Blue and Gold Illustrated

February 2019

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 44 of 47 FEBRUARY 2019 45 WHERE HAVE YOU GONE? as a freshman for the 1988 national champs. Two, on the Friday that he left for his tour of Notre Dame, Smith committed to the Clemson Tigers, just to make sure he wouldn't get burned like he did at Auburn. "I didn't want to be Derek Brown's backup for three years," Smith said of the attitude he took on his way to Notre Dame. "Then, when I got there, Lou Holtz was very honest with me. "He told me if I go to Notre Dame I would be Derek Brown's backup for three years — and he kept his word." Yet the aura of the school academi- cally, athletically and spiritually in- stantly captivated Smith. "Whether I was the backup or not, I couldn't pass up the opportunity," Smith said of the school's appeal. "Whenever I talk to Notre Dame guys or girls who went to school there, it's so crazy because we all say the same thing and it's not like we're pro- grammed for it. People say, 'Why did you go to Notre Dame?' And we all have the same answer: It's a special place. "It's hard to fight it. I was fighting it, but when I stepped on that campus, the rest was history." 'A WAY OF LIFE' Smith played both football and baseball his first two seasons, and he caught only one pass both his fresh- man and sophomore seasons. Yet he felt at peace with his choice. "Everything I wanted to do at Notre Dame I was doing," he said. "We were winning football games, I was getting a great degree, playing some. I didn't go to Notre Dame just for football. I went there for the university. It was just a way of life to work hard and get better, and that's what I was doing. "Coach Holtz told me, 'Irv, if you do what you're supposed to do, all the good things you want will come your direction.'" Brown's first career college touch- down as a junior was one of the most epic in Notre Dame Stadium history, a YouTube favorite, when he caught a 54-yard Rick Mirer pass in the opener versus Indiana and dragged and/or bounced off about a half-dozen de- fenders and into the end zone the final 20 yards. He said he was almost in a hypnotic trance on that play. "When I finally got to the goal line I pretty much collapsed," he said. "It wasn't until I finished and crossed that goal line that I even realized that I was hit by anybody because I was only focused on getting into the end zone." His determination emanated from Holtz dropping him to fourth team during a spring practice that year in order to test him. "He understood how to get the best out of people," Smith said. "I was a good baseball player, but I wasn't a great baseball player. I liked football, but I loved baseball — but Coach Holtz realized I was a better football player than baseball player. "He basically said, 'Irv, you might as well play baseball. We're not go- ing to take the scholarship away from you, but you're not going to play foot- ball anymore. Don't worry about foot- ball because at this point you're prob- ably not going to be second string any longer either.'" A stunned Smith took his grievance to offensive line coach Joe Moore, whom he referred to as his father fig- ure at school. "He took me aside and said, 'Look, I know you can do this. Let's prove to Coach Holtz that he's wrong,'" Smith said. "When he told me that, it made me realize he had my back." Smith concluded his junior season (when he stopped playing baseball) with a touchdown catch during the 39-28 defeat of No. 3 Florida in the Sugar Bowl. With first-round pick Brown having graduated, Smith then took over the spot as a senior. The stats weren't glittering (20 catches for 262 yards and two touchdowns), but his blocking, attitude, Senior Bowl performance and a 4.5 40-yard dash in the combine made him another first- round pick at tight end (No. 20 overall in 1993). If he had a regret in football, it's that there was no College Football Playoff in his time. As a senior on a team that won its final seven games, highlighted by a 28-3 Cotton Bowl victory versus 12-0 Texas A&M, the Irish lineup was the most talented in the country. Unlike Alabama losing its final regular-season game in 2017 but still winning the title as the No. 4 seed, the Irish lived in a more unfor- giving time in 1992. "I think we would have won the national title if there was a playoff that year," Smith said. The winner in 1992? Alabama. Full circle, indeed. ✦ Tight End Runs In The Family During his seven-year NFL career with New Orleans, San Francisco and Cleveland, Irv Smith Sr. caught 183 passes, including 15 for touch- downs. "The worst part of pro sports is there are a lot of politics," he said. "I had my ups and downs, but felt blessed to be able to play seven seasons. The best part was when I was finished I walked away on my own terms. "My body had taken enough, mentally I was done and I was able to walk away. I turned my retirement papers in and haven't looked back." His older brother, Ed (EZ) Smith, also played four years in the NFL in the late 1990s as a tight end. The two co-host a sports-radio show "EZ Sports Talk" in Phoenix, but Irv also has been a real estate broker and in the financial service business for nearly two decades. From the age of 3, Smith Jr. informed his fa- ther he would be a wide receiver one day. "I told him, 'Son, you're going to be too big to be a wide receiver," Smith Sr. recounted. "In his junior year of high school he finally gave in and said, 'Dad you were right.' "I told him from day one, 'You can either be a slow receiver or a fast tight end.' He embraced it and absolutely loves being a tight end now." — Lou Somogyi Smith's son Irv Jr. is a junior at Alabama who reeled in a tight end school-record seven touchdowns through 13 games this fall. PHOTO COURTESY IRV SMITH

Articles in this issue

Links on this page

Archives of this issue

view archives of Blue and Gold Illustrated - February 2019