April 16, 2010

Notre Dame, Ind. – A miniature Notre Dame football reunion broke out at the fancy new Cowboys Stadium in Dallas where former Irish stars Joe Montana and Kris Haines were officially inducted into the AT&T Cotton Bowl Hall of Fame. Former Irish offensive coordinator Merv Johnson (he’s now at Oklahoma as radio analyst and director of football operations) came for the inductions, as did 14 other former Irish players – Joe Alvarado, Jay Case, Darryll Dewan, Leo Driscoll, Tom Gibbons, Dennis Grindinger, Scott Grooms (cousin of new Irish football equipment manager Ryan Grooms), Dan Novakov, Steve Orsini, Peter Pallas (college roommate of Haines), Patrick Steenberge, Joe Unis, Robin Weber and Kurt Zachrison. Cowboys radio voice Brad Sham served as master of ceremonies, while longtime CBS and FOX Cotton Bowl voice Pat Summerall also attended.

At a private dinner for inductees on Tuesday night at the Cowboys’ new facility, Haines presented the gold helmet he wore when the Irish defeated Houston in the ’79 version of the Cotton Bowl to longtime Cotton Bowl media relations chief Charlie Fiss for the Hall of Fame. Meanwhile, Montana talked of flying Tuesday from San Francisco on the same plane with San Francisco Giant baseball great Willie Mays and Hall of Fame New York Giant quarterback Y.A. Tittle. Tittle invited Montana back to his seat location to chat – and when two young girls came back to request autographs from Montana, Montana advised them they would be wise to obtain Tittle’s as well.

The Notre Dame influence could be seen all over the ceremonies. Inductee Wilbur Evans, the longtime Cotton Bowl executive director, was lauded for joining with Field Scovell to help convince Notre Dame to change its postseason bowl stance after sitting on the sidelines for 45 years. That resulted in Notre Dame’s first two Cotton Bowl appearances following the `69 and ’70 seasons. During Evans’ tenure, the Cotton Bowl played host to three national championship games – all between Notre Dame and Texas. The Longhorns prevailed following that ’69 season, the Irish spoiled the 30-game Texas win streak the next year, while the Irish jumped over the top-rated `Horns to become #1 at the end of the ’77 season.

Sham noted that the famous Montana-to-Haines TD pass as time ran out to beat Houston in the ’79 game actually only tied the score – and the winning point was scored by Dallas native Unis (he still lives in Dallas), who was present today.

Haines noted the “miracle” catch – the Xs and Os of which are now present in large form on the glass walls of the Cotton Bowl outer offices at the Stadium. Haines thanked his father and high school coach, Dave, and other family members who came for the festivities.

Inductee Phil Harris from Texas also introduced a number of family members, but suggested some had actually been more interested in coming to see Montana as opposed to him.

In talking about the famous late-game hookup with Haines, Montana said, “Kris saved my life on a not-so-well-thrown ball,” though Montana kidded that he wasn’t sure Haines actually needed to dive for the ball.

Montana sat next to inductee Jackie Sherrill, the former coach at Pittsburgh, Texas A&M and Mississippi State, and noted that Sherrill had been in his living room trying to persuade Monongahela, Pa., product Montana to stay home and play for Pitt. “But Notre Dame had my heart from day one,” said Montana.

Montana went out of his way to thank and praise Johnson who he called “the glue to our offensive team,” and indicated it was the first time he’s had an opportunity to publicly thank Johnson. Montana also pointed out that Unis had to kick his final PAT twice because the Irish were offside the first time.

Sherrill confirmed his interest in recruiting Montana but said, “Touchdown Jesus already had him sewn up.” Sherrill introduced a lengthy list of family members, including grandchildren who refer to him as “Pop-Pop” – though Sherrill also kiddingly noted that once the grandkids found out Montana was going to be there “it didn’t matter who Pop-Pop was any more.”