April 22, 2016

By John Heisler

A couple of months ago Gage Golic, the 19-year-old son of former University of Notre Dame All-American Bob Golic and a current freshman at Ohio State, realized he’d never seen his father play football.

That prompted his dad to go to a cabinet in their Solon, Ohio, home and find an old Cotton Bowl DVD set (taken from even older VHS versions) with a couple of games from the 1970s in which Golic and his Irish participated in consecutive years.

Bob and Gage didn’t simply watch plays-Bob pulled out the green laser pointer and went through some of the finer points of defensive football. That proved highly appropriate given how well Bob and his Irish dismantled Earl Campbell and top-rated and unbeaten Texas in the 1978 version of the Cotton Bowl that ended up boosting the fifth-rated Notre Dame team to the top of the final polls. The whole family ended up taking in a little old-school football that evening.

“I think he (Gage) was impressed,” said Bob’s wife Karen, “He said, `Dad, you did pretty good.'” And, as Karen added, that’s coming from a generation probably more impressed with Golic’s acting role on “Saved by the Bell.”

A few weeks later, Bob received a call from the Cotton Bowl informing him he had been selected to the Hall of Fame for the Dallas-based postseason event-and that brought a flood of memories back Thursday and Friday when Bob and Karen served as honored guests at the Cotton Bowl Hall of Fame festivities.

At Thursday night’s private dinner for the honorees at AT&T Stadium, master of ceremonies Jay McAuley (current chairman of the Cotton Bowl Athletic Association) kidded that Golic had only agreed to attend if the temperature was above 19 degrees (about what it was in 1979 when the Irish survived both the eighth-ranked Houston Cougars and the ice storm that hit Dallas the night before the game).

A couple of Golic’s Dallas-based former college teammates, Joe Unis and Dennis Grindinger, came by for Friday’s brunch, as did outgoing CBAA chair and former Notre Dame player Dan Novakov-and that became yet another excuse to revisit two of the more noteworthy college efforts in Golic’s career.

The memories took Golic back nearly four decades, yet there remained little question the two games at the original Cotton Bowl facility held special places for the Irish linebacker. In fact, the 1979 game took on such an aura for Irish fans (former athletics director Moose Krause routinely called it the greatest comeback in Notre Dame history) it earned two names in Notre Dame lore-the “Chicken Soup Game” and the “Ice Bowl.”

Golic kidded that the liquid Irish quarterback Joe Montana ingested at halftime wasn’t really chicken soup (“no noodles,” he allowed). Whatever it was, it played some sort of noteworthy role in allowing Montana to survive a bout of hypothermia and return in the second half to lead the Irish back from a 34-12 deficit in the final seven and a half minutes.

“It always seemed funny to see your quarterback come out of the locker room somehow revitalized thanks to something your grandma would give you,” said Golic with a laugh.

Golic recalled earlier Montana-led comebacks in games against Purdue, North Carolina and Air Force, but he suggested there had never been one in a contest of that magnitude.

“Having Joe around, you knew there was always a chance,” said Golic. “Of all the guys I’ve ever known, Montana was a guy who just always found a way to bring you back.”

Golic kidded that old footage of him against Texas and Houston must have been colorized.

With former Texas head coach Fred Akers (he was on the wrong side of the 38-10 Irish win in the 1978 Cotton Bowl) one of Golic’s fellow inductees, Bob recalled committing a bit of a media relations faux pas by creating some bulletin-board material for the Longhorns with his pregame comments.

“All we heard was that they had Brad Shearer and they had Earl Campbell and all the Joneses (Ham and Lam). So a reporter came up to me and said, `So they have this and this and this-how do you think you’re going to do?’ And I said, `Well we’re going to blow them out of the stadium.’ About two hours later I was in (head coach) Dan Devine’s office.”

Golic apologized to Akers, though he noted in a whisper that what he said turned to be be correct.

“With him on the prowl, there was just nowhere to run,” said Friday’s master of ceremonies Brad Sham of Golic’s 17-tackle effort (plus a forced fumble and blocked field goal) in the 1978 game. “He was tough, physical, extremely quick and nearly impossible to block. He was phenomenal in that game against Texas.”

Golic went on to recall the sudden change in game-day weather conditions a year later.

“I had no idea, this being Texas, that you could have snow or ice or anything like that,” Golic said. “We’re all cutting our sleeves off and then suddenly we realize how cold it is and guys are going around asking, `Do you have a thermal I could wear?’

“The first half we were not doing so well, and Joe (Montana) was shaking. He drank the chicken broth, came back out and we beat Houston. If anybody was going to do it, it was going to be Joe. That’s our story and we’re sticking to it.

“We came back in that game and Kris Haines caught a touchdown pass on the last play of the game to tie it 34 to 34. Joe Unis was our kicker and he goes out there and kicks it and we jump offside. Turns out some of the linemen were talking to each other, saying, `I don’t think he’s going to make it. Do you think he’s going to make it?’ And Joe’s in the back going, `Shut up!’

“So we had to re-kick it from further back and we won the game. So, to this today, whenever Joe Unis and Joe Montana are in the same place, I say Joe Unis won the game for us, Joe Montana tied it for us. And Joe Montana just rolls his eyes.”

Golic became the sixth Notre Dame representative to join the Hall of Fame-following Joe Theismann (2003), Ara Parseghian (2007), Montana and Haines (2010) and Lou Holtz (2012).

Golic now has his name on a brick on the AT&T Stadium Walk of Honor near the front entrance. He also met another Notre Dame connection in Terrance Henderson, a member of the CBAA board of directors and a graduate of the Notre Dame Law School.

A Who’s Who of the football world watched the noon ceremonies Friday-including longtime NFL personnel executive Gil Brandt, former Cowboy lineman Russell Maryland and representatives from the National Football Foundation, the College Football Playoff and the Big 12 Conference, the former SMU Pony Express duo of Eric Dickerson (he was an inductee) and Craig James and many of its nearby institutions. Even the Kilgore Rangerettes, a Cotton Bowl institution, performed to “Deep in the Heart of Texas.”

Golic played 14 productive seasons in the NFL, mostly with the Oakland Raiders. He offered, “Bo Jackson was amazing-he’s the only player I wanted an autograph from.”

Still, Golic waxed a bit nostalgic when he recalled simpler days in South Bend.

“College football was an amazing time for me. I was from Cleveland, about a four-hour drive from South Bend and my parents came to every home game and most of the away games.

“My parents would bring my little brothers, Greg and Mike-and my dad always said he could drop these kids off in the middle of campus at midnight and wouldn’t have to worry about them. That’s how it was at Notre Dame. It always made me feel really good that you had a great place to play football, a great place to go to school and such wonderful people.”

John Heisler, senior associate athletics director at the University of Notre Dame, has been part of the Fighting Irish athletics communications team since 1978. A South Bend, Indiana, native, he is a 1976 graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism and a member of the College Sports Information Directors of America Hall of Fame. He is editor of the award-winning “Strong of Heart” series.