Reggie Brooks talks about his two most iconic Notre Dame pieces in new book excerpt // UHND.com

Cover of “If These Walls Could Talk: Stories from the Notre Dame Fighting Irish sideline, locker room and grandstand”

Former Notre Dame great Reggie Brooks today released a new book – “If These Walls Could Talk: Stories from the Notre Dame Fighting Irish sideline, locker room and press box.” Triumph Books has been kind enough to share a draft copy of Reggie’s new book as well as an excerpt for our readers. In the excerpt below, Reggie talks about his run against Michigan and his two-point winning conversion against Penn State. Pieces that Irish fans are still talking about almost 30 years later.

This excerpt from If these walls could speak: Notre Dame Fighting Irish by Reggie Brooks with John Heisler is reprinted with permission from Triumph Books. For more information and to order a copy, please visit Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Bookshop.org or TriumphBooks.com/WallsNotreDame.

CHAPTER 13:

TWO GAMES TO REMEMBER

The 1992 season marked a better year for me and kind of etched my name into Notre Dame lore and history, especially based on three games this season and two specific plays.

The first play occurred in the Michigan game. It was definitely a bittersweet match. I’ve already mentioned how frustrating this game was because we didn’t maximize the opportunity we had. We made too many mistakes. Starting fast was something we did a good job of, but in this game we didn’t finish.

But a lot of people come back to this game – first and 10 in Michigan 20. We were moving the ball – it was still the first quarter – and we took the option. This is one of our standard plays, but it really became a game of lore and mystique from that game. It was a 20-yard run out of the ordinary and, as I mentioned before , I didn’t remember the game after the game. I only really realized what happened after seeing it on Sunday during our shoot and team meeting.

It would be considered a read option today, but it was essentially a read for Mirer and a fake for Bettis in the middle. It’s an I-formation look, with me back. As an option, you are always taught to be five by five meters from the quarterback. You are responsible for maintaining the pitch relationship. As the game developed, Mirer did a good job of squeezing the edge and really forcing the end to pick it up and throw it.

The other thing that always comes to my mind is vision. You have to be able to see what is coming, not just to avoid it but to know how to attack it. On that particular play, Mirer threw and I saw Brown – he was the Michigan goalie and he was filling the lane. I saw it coming, Mirer made the pitch and I am one-on-one. This is something that Coach Holtz, Coach Mosley – anyone who has played or coached the running back position – has taught us. You must make a guy miss it. It’s the least you can do as a running back.

Watching the game, I took the field, I saw the fairway defender, the receivers were blocking the field, so he was my guy. It was clear and simple, he was the guy I had to beat. I was known for the spinning motion and was off balance, but I took a hit and maintained my balance.

It came from daily running through this glove – you feel like you are regaining your balance as quickly as possible. I was able to bounce, fall forward, and was about the 7-yard line. The defensive back came over to the other side and I was tripping, trying to keep the balance, but going forward I pulled the side of the helmet and it was just like, “Bam.” It was at the base of the neck, at the bottom of the helmet. Today he probably would have been kicked out for targeting, because I was basically defenseless. It was a headphone-to-headphone hit, which I would normally say I’ll never forget, but I did.

I got hit around the 4-yard line – it was just momentum and determination to get the ball into the end zone, and at the same time pass the ball from my left hand to my right hand was unconscious muscle memory. You always bring the ball towards the outside arm, keep it away from the defender.

I didn’t think about it. Okay, you’ve done a play. There was a level of luck there. If I had been three or four meters away, if I had been around the 10 or even 8 meter line, it would probably have

have been an escapee. It was kind of crazy that I was wrapped around the 4-yard line and was able to take more steps and my momentum got me into the end zone. Like I said, it was a great play, but back then it was just a play you did because that’s what you do. That’s what we did.

Opportunity played a major role in this particular game. We equalized that game, but we also made a lot of mistakes and I was part of a failed rally on a backhand. So, you tend to remember not so much great things as things that you didn’t do as well. This game is hard to swallow because it had a huge impact on our race for the national championship. It was the last year, and you fight and you scratch and you break, and you don’t really make it, you did there.

