Grocery boy still remembers greatest game ever played

daniels    Thirty-nine years later, it is still the greatest college football game ever played.
    But at 4 o’clock on Dec. 31, 1973, I had additional worries. Could we get to Tulane Stadium?
    A heavy line of thunderstorms rolled in the metro area. As my friends and I drove to the Sugar Bowl game, water brushed up against our car doors on West Esplanade Avenue.
    For a 16-year-old student who had tickets to see Alabama vs. Notre Dame, I wondered if we would ever get uptown.
    When we finally arrived, we knew we’d see a championship game. We didn’t know we were about to see something very special.
    Leading 7-6, the Crimson Tide kicked off to Al Hunter. Hunter ran straight at us to the south end zone for a 93-yard touchdown.
    Late in the fourth quarter, with Notre Dame leading 24-23, Tide punter Greg Gantt came up with one of the clutch kicks in the history of college football. His 69-yard punt was boomed to the Irish’s 1-yard line.
    To this day, I can see Alabama coach Paul “Bear” Bryant on the sidelines as the Tide punt return team lined up behind him.
    What followed next was one of the most famous plays in the history of the college game. Notre Dame quarterback Tom Clements faked a handoff on third-and-8 and threw a 35-yard pass to obscure tight end Robin Weber.
    The play was designed to go to Notre Dame’s star tight end Dave Casper. But Weber was so wide open that Clements had no choice but to toss it his way.
    Weber, who needed a cortisone shot in his knee just to play in the game, caught the Clements floater for a 35-yard completion. With that catch, Weber had doubled his reception total for the season.
    Notre Dame ran out the clock and won its ninth national championship.
    The Notre Dame students, huddled by the thousands in the south end zone, stormed the field.
    That week, I asked buddies who were Notre Dame fans, “Who’s the best team in the country?”
    “Oklahoma, of course,” they said.
    The Sooners were 10-0-1 that season. But they were in the first year of a two-year probation and bowl ban.
    Moments after we walked out of Tulane Stadium, a disappointed son of the South and fan of the Southeastern Conference asked again, “Who’s the best team in the country?”
    “Notre Dame, of course.”
    Alabama was still national champions, too. The wire service United Press International (UPI) had awarded Alabama a national championship before the bowls.
    A little-remembered fact from that night: Alabama’s winless streak in bowl games under the legendary Bryant was stretched to seven games.
    In 1973, tickets to a national championship game were still financially feasible for a high school student working part time at a Winn-Dixie store.
    The demanding owner did not like it one bit when one of his part-timers asked off on one of the biggest grocery shopping days of the season. But he relented.
    And, a high school kid who loved college football had a lifetime memory.
    Ed Daniels is sports director of ABC26 WGNO. He can be reached at edaniels@clarionherald.org.
 

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