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DH rewind: Looking back at ND's last title game bid

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  • Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz yells encouragement to the Irish against West Virginia in the Fiesta Bowl in Tempe, Ariz.

    Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz yells encouragement to the Irish against West Virginia in the Fiesta Bowl in Tempe, Ariz.
    Associated Press file photo, Jan. 2, 1989


Editor's note: This column by Mike Imrem is a reprint from the Jan. 2, 1989 edition of the Daily Herald. Imrem wrote it on the eve of the Fiesta Bowl, when Notre Dame was preparing to face West Virginia in a game to decide the national championship. The headline that day: Notre Dame seniors' long, strange trip climaxes today

TEMPE, Ariz. -- To this day, most Notre Dame players don't know the reason for the silence when their airline fights take off and land.

The seniors do, however.

Corny Southall knows. George Streeter and Frank Stams do. Andy Heck, Wes Pritchett, Mark Green, Ned Bolcar, D'Juan Francisco and a select few others do.

Oh, do they ever.

"Nobody will forget that flight," Southall said recently.

He wasn't talking about a recent nightmare, when his Eastern Airlines fight had to make an emergency landing in Charleston, W.Va.

He was talking about the nightmare of three years ago that prepared him for any future flight problems he might encounter.

Notre Dame's weekend had been bad enough already. The Irish were clobbered by Miami, 58-7, in Gerry Faust's last game as head coach Nov. 30, 1985.

They were supposed to return from Florida the next morning. Bad weather up north delayed their plane and they waited in Fort Lauderdale all day.

That was the easy part.

The Irish finally departed very early Monday morning, but the weather was still frightful back home. The plane made three approaches in South Bend but couldn't land.

"You could feel the rear tires hit the runway and pull back up," associate sports information director John Heisler recalled. "We finally went to Chicago."

At least they lived to tell about it, though they rarely do.

"If you weren't there," Southall said, "you can't comprehend what it was like. But we know."

Notre Dame's seniors also know what it's like to see the coach who recruited them lose his final game by 51 points, what it's like to finish 5-6 twice under two different coaches, what it's like for a winner like Notre Dame to lose.

"We've been through the mill and now we're ..." Streeter said.

... At the top of the hill?

"Yeah," he said with a smile. "I like that."

Irish seniors can reach the peak today in the Fiesta Bowl by beating West Virginia for the national championship.

Regardless, they already have a sense of satisfaction for what each contributed to Notre Dame's football revival between the flight home from Florida and the one down to Arizona.

And a sense of humor about what they've been through.

Like freshman year when Francisco had enough of South Bend, Notre Dame, football, everything.

"He decided to go home and be with his mother," Southall said, laughing at the memory. "Instead of practice, he went to his room to pack.

"But you know what happened? He took so long and waited so long, he missed the bus home. If he would've been faster, he would've missed all this."

Like this season when Pritchett broke his hand early in the Miami victory.

"Frank (Stams) was all bummed out because I didn't tell him 'til late in the game," Pritchett said. "He thinks pain is what football is all about.

"He figured if he knew my hand was broken it would've given him an adrenaline surge. And he was mad that he didn't have a broken arm or leg or some blood on him."

Ah, the way they were.

Like, well, like the downs of their first two seasons, and the ups of the last two seasons, and the laughs, and the tears, and most of all the friendships.

"I know these guys, I've been with them four years," Streeter said. "They're all class individuals, which shows Coach Faust was a good judge of character.

"Our senior class isn't the meat of this team, isn't the talent part, but it may be the heart. We know what work is, and what it's like to work hard and come up short.

"We've had losing seasons and winning seasons. Now we've had a perfect season so far. Not many teams make that transition in three years."

Today, win or lose, their long strange trip as Notre Dame football players will come to a ceremonious end in the Fiesta Bowl.

"I never thought I'd say this when I came here but if I could have anything, it'd be another year at Notre Dame," Pritchett said.

"I'm gonna miss it."

That's just one more reason Irish seniors will be silent on takeoff for the trip home from Arizona.

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