(Courtesy: Allstate Sugar Bowl)

It is now more than fifty years since Tommy Clements threw his famous pass to tight end Robin Weber on a third and eight from his own endzone in the 1973 Sugar Bowl, a game played for the National Championship against Alabama. It was third and eight only because we had gone off sides the first time we snapped the ball. Ara Parseghian our great head coach, didn’t flinch. He called the same play again—Power I Right Tackle Trap Pass Left—where Tommy faked to Eric Penick and then faded back in the endzone before lofting the famous pass.

Clements took the snap, faked to Eric and dropped into the endzone. I was in the middle of my block at left guard and then heard the crowd roar.  I didn’t know if the cheer was for Alabama or for the Irish.  When I got up from my block I saw our players jumping up and down.  Robin had caught the pass and ran out of bounds right near Bear Bryant the Alabama head coach.  First down! We proceeded to run out the clock and won the game.  

Ara accepted the award as National Champion and Sugar Bowl winner right on the field. He told the crowd and the national television audience that it was a great victory for the Notre Dame family, but also a great game for college football. He said that Alabama was the best coached team we had played all year.  In the commotion of joy and happiness in our locker room, I heard someone say that Bear Bryant was there. He came in to congratulate Ara and told our team we had earned the National Championship.  Bear Bryant came right over to Tommy Clements and told him he was one heck of a football player.  Tommy had won the MVP of the Sugar Bowl; he would go down as Ara’s greatest field general. 

All of this was a long time ago. 

I recently went back to New Orleans for the 2024 Sugar Bowl.  I was invited by Michael Read, on the suggestion of Michael Parseghian, Ara’s son, to represent the Parseghian family. Ara was to be inducted into the Sugar Bowl Hall of Fame on the 50th anniversary of our 24-23 win and I was beyond honored to represent the Parseghian family.   I also looked forward to taking my wife Aileen with me to the event. However, she suggested I ask my son Tom, who had played in and won the Sugar Bowl when he played for Michigan against Virginia Tech in 2012. Tom seemed just as excited as I was.

We were together for Christmas and prepared for the trip at the end of the week.  We arrived at the Washington Home Hotel on December 30, two days before the game, and were met by Sugar Bowl committee members who showed us to our suite on the twenty-ninth floor. They told us to get ready because we were invited to the gala party at the Hilton Ball room later that night.

The food at this event was unbelievable, mountains of shrimp and seafood gumbo with plenty of other Southern-style delicacies. The desserts were particularly awesome.  So good I had to go to confession the next day!  We met many special people at the event with almost all the Sugar Bowl Committee members present.   They were friendly and warm, they made us feel very welcome to New Orleans.  The theme of the gala was Alice in Wonderland.  There were actors and actresses playing the parts of the play.  There were great bands and dancers that really made it a wonderful event.  It was a very exciting opening day in New Orleans.

The next day, Sunday, was media day for the inductees to the Sugar Bowl Hall of Fame.  I was asked to meet with Mark Cave, curator of the Historic New Orleans Collection, which had a Sugar Bowl exhibit. Mark was a very nice man and he told me that he had read my book. Ara’s Knights.  He wanted to interview me to add to his Sugar Bowl display. He wanted to know about me, personally but more importantly about what it was like to play for Ara and to be part of the Notre Dame team.

I told him about my background growing up in New York City, the son of a Marine and NYC policeman and how playing for Ara was like playing for royalty.  Ara was King Arthur and we were his Knights. I explained that Ara was a great football coach, but he was an even better human being. He combined character, class, integrity and charisma.  I explained that Ara thought of a great day as one in which you could help people who couldn’t return the favor, simply doing something so out of the goodness of your heart.

I said that Ara could have been a governor, senator, or even the President of the United States, that’s how disciplined, organized and charismatic he was.

I talked about Ara’s coaching philosophy and how it was rooted in five basic principles: faith, family, pride, discipline, and loyalty. He recruited people who he knew could live by these principles. He didn’t just want good football players, instead he wanted people to be a part of his family. People that could fit in anywhere, especially at Notre Dame where leaders of society are groomed to go into the world and make a difference.

I explained that Ara expected all his players to look out for each other. If we saw someone associated with the team going off the grid and doing something that could hurt them personally or the team as a whole, we were expected to do what we could to get that person on the right path.  I also talked about how fair Ara was, and that garnered respect for him and for what he did as a coach. 