This piece ended up being voted National Coin of the Year, and they presented Notre Dame with a large, original framed work of art showing the piece – it has long been hung in the athletic administrative hall of the Joyce Center.

* * *

The next game was towards the end of the season. I really think Michigan’s tie affected Coach Holtz’s decision at the end of the game against Penn State. This game was our penultimate game of the regular season, and there was a stretch there where we were up against four ranked teams back to back back to back. It was also our last home game, so there were a couple of different things that were at stake.

The first thing is that the seniors lost their last home game two years in a row, and that’s something that really stood out for us. Secondly, it was against a tough opponent, and it was also a game where we made a lot of mistakes. It wasn’t absolutely horrible, but the foot wasn’t great, in part because of the snow in the middle of the game. It was another game where we had some costly mistakes that put us in a difficult position, and this time it ended until the end. Similar to the Michigan game, we were down 6-3 in the first quarter and then tied 6-6 at halftime. We had two very good chances to score touchdowns early in the game and we came away with goals on the field. In those first two quarters, we had a practice that lasted almost 10 minutes and ended in a 26-yard field goal by Hentrich.

We were leading 9-6 after three quarters, but Penn State kept fighting. Our defense really got stronger – we really tackled them defensively, not just capitalizing on opportunities. We had snow, we had sleet, and then around the fourth quarter the sun came out. All kinds of weather you can imagine we had at some point during this game. We fought to come back, but we still hadn’t scored a touchdown the whole game. We were a very good football team, but we couldn’t kick the ball into the end zone for three quarters. We didn’t score any touchdowns until the fourth quarter. I’m still struggling with this. How could this have happened? We have been there several times, well in the red zone, and only left with baskets. It’s something that pains me to think about so far.

Penn State was up 16 to 9 in the fourth quarter. We were going down, and there was just a calm in the group. No panic, no fear of failure, just determination and complete confidence that we were going to find a solution. We were going to find a way to do it.

We drove the entire length of the field. We scored, but we actually used our two-point conversion play for the touchdown. It was a back pass where Bettis blocked and then slipped away, almost like a small screen to some extent. He came out and scored a touchdown. We were able to go for a tie and hit the PAT and the game would probably end in another tie. But I really think the Michigan game ending in a tie affected our thinking.

Coach Holtz decided to go for two and, again, we’ve already used our two-point conversion that we normally practice. Coach Holtz gave Mirer a few instructions, both the base play call and some tweaks. I was surprised to still be in the game – we knew Coach Holtz didn’t have the utmost confidence in me catching the ball.

It was based on the fact that I wore contact lenses in the game, but I never wore my lenses in training because they irritated my eyes. I never thought during this year of practicing with my contacts because I didn’t really like them. I wore glasses in class, I was comfortable with glasses. I wasn’t going to wear the glasses, without disrespecting Eric Dickerson. I was just training with nothing, so I really struggled to see the ball a lot of times in training. It lasted four years.

I was nearsighted, so distant things were difficult for me to understand. In soccer, one of the things you talk about with the catch is that you focus on the tip of the ball or the front half of the ball as it comes towards you. But, being at a distance, everything was a blur. So I struggled to pick up the ball in training a few times. It would surprise me, and it was more of a surprise.

I was really the lure of the room, just trying to clear it up. I lined up with trips to the left, a single rear that was a single receiver, a tight end to the right. We were basically operating multi-level crossing roads, with Bettis trying to create an opening for Irv Smith below.

They were thinking the same thing – thinking they didn’t need to cover it up – so I made my way through. I was the interior receiver on the travel side. I tried to get the linebacker to safety and no one followed me. As Irv Smith tried to sneak in and come back, security and linebacker sat on top of him and I was there. Mirer was pushed back to the left, he lobbed it towards me – and the rest is history.

It was two separate rooms – both in that southern end area, in the southwest corner – that made me a legend of Notre Dame in many ways.

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