By: Frank Pomarico, Captain, 1973
One of the best things we had going on our 1973 undefeated team is that we had a coach on the field, someone who kept us in focus on Coach Parseghian’s game plan and who wanted to win as badly as Ara.
That person was our quarterback, Tom Clements. Tommy was from McKees Rocks, PA. He played football and basketball at Bishop Canevin High School and was a superstar in both sports. In fact, he was so good in basketball that he was offered a scholarship to play point guard for Dean Smith at North Carolina. Tom, to the delight of Ara, our team, and all Notre Dame fans, chose football over basketball, Ara over Dean Smith, and Notre Dame over North Carolina.
Ara and Tommy were alike in so many ways. They both were great students of sports, but, more importantly they were both competitive in the same way. They definitely put everything on the line to win, but they wanted to do so in a fair way. I think this comes from the way they each treated other people, whether it be their teammates or opponents. Both Ara and Tommy respected everyone they encountered. They cared about each person and recognized when a player on our team was up or down, needed a kick in the pants, or an arm around the shoulder.
Ara’s offense was extremely complicated and he needed a person who could understand and control what he wanted. Tom was that person, a true field general. Ara’s strategy was to attack the weak points of the opponent’s defense. Tom was always on point in making the calls to put our offense at an advantage. He stayed on an even keel in the huddle and at the line of scrimmage. Both Ara and Tom gave everyone on the team a lot of confidence.
Tom Clements was a very unassuming person off the field. He always dressed impeccably and his behavior was appropriate at all times. There was no danger of Tom’s name appearing in the newspaper for any embarrassing antics. He was a gentlemen in the true sense of the word. However, he had the attitude of an elite champion, an aura not unlike Michael Jordan or Derek Jeter. He could beat you in many ways, but he always did it with class. He was never worried about statistics, only winning.
For his performance in the 1973 Sugar Bowl win over Alabama, Tom was named as the game MVP. He was sitting quietly near his locker while the rest of us were celebrating wildly when a large man walked into the room. It was Alabama Head Coach, Bear Bryant. Bear came to congratulate Ara on winning the National Championship, but, he also sought out Tommy Clements. Once he found him he shook his hand, and I recall he said in his famous drawl, “Son, you are one helluva football player, great job.”
I’m not sure if Coach Bryant came by the locker room the next year after Tom led Notre Dame to another win over Alabama, 13-11 in the 1975 Orange Bowl, knocking the Crimson Tide out of the National Championship once more. That game was Tom’s last at Notre Dame and was also Ara’s last game. He had announced his retirement at the end of the regular season.
I reminisced recently with Mike Stock, the Note Dame receivers’ coach under Ara, about what it was like coaching Tom Clements. Mike said that what we already knew of Tom on the field at Notre Dame he proved after he left Notre Dame. Mike also pointed out that Tom was a Hall of Fame quarterback in the Canadian Football League. In his spare time, he graduated at the top of his class from the Notre Dame School of Law. Tom went on to coach in the NFL for over twenty years. Recently, he tried to retire, but returned to the Green Bay Packers last February at the insistence of Aaron Rodgers, who he coached and mentored. He was also the quarterbacks coach for Brett Favre.
While Ara was our leader everywhere else, our leader on the field was Tom Clements. When Tom came into the huddle and clapped his hands, we were a team filled with hope. Tom could drag a team to reach its dreams and goals. Being around him you felt a calming confidence in his abilities to lead. He was persistent and consistent in his work habits, striving every day for perfection.
A few times Tom was considered as the head coach for Notre Dame. If that would have happened, it would have been a rebirth of the type of program Ara Parseghian ran; one of pride, discipline and loyalty. But, that never happened. So we will have to leave it at this: Ara Parseghian will always be my King Arthur and Tom Clements will always be Ara Parseghian’s “Sir Lancelot.”
Tom Clements was 29-5 as the Notre Dame quarterback from 1972-1974. In those games he threw for 3594 yards and ran for another 1070. He totaled 36 touchdowns, 24 passing and 12 rushing. In a 12 year Canadian Football Career he threw 252 touchdown passes, over 39,000 yards, and won 2 Grey Cups. He has had a 30 year coaching career and won a Super Bowl ring with the Green Bay Packers.