Publish date:

Another Echo For The Irish

Before leading his players onto the field at Pitt Stadium last Saturday, Notre Dame Coach Gerry Faust gathered them in the dressing room and in his invariably hoarse, intense voice read them a list that started with the Georgia Tech game in 1953 and rolled gloriously on through the Irish's encounters with USC in 1973, Oklahoma in '57, Alabama in '73 and '75 and Texas in '71 and '78. Faust was waking up the echoes of all those times past when Notre Dame had met and defeated the nation's No. 1 team. "He told us, 'You guys will remember this game until the day you die,' " said Guard Tom Thayer a few hours later.

With that in mind, the 5-1-1, 10½-point underdog Fighting Irish stormed out onto the gridiron and before 60,162 shocked Panther fans upset No. 1 Pitt 31-16—for the moment, at least, restoring faith among Irish rooters that Faust should be coaching at the college level.

There had been grumbling on that score, especially when, after a 4-0 start, Notre Dame lost to Arizona 16-13 and tied Oregon 13-13. At the conclusion of the Oregon game on Oct. 23, the Irish had scored only three touchdowns in four games and hadn't made a TD through the air all year. Disgruntlement over the Notre Dame offense had been growing since last year, Faust's first under the Golden Dome, when a sputtering attack was the main reason Notre Dame finished a disappointing 5-6. To make matters worse for Faust, he had in effect served as his own offensive coordinator.

After last season Faust hired Quarterback and Receiver Coach Ron Hudson away from UCLA to give the Irish passing game some California flair. But a complex offense takes time to master, and Hudson was concerned, after the attack began to stall, that he had asked too much too soon of junior Quarterback Blair Kiel. Kiel, nicknamed Popeye because of his sizable forearms, has been a starter on and off since his freshman year. He has also been expected to interpret the offensive philosophies of three different coaches in that span—Dan Devine, Faust and Hudson. "He's always had to learn under fire," says Faust. "At times I've been criticized more than I'd like," says Kiel. "I'd never tell anyone if it ever got to me. But I'm human. Deep down, it hurts."

Things started looking slightly better after Hudson adjusted the attack to include sprintouts and rollouts, thereby utilizing more of Kiel's talents. The result: Kiel's first two TD passes of '82 in a 27-10 win over Navy the Saturday before the Pitt game. But the gloom wasn't totally dispelled. On Tuesday the lights failed at Notre Dame's practice field, and the Irish worked out in the dark. It was raining as well. On Wednesday starting Tight End Tony Hunter was hospitalized with cellulitis, a bacterial infection that had gotten inside his ankle. Hunter played against the Panthers, but because he was unfamiliar with the new plays put in for the game, he was used mostly as a decoy.

Faust definitely did not have problems in two areas going into the Pitt game. One, his placekicker is walk-on senior Mike Johnston, a chemical-engineering major who received an athletic scholarship only after last spring's practice. Though he'd never attempted a field goal for the Irish before this year, Johnston had made 15 of 16 this season.

Two, the Irish defense, nicknamed the Gold Rush, was second in the nation against the run and fifth overall. Its strategy was to blitz and stunt as often as possible through Pitt's big, but not notably quick, offensive line and make Quarterback Danny Marino force his throws. Defensive End Kevin Griffith, a graduated fifth-year man headed for law school next fall, was matched much of the time against the Panthers' 6'5", 279-pound left tackle, Jimbo Covert. Said Griffith before the game, "Intellectually speaking, how do you go against a kid named Jimbo? Or I guess I should say a man named Jimbo. It's intimidating."

If Notre Dame was intimidated, it certainly didn't show, as midway through the second quarter the Panthers led 6-3, the scoring all coming on field goals. Then, with Notre Dame on the Pitt 45, Hudson called a play down from the press box, a 70 flood special pass, designed to exploit Pitt's tendency to split its safeties to either side of the field. Fullback Larry Moriarty ran a pattern down the middle, and Kiel floated a pass to him for a gain of 30. Freshman Tailback Allen Pinkett ran for 11 more, and then Moriarty went over right guard on a counter to put Notre Dame ahead 10-6.

Moriarty weighs 232 pounds and looks like the prototypical Irish fullback, but that was hardly the case a few years ago. When he was 16, he fell off the back of a pickup truck, cracking his skull and severing the nerves in his left ear (in which he is now deaf). Six months later he contracted spinal meningitis and nearly died. He was a 5'10", 170-pound weakling early in the year that he graduated from high school in Santa Barbara, Calif. in 1977 and started working in construction. He also started working out at a local YMCA and, later, at Gold's Gym, the bodybuilders' mecca in Santa Monica, Calif. By the end of 1977, Moriarty, 6'2" and 196 pounds, placed third in the Mr. Teenage California competition. On the advice of his brother Kerry, a reserve halfback and quarterback for Notre Dame in 1974, Moriarty, then 20, enrolled in Santa Barbara City College in 1978 and played football there in '79. He came to South Bend in 1980 as a 22-year-old sophomore, becoming the first juco transfer ever to play for the Irish. "It's hard for me to talk about myself," says Moriarty, "because it's not going to be for another 10 years that I realize how far I've come."

On Pitt's second possession of the second half, the Panthers drove 98 yards to go back ahead 13-10. Then, at the start of the fourth quarter, with Notre Dame on its own 46, another Hudson call came down to Kiel; this time it was for a 29 special flea-flicker. It began with Kiel handing off to sweeping Tailback Phil Carter, who lateraled back to Kiel, who lofted a 54-yard TD pass to Split End Joe Howard. Said Kiel, "It wobbled a little, and I'm glad. If it had been a perfect spiral, it would have gone over Joe's head."

Again Pitt fought back, this time for a 47-yard field goal to make it 17-16; then, with 8:09 left in the game and the ball on the Irish 24, Pinkett was called on once more. He ran a sprint draw to the left and then broke into the secondary as he cut back across the middle. "I saw two guys outside me waiting for me to run their way," he said. "Instead, I concentrated on going north and south to get through. I saw a little funnel, a vacuum, a void, a bubble, a gap, and I tried to get through it as quick as I could." He did, for 76 yards to make it 24-16. On the Irish's next possession Pinkett sealed the Panthers' fate, scoring his second TD of the day on a seven-yard plunge.

Pinkett pronounces his name to rhyme with "trinket," but after his 129 yards rushing against Navy and 112 at Pitt, Notre Dame Publicist Roger Valdiserri, who mangled the pronunciation of the 1970 Irish quarterback's name to coin the slogan "Theismann as in Heisman," was wondering whether it will soon be Pin-KETT as in...well, Pitt knows who.

All told, Marino completed 26 of 42 passes for 314 yards; it was one of the best statistical games of his career, if one of the least satisfying. "We bent," said Linebacker Mark Zavagnin, the Irish's leading tackler with 16, "we really bent." Indeed, Pitt had 25 first downs to 10 for Notre Dame, but Zavagnin and his cohorts never broke. And now "Pitt '82" can be added to the roll call of illustrious echoes that are there to be awakened in future years.


After some rough sailing, the Irish aerial game is on an even Kiel.


Faust fired up his forces for the upset of Pitt with a recounting of past Irish triumphs.