Jan. 1, 1970
DALLAS — After a 45-year absence, Notre Dame reappeared on the bowl scene.
The Irish, who headed into the battle with a respectable 8-1-1 record, drew the unenviable assignment of challenging the nation’s number-one team – the unbeaten Longhorns of Texas. With visions of the Four Horsemen dancing in their heads, the Irish almost pulled off the upset. Only a 76-yard drive late in the final period, capped by Billy Dale’s one-yard scoring plunge, gave the Longhorns a hard fought 21-17 victory and insured their claim to the national title.
Although Texas won the annual Cotton Bowl Classic on this sundrenched but chilly New Year’s Day before a packed house of 73,000, Notre Dame, coached by Ara Parseghian, matched the powerful Longhorns yard for yard until the final gun.
The Irish opened the scoring in the first quarter as Scott Hempel converted a 26-yard field goal.
After the opening kickoff junior quarterback Joe Theismann guided the Irish 82 yards downfield, eating up six minutes on the clock, to set the stage for Hempel’s kick.
Notre Dame scored again early in the second period as Theismann shocked the Longhorns by tossing a 54-yard touchdown bomb to Tom Gatewood on the first play from scrimmage after a Texas punt. Hempel’s kick made it 10-0 for Notre Dame.
The Longhorns first lit the scoreboard in the second quarter as they drove 74 yards in nine plays. Behind the running of Ted Koy and Jim Bertelsen and the passing of James Street, the Longhorns moved into Notre Dame territory and ended the scoring march on Bertelsen’s one-yard dash into the end zone.
Happy Feller converted the PAT and the Longhorns trailed 10-7.
Neither team crossed the goal line again until the final period.
Texas jumped out in front of the Irish in the fourth quarter on a bruising 77-yard drive. Steve Worster, the game’s leading rusher with 155 yards, barreled his way through the Irish defense for long gains of eight, nine and seven yards, while Bertelsen, who finished the afternoon with 81 yards, added carries of five and six yards to the Longhorn effort. Koy took the ball in from the three, and Feller’s kick gave Texas a 14-10 lead.
Notre Dame fought right back. With Theismann at the controls, Notre Dame went 80 yards in eight plays to go ahead 17-14. The feisty Theismann put together scampers of 14 and 11 yards and tossed an 11-yard pass to Dennis Allen. The Irish finally scored on a 24-yard touchdown pass from Theismann to Jim Yoder.
With still seven minutes left in the battle, coach Darrell Royal and his Longhorns weren’t about to watch their national championship dreams be snuffed out by an upstart group of Irishmen from Notre Dame. Texas made the most of its final surge. Twice the Longhorns needed conversions on fourth down to maintain possession, and the final one dashed Notre Dame’s hopes. Street, on fourth and two from the Irish 10-yard line, threw low and wide to end Cotton Speyrer, but the lanky redhead snared it at the two. The Irish defense then halted a pair of Longhorn rushing plays, but on the third try, Dale found the end zone and the Longhorns had their national championship with only 1:08 left on the clock.
Notre Dame tried another comeback attempt with the seconds ticking away. Theismann brought the Irish all the way to the Texas 39, but with 28 seconds left, Tom Campbell intercepted Theismann’s final pass.
Worster earned the game’s offensive player award, while Notre Dame’s captain Bob Olson won the most valuable defensive player honor.
Theismann’s efforts established Cotton Bowl records in two categories. His 231 yards passing broke Roger Staubach’s previous mark of 228 (1964) and his 279 yards total offense surpassed Duke Carlisle’s 267 standard, also set in 1964.
Outstanding Defensive Player
Bob Olson, Linebacker