Dec. 8, 2015

By John Heisler

Don’t misunderstand.

Former Notre Dame wide receiver Thom Gatewood is supremely proud that he merited selection to the College Football Hall of Fame. The National Football Foundation inducted him and the rest of his class Tuesday night in New York City.

He’s also pleased that a batch of his Irish receiving totals remained records until relatively recently when Jeff Samardzija moved ahead of him in several categories.

His induction also closes the loop on a bet made long ago between Gatewood and his quarterback in South Bend, Joe Theismann.

“I lost the bet. Years ago, Joe and I had a little rivalry after our playing days. And I said I would go in before he did. Well, I missed that bet, and he hasn’t let me forget about it,” says the 1971 Notre Dame graduate.

“The year Joe and Archie Manning (the chairman of the NFF who observed as Gatewood made his remarks Tuesday) were drafted, all coming out of college, the game hadn’t exploded the way it has today. I was able to come up with some stats in my junior season that stood for a long, long, long time at Notre Dame and were comparable to the ’80s and ’90s kind of stats that wide receivers had. So I was sort of ahead of my time.”

Don’t get the impression Gatewood always wears his accomplishments on his sleeve. A little more than a decade ago, the Gatewoods (Thom and Susan) became neighbors in New Jersey with Richard and Marilyn Law. But it took some time before they all realized what they had in common-Thom was a former Irish football captain, while Rich was a Notre Dame MBA graduate and grandson of 1929 Notre Dame football captain John Law.

“Rich and Susan ran into each other on a bus coming into New York one day and realized the connection,” says Thom.

While some former players might be content to allow their football statistics and accomplishments to speak for themselves, Gatewood happily embraces the notion that he can and should be a role model. He has been a participant with the Notre Dame Football Fantasy Camp, and when he was on campus this fall for the Notre Dame-Massachusetts game as part of the NFF campus salute, he had a chance to speak to the current Irish team and spend additional time one on one with sophomore receiver Corey Robinson.

So it was no surprise that Gatewood went out of his way Monday to speak to some members of the latest NFF Scholar-Athlete class.

“We were all together at a kind of casual lunch, and I suggested to a couple of the guys that they take time to understand what some of these Hall of Fame inductees took out of their college experience academically, beyond what they did on the football field. You have ups and downs in life, and it’s not just the fanfare of going into the Hall of Fame.”

Tuesday evening marked the crowning moment of a year-long celebration of the Hall of Fame achievement. It meant Gatewood had come full circle after being honored 44 years ago (ironically, Gatewood’s jersey number at Notre Dame was 44, too) in that same Walfdorf-Astoria ballroom as one of the NFF Scholar-Athletes (as well as four years before that as a NFF high school scholar).

“It’s been an enjoyable year,” Gatewood says. “It seemed like a lot of people were surprised I wasn’t already in the Hall of Fame-between what happened on the field and winning postgraduate scholarships from the NCAA and the NFF, they thought I was kind of the poster boy for this. It just wasn’t my time until now. And I was perfectly content with all my experiences at Notre Dame. This is an extra bonus.”

An NCAA consensus All-America pick in 1970, Gatewood became the 45th former Notre Dame player-and the first since tight end Dave Casper in 2012-to join the College Football Hall of Fame. With 45 former players and six former coaches selected, Notre Dame boasts more honorees than any other school in the country. Gatewood is only the second true receiver from Notre Dame (Tim Brown is the other) to earn selection to the Hall of Fame.

The Baltimore, Maryland, product set the Notre Dame record for most passes caught and most receiving yards in a season (with 77 for 1,123 yards in 1970), and he finished his Irish career as Notre Dame’s all-time leading pass-catcher with 157 for 2,283 yards. His most productive individual game featured 12 receptions (one short of Jim Seymour’s single-game record at that time) for a career-best 192 yards and three TDs in the 1970 Purdue contest.

As a three-year starter Gatewood helped his three Irish teams to a combined 26-5-1 record–8-2-1 in 1969 (final #5 Associated Press ranking), 10-1 in 1970 (#2 behind 11-0-1 Nebraska, including one week in the #1 slot) and 8-2 in 1971 (#13). He played on Irish teams that made Notre Dame’s first bowl appearances in 45 years when the Irish played top-rated and unbeaten Texas teams in the Cotton Bowl following both the 1969 and 1970 seasons.

Now head of Blue Atlas Productions, an Emmy-winning New York-area media production house, Gatewood was a two-time first-team CoSIDA Academic All-American in 1970 and 1971 (and a second-team pick in 1969) and also earned postgraduate scholarships from the NCAA and the NFF following his senior season. He joins a prestigious group of 30 players who have been selected both to the NFF Hall of Fame and also as NFF Scholar-Athletes, and he has been a finalist for the Academic All-America Hall of Fame. Gatewood joins former Irish players Jim Lynch (1992 Hall of Fame inductee) and Dave Casper (2012) in that category, with Notre Dame the only institution that has produced three. (Nebraska, Ohio State and UCLA have two each.)

Gatewood traveled to the 2015 College Football Playoff championship game last January in Arlington, Texas, and took part in the coin toss with a group of newly named inductees. He’ll also be in Atlanta later this month when the 2015 NFF class is feted one final time at the Peach Bowl.

“For me, it’s goes back to preparation. (Joe) Theismann was the kind of quarterback who was a strong leader and playing for Coach (Ara) Parseghian, having that kind of leadership, was all about preparation,” Gatewood says.

“Growing up I was taught that preparation was major if you were going to have success. For me, the word ‘foundation’ in National Football Foundation is preparation for life. For me, it’s physical, mental and spiritual. If you have all three of those components in your makeup, you’re bound for success.

“Being a wide receiver we are used to making decisions on the move. You have a playbook. You spend a lot of time learning your craft as a receiver. But what happens if the defense changes? While you’re on the move, you have to make an adjustment.

“Life makes changes. We have to adjust to those. So part of that curriculum as a football player really was getting us ready for life. And that has led to the success after football.

“You play for 60 minutes–you’re trained to play for 60 minutes.

“But there could be as many as 60 years after you finish playing football. So you’re really playing for 60 years, not 60 minutes.”