By Ken Craven
It was Oct. 16, 1971, and the bus pulled onto the Notre Dame campus for a football game in an historic venue. As usual, the Tar Heel football team came to South Bend the day before and did a walk-through. On game day, there were 59,000 screaming fans, loud music, tailgating, and enthusiasm rattled the air.
The experience was memorable. A few funny stories came from that day and true UNC fans may enjoy them. The guys who I had the privilege to call teammates will love remembering this day. Even though we lost 16-0, the Irish memories are still vivid after 43 years.
We exited the bus and were guided into the inner recesses of the stadium to the visitors’ dressing room. It had been the dressing room of Notre Dame legends ranging from Knute Rockne to The Four Horsemen. The lockers looked like the same ones from Knute’s day. We looked for names scratched into the metal locker doors and concrete walls. As usual, except for crowd noise, our locker room was quiet. But today, it seemed a little different, breathing the air of the Notre Dame tradition.
We did have an expectant winning attitude, but we can’t be blamed for feeling a sense of intimidation being in one of the birthplaces of big time college football. Growing up, I watched the shortened version of the Saturday Notre Dame game every Sunday afternoon, produced by C.D. Chesley. Notre Dame’s football program was the epitome of successful football history. They were ranked seventh in the country that week and coached by the legendary Ara Parseghian. In 1970, Notre Dame finished its season by defeating Texas (coached by the famous Darrell Royal) in the Cotton Bowl on New Year’s Day, 24-11. The victory ended the Longhorns’ 30-game winning streak.
And amazingly, here was UNC, and here was I, a walk-on kicker, in the middle of it, hoping for an historic – once in a lifetime for me – win for the Tar Heels. Sure, we had played on TV before. Yes, we had played and won in front of large crowds, even in stadiums where the stands seemed like they were right behind the bench, like University of Illinois. In 1970, we even played in the Peach Bowl against Arizona State. But nothing came even close to being at Notre Dame Stadium, either as a fan or player.
As usual, we put on our full uniforms, Coach Dooley went over the rules of the kicking game, and we jogged onto the field for warm-ups. Notre Dame was on one end of the field and we were on the other. As a place kicker, I began by kicking a few extra points and worked my way back to longer field goals. Lewis Jolley was catching punts, running them a short distance, and turning around to go catch another one. As I kicked a field goal, Lewis jogged by and yelled, “We’re in some deep $--t.” I said, “What do you mean?” He said, “I will be back.” He caught another punt, jogged by, and said, “These guys are huge.” I said, “Lewis we knew that before today.” He said, “I’ll be back.” He came back again, this time with a bit of laughter and bigger than normal eyes peering from his helmet, Lewis said, “They do not have their shoulder pads on yet!” I turned and looked, he was right, they did not have their shoulder pads on and they were already huge!!
We went back into the locker room before game time. The noise was increasing by the minute. It was on top of us … we were under the stands!! Coach Dooley gave us a rousing pre-game speech and I could not help thinking of Knute Rockne’s famous speech!! Our leaders, Paul Miller and Ricky Packard, were to lead us onto the field. We banged on the lockers and got loud. A trainer busted the door open and the entire team pushed out of the locker room to run onto the field. But like a Three Stooges TV show, Miller and Packard stopped at the door and everyone piled up on each other!!! The Notre Dame Band always recruited a very tall band member, fitted a tall drum major hat on him, and placed him strategically in front of the door in order to disrupt the momentum of the team coming out of the locker room. It worked! We backed up, un-piled, and again exited the dressing room.
Paul and Ricky were running out onto this historic field. The adrenalin was pulsing through our veins. Packard says to Miller as they ran onto the field (I am sure to break the tension), “I will bet you a case of beer that we lose.”
At some point during the game, I went out to attempt a field goal. It was toward the end zone filled with students. As we looked over the goal posts there was a mosaic of Jesus on the entire height of a campus building. The entire end zone is yelling at the top of their lungs, “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.” I would like to say I didn’t hear them, but they were right on top of us as the ball was on the hash mark nearest their stands. I went to Sunday school and knew Jesus loved me too, but hey, nobody told me He was a Notre Dame Football fan!
On the right side of our line was Lewis Jolley (6’/211 lbs) on the corner, with none other than Walt Patulski (6’6”/259lbs) lined up to come crashing down the line attempting to block the field goal. So Jolley is giving up six inches and 48 lbs to Patulski! Compare Patulski’s size to our biggest guys – Eric Hyman, 6’4”/240lbs, Bud Grissom 6’1”/ 243lbs, Bob Gerloff 6’4”/245lbs, Robert Pratt 6’3”/ 245lbs, and even Joel Bradshaw at 6’4”/260lbs.
At the snap, Patulski powered over Jolley like a hurricane ripping off a tin roof. He gained speed to a Category 4 and ran through Bill Ziglar, the holder, and caught me somewhere under my right should pad. I was airborne for about five yards and landed with this behemoth on me. My helmet shifted 90 degrees and I got up looking out my ear hole. As I adjusted it – and regained my eyesight – I was looking at the bottom of the numbers of Mr. Patulski’s jersey. At 5’11”/180lbs, I limped to the sideline without a word. There was nothing to be said except, remembering what Lewis said in warm ups, these guys really are huge! Patulski was drafted by the Buffalo Bills.
Notre Dame won this game 16-0 but the score did not reflect how we played … we actually played pretty well. We had a few other chances to score but failed. A loss in sports is never a satisfying or great memory, but on this day, it was a day we will never forget.
Having the opportunity to play a sport at UNC, no matter what sport, is a privilege and joy. Yes, every sport is time consuming and hard, and there is a price to pay. But the long term benefits of being on a team where you jointly sweat and sacrifice, whether ending in victory or defeat, generates a bond that cannot be broken. I honor and thank the men from the 1971 UNC Football Squad, coaches, trainers, staff and players, who faced challenges, stood tough and captured the 1971 ACC Championship.