a week-to-week process. Maybe having 23 of your 45 games over four seasons decided by seven points or less does that to you. And, for every Tony Driver and Brock Williams who've added a little swagger to the defense, there's a freshman quarterback in low-key Matt LoVecchio who seems to work hard at not saying anything that might end up in headlines.
Through all that, Getherall is hard-pressed to pick out much specific when it comes to memories. In fact, as far as he's concerned, his greatest thrill has been running out of the tunnel that very first time when Notre Dame Stadium was rededicated against Georgia Tech to start the '97 season. He caught five passes for 47 yards that day as the first freshman in 14 years to start his first game at Notre Dame -- but he left the locker room on crutches with a sprained knee and missed the next three games. Still, it was a glimpse of things to come.
"It was hard that first year," Getherall says.
"You get hurt in the first game and you're 18 years old, a freshman. But you learn to live with it, to stay strong and be positive. It made me stronger as a person and I grew up a lot. You learn how to deal with things."
A week ago, the Irish flanker and punt return specialist pondered the thought of speaking at the final home pep rally:
"Maybe I'll be standing at the podium and it will all come flashing back. But I try not to think about it."
Irish fans won't ever mind flashbacks of his 83-yard punt return for a touchdown against top-ranked Nebraska. Two weeks ago today, Getherall twice passed over the goal line in a prone position, once on a 68-yard reception from LoVecchio that prompted a balance-gathering dive into the end zone -- and then on the game-winning reverse that earned him a Rudy-like ride on the shoulders of his teammates.
"My hat's off to him," said Air Force coach Fisher DeBerry.
"What a competitor. He loves to play the game."
Sounds like scrapbook material to me, but the 5-7 Getherall is nonchalant about it all. He's more prone to remember a spring break trip with Driver, Jarious Jackson and Jimmy Friday than he does the football part.
"It's the guys on the team and the fun I've had. The practices, the guys, the games, all those things. Hanging out, going on the road trips.
"I hope our best moment is still to come. We've still got a chance to go to a big bowl game this year."
As fast as it's flown by, Getherall has a pointed message for those left behind:
"I'd tell the freshmen not to have any regrets. Play your heart out. Take advantage of your opportunities."
That's all Getherall did -- and it worked for him in big-time fashion. He earned all the respect he ever could have wanted. And, after all, that's what it's all about.