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Heisler’s Last Word – ASU Edition

Oct 4, 2013, 9:05 AM EDT

John Heisler is in his 36th year as a member of the Notre Dame athletic staff – including 16 years as sports information director at Notre Dame after spending 10 previous years as a member of the sports publicity staff. He added the title of assistant athletics director in 1995, and then was named an associate athletics director in 2001. Heisler was promoted to his current position as senior associate athletics director in October 2004. For each Notre Dame football game he pens a one-page article on the game. Here are his thoughts on the Arizona State – Notre Dame football game…

A pop culture phrase suggests “Everything is bigger in Texas.”

The University of Notre Dame and its football program know a little bit about that–as the Irish return to the Lone Star State this weekend.

Notre Dame’s football program surely is no stranger to the state of Texas.

Way back in 1913, when Knute Rockne listed as a senior end on the roster, Notre Dame took its longest road trip ever to play in Austin and defeat Texas 30-7 to close Jesse Harper’s first season in South Bend at 7-0.

This marks Notre Dame’s first appearance in Texas since the Irish played their first off-site home game in 2009 at the Alamodome in San Antonio in a 40-14 win over Washington State.

It’s fitting that the Cotton Bowl Association is serving as the co-host for the game itself (along with the Dallas Cowboys) and handling most of the administrative details—considering Notre Dame has no greater amount of postseason bowl history than with the Cotton Bowl and Dallas. Seven times the Irish have ventured to the Cotton Bowl—defeating both Texas and Texas A&M twice in three attempts and also posting a win against Houston.

Beyond those bowl games and the stop in San Antonio, the Irish also played twice at Rice (1915, 1973), five times at SMU (1949, 1954, 1956, 1957, 1958), once at Texas A&M (2001) and four times in Austin against Texas (1913, 1915, 1952, 1996).

So, just how big are the Irish connections in Texas? Examine the list:

* BIG Bowl Games—Notre Dame’s postseason bowl history is a bit skewed, considering that, after a Rose Bowl appearance to cap the 1924 season—when the Four Horsemen were alive and well and winning a consensus national title—the Irish didn’t participate in a bowl game again until after the 1969 season. Maybe it was no accident that Dallas and the Cotton Bowl proved to be the destination after that 45-season break—and the Cotton Bowl ultimately has been the most popular stop over Notre Dame’s 32-game postseason travelogue.

From bowl executives Wilbur Evans to Jim “Hoss” Brock to Rick Baker, there has been a long tie between the Irish and the Cotton Bowl. It’s probably no coincidence that most of the best-known photos of longtime Irish athletics director Edward “Moose” Krause show him in a Texas-style cowboy hat (presumably acquired on one of those Cotton Bowl ventures). Even the sculpture of Krause just outside the Joyce Center on the Notre Dame campus shows him seated with his legs crossed, with that cowboy hat leaning against one leg of the bench.

The Irish didn’t win in that first Cotton Bowl, but the late rally by top-rated and unbeaten Texas set the stage for plenty of Dallas drama for Notre Dame teams over the years. Joe Theismann and the Irish returned the favor a year later, against another undefeated and top-ranked Longhorn squad. And the Irish celebrated their 1977 national title by thwarting the Texas Wishbone against a third unbeaten and top-ranked Longhorn unit.

Not to be forgotten is Joe Montana’s final collegiate appearance on a ridiculously cold and icy Dallas day (Jan. 1, 1979)—as chicken broth proved the fuel for an Irish comeback that wiped out a 34-12 Houston fourth-quarter lead and provided for a literal, final-second Notre Dame triumph. Krause called it the great comeback in Notre Dame history.

In addition, five different times in the late 1940s and ‘50s the Irish came to Dallas to face SMU. Those all were blue-chip Notre Dame teams—ranking first nationally when they came to town in 1949, fourth in 1954, third in 1956, 10th in 1957 and seventh in 1958. Only in ’56 (a 19-13 SMU win) did the Irish leave town without a win in hand.

* BIG plays—How about Montana’s sideline route to Kris Haines in the last seconds of that 1979 Cotton Bowl? They missed connections the first time, then called the exact same play and pulled it off as time ran out.

Remember Notre Dame’s most recent trip to Austin? In Lou Holtz’s final season as Irish head coach, freshman Jim Sanson delivered a 39-yard field goal as time expired to provide the 27-24 margin for Notre Dame over the sixth-rated Longhorns.

The play happened in New Orleans, but has a Texan in an Irish uniform made a bigger play than Dallas product Robin Weber’s late 35-yard catch from Tom Clements that essentially cemented another national title for Notre Dame in 1973?

* BIG players—You couldn’t miss the late Wally Kleine, that hulking 6-foot-9, 274 defensive linemen from Midland, Texas, who plied his trade in a Notre Dame uniform from 1983-86. The last three decades, in particular, have produced more than a fair share of Irish standouts from Texas—none more luminous than Dallas product Tim Brown, who won the 1987 Heisman Trophy and returns tonight to take part in the coin toss.

* BIG opponents—The Irish in past trips to the state of Texas have taken on such players names as Kyle Rote, Steve Worster, Ricky Williams and Earl Campbell, just to name a few—and Hall of Fame coaches like Darrell Royal.

Of those 20 previous Irish games played here in Texas, 10 have come against ranked opponents—eight against teams ranked ninth nationally or higher.

Tonight’s Irish challenge comes against a 22nd-rated (by Associated Press) Arizona State team trying to become the first program in 13 attempts to defeat USC and Notre Dame on back-to-back Saturdays.

Notre Dame looks to add to its already long list of Texas-sized moments in its first appearance in an AT&T Stadium venue that fits the Texas “big” bill to a T.

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