By Karl O'Quinn
San Antonio Express and News
ORLEANS-They billed it as the "Game of the Century," but you know how
conservative folks are getting these days.
Bob Thomas kicked a 19-yard field goal late in the fourth quarter and
the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame turned into riverboat gamblers to make
it stand up for a 24-23 victory over top-ranked Alabama in the Sugar
Bowl Monday night.
The win almost certainly will give the Irish their ninth national
championship in the eyes of everybody except the UPI which does not vote
again, and the Oklahoma Sooners, who were second ranked but couldn't go
bowling. The Irish were ranked third going into the game. A record crowd
of 85,161 watched the lead change hands six times before Notre Dame
could finally ice it down by passing from its own end zone on third
Tight end Dave Casper jumped offside to push the Irish back to their
own three because of the penalty, but it was just unbearable eagerness
on his part. On the next play, his substitute, Robin Weber, slanted
through the Crimson Tide secondary and took a 55 yard pass from Tom
Clements to give the Irish a first down at their 38 and allow them to
hold the lead (video).
It followed by only moments a wild bit of strategy by Alabama coach Paul
"Bear" Bryant. Defensive end Ross Browner roughed kicker Greg Gantt but
the Tide declined the penalty with three minutes to play because Gantts'
kick went 69 yards to the Notre Dame one. Two plays moved the ball out
five more yards before Casper got eager.
The Tide rolled 93 yards following the second half kickoff with Wilbur
Jackson blasting straight ahead for the final five yards to get the
explosive second half under way. Bill Davis, destined for heartbreak
later in the game, kicked the point and Bama moved ahead for the second
time, at 17-14.
Notre Dame regained the lead when Bama's Mike Stock and quarterback Dick
Todd missed connections on a handoff and Drew Mahalic returned the
fumble to the Alabama 12. On first down. Eric Penick jitterbugged and
pranced the entire distance around left end and Thomas' kick made it
The Tide turned again, though, and used a bit of razzle-dazzle to grab
the advantage once more.
Todd handed off to Mike Stock, who then flipped a flat pass back to
Todd, all alone on the left side of the field and able to sprint 25
yards down the sideline for the touchdown. That made it 23-21. Davis'
PAT kick was wide to the left, and so there is only one national
champion instead of co-titlists.
The Irish drove to the Alabama two before being stifled and then Thomas
put the winner through the uprights with 4:26 left to play.
Wayne Bullock led all rushers with 79 yards and Clements, his teammate,
had 74. Jackson led the Tide with 62 yards rushing.
Both Clements and Gary Rutledge completed seven of 12 passes, but the
Irish flinger got 169 yards on his to 88 for Rutledge.
The first half contained enough thrills for five ordinary games.
The Irish moved 64 yards in seven plays for a touchdown and shut mighty
Bama down with literally nothing in the first quarter.
But as if somebody waved a wand over them at the end of the period, the
Tide began to roll on the first play of the second quarter and never let
up. Alabama ripped through the Irish for a go-ahead touchdown (after a
high snap killed the Notre Dame PAT attempt) and then Al Hunter wrote
Sugar Bowl history with a 94-yard kickoff return to put the Irish ahead
again immediately (video).
Clements passed to Pete Demmerle for 59 yards on three connections in
the Notre Dame scoring march, but Wayne Bullock, as strong as his
namesake, dove over from the one-foot line for the tally.
Alabama moved 63 yards to the Irish 17 before fumbling then got the ball
back on a midfield bobble by Bullock. They moved 48 yards in seven
plays, with Randy Billingsley banging over from the six and Bill Davis
made it 7-6 with his PAT.
Clements passed to Demmerle for two points after Hunter's kickoff return
to make it 14-7 and an Alabama drive fizzled at the end of the half.
Bama settled for three points on a 39 yard field goal by Davis and
halted the Irish too far out for a Thomas attempt with one second to
play in the half.
ND- Bullock 2 run (kick failed)
UA- Billingsley 6 run (Davis kick)
ND- Hunter 93 kickoff return (Conversion, Clements to Demmerle)
UA- FG 39 Davis
UA- Jackson 5 run (Davis kick)
ND- Penick 12 run (Thomas kick)
UA- Todd 25 pass from Stock (kick failed)
ND- FG 19 Thomas
UA- Jackson 11-62, Billingsley 7-54, Spivey 11-44, Todd 3-32, Stock 3-13
ND- Bullock 19-79, Clements 15-74, Best 12-45, Penick 9-28, Hunter 4-26
UA- Rutledge 12-7-88, Todd 2-2-14, Stock 1-1-25
ND- Clements 12-7-169
UA- Pugh 2-28, Jackson 2-22, Sharpless 2-22, Todd 1-25
ND- Casper 3-75, Demmerle 3-59, Weber 1-35