The CLARKives”: A Len Clark Fighting Irish Preview Memory

Notre Dame Fighting Irish quarterback Tony Rice (9) scrambles during the game at USC on November 26, 1988. (Photo: John Cordes/Icon Sportswire)

By: Len Clark, Ph.D

I’m very fortunate to cover Notre Dame athletics and trace my roots back to 1987, the year I covered my first Notre Dame football game.

It was an away game at Ross-Ade Stadium in West Lafayette against Purdue, during the 2nd year of the Lou Holtz era.

I know what you’re thinking, 1987?  That was the “dark ages”, in terms of technology, but I was a little ahead of the curve with my Marantz cassette tape recorder with analog meters.

This was also a time well before social media, and just a few years away from the explosion of the world wide web. 

My idea of social media, back then, was having a cup of coffee with Tony Roberts, Tom Pagna, and Buck Jeerzy from the Mutual Radio Network before kickoff.

In 1987, I was working for the Indianapolis Colts and had a rare Saturday afternoon off.  I was given an opportunity to “string” for an Indianapolis radio station and jumped at the chance.  Well, I eagerly said, “Yes”.

A stringer is a freelance media person who contributes content (pictures, video, or audio) to a news organization and is paid a fee.

It  was a beautiful sunny Saturday afternoon in the Wabash Valley in central Indiana.  The kind of day where one can get sunburned on a 60 degree day.

The press box at Ross-Ade felt like a sauna, so the ice cold Red Delicious apples that were thrown, literally, to the media at the end of the 3rd quarter was greatly appreciated.  Even though I prefer a Macintosh or Jonathan apple, no apple to this day compares to the one that day at Purdue.

Notre Dame’s gold helmets shined brightly that afternoon as the Irish improved to 3-0 on the season with a 44-20 win over the in-state rival Boilermakers.

Near the end of the game, I made my way down to the south end zone to watch the end of the game on the field, before making my way into the visitors media room for the post-game press conference.

After a short “cooling off” period, Coach Lou Holtz took questions from the media – rattling off his answers in a “machine gun” like manner and praising the talent of Purdue.

After his post-game comments, we were then allowed into the locker room to interview players  Unlike today where select players are brought into a media room and recorded on Zoom, the media could go into a locker room and seek out players they would like to interview.

I needed to get a few sound bytes to go along with my game “voicer”, so I positioned my microphone to get comments from Flanker Tim Brown (who would go on to win the Heisman Trophy) and then looked for Quarterback Terry Andrysiak. 

Andrysiak was articulate and genuine.   I liked his style of play, but I was also impressed that he could tie a tie without looking in a mirror while he answered questions.

Waiting to see what other players were available, I glanced over to see a player sitting alone in his locker with no one around him and he had that “would you like to ask me a question” look on his face.  His eyes lit up as I walked towards him.

It was Tony Rice and his smile that afternoon was as big as his legend 34 years after that game.

Rice saw action that day replacing Andrysiak in the second quarter after an interception for a few plays.  He would eventually become the starter later in the season when Andrysiak suffered an injury.

I positioned my microphone, checked the levels and asked him about coming off the bench and his experiences at Notre Dame, while the cassette tape’s counterclockwise motion recorded the conversation.

I still have that tape.  Now, all I need is a cassette recorder to play it!

Rice thanked me for interviewing him, as I was the only one that day to do so.  A year later, he would attract paparazzi like an actor standing on the red carpet before the Academy Awards.

Other thoughts were how clean cut the Notre Dame players were.  Well, except for the defensive players who made sure their hair made a statement. 

The players wore no headphones, carried no smart phones, nor did they wear designer sweat suits.  They were uniformly dressed in blue sport jackets and ties and wore dress shoes.

I would run into Tony Rice again that next summer when I started grad school at Notre Dame.

I was sitting outside the Huddle snack bar on campus when Tony and a few teammates walked by.  They were throwing a football around as they walked to class. 

I raised my hand to signal that I was “open.”  The next thing I knew,  a tight spiral was heading my way and I was not going to drop it.

Clark with the completion.

“Nice catch,” yelled Tony as a smile beamed on his face.  I shot putted the ball back in his direction and wondered if he remembered me from that Saturday in West Lafayette the previous Fall. 

I’d like to think so, and in some small way I’d like to think I helped him prepare for the upcoming 1988 football season with that pass. 

A season that would be most memorable for Irish fans.

By Phil Houk

For 25 years, bringing you the glory of Notre Dame football.

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