And I talked about the great 1973 Battle of New Orleans for the National championship.  Two hall of fame coaches facing off, Ara and Bear Bryant.  On that New Year’s Eve in 1973 the weather was about 45 degrees with rain. As the game got closer it stopped, but, it didn’t matter: we were playing in the game of our lives. The lead changed hand six times.   It all came down to the final 2 minutes and 41 seconds.  We had a third and three from the eight-yard line.  Ara called a time out and called the famous play. We were told to hold the count.  David Casper reminded us of that before we went to the line of scrimmage.  When the play was being called someone went off sides.  We thought it was Alabama, but, it was us! It was our All-American David Casper who had made spectacular catches and unbelievable blocks all day who had jumped off sides! 

Now it was 3rd and 8 from our three-yard line and Ara called the same play!  The only difference was, in a brilliant move, Ara put in tight end Robin Weber instead of wide receiver Peter Demmerle to make it look more like a run. Casper was the main target. However, Alabama had three men on him and he wasn’t open.  Tommy Clements as cool as the other side of the pillow, lofted a perfect spiral to Robin Weber who had caught one pass all year and caught this one for 35 yards and a first down.  We were able to run out the clock and won the National Championship.  Our offense played great having 421 total yards against an awesome Alabama defense.  But, our Notre Dame defense held an explosive Alabama offense to just 317 yards. 

Many of the Committee members told me that it was the greatest Sugar Bowl ever.

After this interview,  Tom and I met other members of the Sugar Bowl Committee and they were all impressive people with very significant backgrounds.  One was Brian Jackson a Federal Judge and a very big art enthusiast.  He got together with my son, who is an artist himself, and they had a great discussion.  We also met attorney Michael Christovich, another Sugar Bowl Committee member.  Mike remembered our Sugar Bowl from 1973 and how exciting it was.  He made sure our stay was a good one.  Michael Read, a Notre Dame alum, was our host and he also poured on the hospitality. Michael never got tired of rehashing the 1973 Sugar Bowl game. He had been there in person. Michael, his beautiful wife Hope, and their friends, Mike and Cindy Nolan, invited Tom and me to the elegant Clancy’s restaurant that evening. The creole style dining was terrific, but the conversation and company was even better. It was a night Tom and I will never forget. 

The Jan. 1, 2024 Sugar Bowl game was the culmination of a great trip. Ara was inducted into the Sugar Bowl Hall of Fame in a ceremony during the game along with other inductees: Jeremy Foley, the longtime athletic director at the University of Florida,  Lee Roy Jordan, star linebacker and center for Alabama, who went on to play fourteen years for the Dallas Cowboys, and 1996 Heisman Trophy winner Danny Wuerffel, who had been the MVP of the 1997 Sugar Bowl.

I was honored to represent Ara Parseghian.  The heroes that have gone down in Notre Dame lore for that third and eight play are Tommy Clements and Robin Weber.  But, the guy who made the call and stayed with it was Ara Parseghian.  After that game, Ara coached only one more season. After he retired, he did even more important things. His greatest accomplishment was to support the Neiman Pic Type C foundation to find a cure for a sickness that caused the death of three of his grandchildren. Ara passed in 2017 at the age of 94. 

Ara will never be forgotten by his family, friends and members of his teams.

The 2024 Sugar Bowl game itself was another classic. It was a semi-final game in the College Football Playoff. The game was a barnburner, the final score in overtime: Washington 37, Texas 31. 

The next day Tom and I returned to South Bend together.  I really enjoyed the trip with my son Tom.  We haven’t traveled together in a very long time so being together was a very special time for us.  You never know what life brings to you so you have to be ready if an opportunity comes about. Representing Ara Parseghian at this induction ceremony for me was one of the great opportunities of my lifetime.

I would like to leave you with this quotation from Horace Greeley: “Fame is a vapor, popularity is an accident, and riches take wings.  Only one thing endures, and that is character.” Ara Parseghian was a great head coach, but more importantly he was a man of great character, which made him most worthy of his induction into the Sugar Bowl Hall of Fame.

2024 Sugar Bowl Hall of Fame inductees (L-R), Former Florida AD Jeremy Foley, Alabama and Dallas Cowboys offensive lineman Lee Roy Jordan, 1996 Heisman Trophy winner Danny Wuerffel, and myself representing Ara. (courtesy photo)

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