The Not-So-Grim-Reapers of Comeback Glory

The Persistence of Memory By Salvador Dalii The Most Persistent Memories are Those That EIther Feel the Best or Hurt the Worst.

The Persistence of Memory
By Salvador Dali
The Most Persistent Memories are Those Which Either Feel the Best or Hurt the Worst. ~ The Pecan Park Eagle

We made the observation in yesterday’s Eagle column on the amazing Super Bowl 51 game in Houston that its incredible come-from-way-back outcome win rally may also have the same effect upon Tom Brady’s NFL career as the 1979 Cotton Bowl had upon Joe Montana’s reputation in the college ranks going forth into a very similar NFL career.  They also were named “Player of the Game” in contests which became the signatures on their greatness at the expense of opponents who suffered the meltdown cost of losing at the Great Expectations level of bitter disappointment.

And what was that effect? Easy answer. The reapers were not so grim once they closed the clock on the success side of each iconic final result.

It is now far easier for millions of us to say, without any further qualification of the obvious fact. – Tom Brady has now proven that, indeed, he truly is – the greatest quarterback in NFL history. And look – guys my age grew up with the images of Otto Graham, Johnny Unitas, Y.A. Tittle, Bart Starr,  and Bobby Layne as the impeccable symbols of NFL QB greatness. The prose on their football bubble gum cards virtually said everything that already wasn’t implied by those virile statue of liberty poses on the face-picture hemisphere of each cardboard marketing bullet. The subjective pitch on each card screamed about their greatness. But none of those guys won five out of eight appearances in the championship games of their era seasons – and none had to come back from a 25-point deficit with a little over a quarter to go to win that record 5th championship ring.

We made the effort to give you a couple of time flow tables on how the Super Bowl 51 game slipped away from the Atlanta Falcons – and how the 1979 Cotton Bowl crumbled from the grasp of the Houston Cougars.

Atlanta Falcon Meltdown in Super Bowl 51 of 2017

3RD 17:15 28-3 ATL
3rd 17:06 NE TD 28-9 ATL
4TH 9:44 NE FG 28-12 ATL
4TH 5:56 NE TD 28-18 ATL
4TH 5:56 NE 2-XP 28-20 ATL
4TH 0:57 NE TD 28-26 ATL
4TH 0:57 NE 2-XP 28-28 TIE
OT 3:58 into OT NE TD 34-28 NE WINS

Houston Cougar Meltdown in the Cotton Bowl of 1979

4TH 7:35 HOU on own 33 34-12 HOU
4TH 7:25 ND 33 YD Blk Punt 34-18 HOU
4th 7:25 ND 2-PT CONV. 34-20 HOU
4TH 4:15 ND 2 YD RUN 34-26 HOU
4TH 4:15 ND 2-PT CONV. 34-28 HOU
4TH 0:00 ND 8 YD PASS 34-34 TIE

As someone who watched yesterday’s game at home on TV – and the 1979 ND-UH Cotton Bowl in person, there is one factor about the latter that doesn’t show up on its time chart:

The 1979 Cotton Bowl is remembered today by those of who were there as “The Ice Bowl”. We literally had to bang about two inches of ice off our seats before we could sit down. We also learned quickly that our hot coffee turned to frozen sludge if you didn’t drink it pretty fast. The temperatures  dipped down into the teens, as I recall, but later newspaper reports we saw in that pre-digital era that the wind chill even dropped to 18 degrees below zero at one point. The wind from the north end zone bordered on storm level. Naturally, the Irish had the wind at their backs for their amazing Joe Montana-led 4th quarter rally.

On offense in the 4th quarter, the UH Cougars could do nothing. The wind blew passes and kicks back to UH, making running the predictable and stoppable play. Running plays were also made easier to stop by the patches of turf ice that caused all players on both sides of the ball to slip down with ease.

It wasn’t the time and place for it literally, I don’t think, but January 1, 1979 at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas would have been a great stimulus to Simon and Garfunkel. That definitely was the figurative best time and space for the birth of “Slip Sliding Away.” That song says it all about so many things that slip through our fingers in life – and here was UH going through it on one of what was then one of the biggest stages of College football.

The end of the game left all Cougar coaches, players, and fans with enough banana peels on Memory Lane to last a life time. You see, “What might been” attached heavily to all tearing of the soul for Cougar Nation – and the very mention of the words “ice bowl” by someone else remains sure to invite a cringe of pain to us Cougars, if not more.

Now the Atlanta Falcons family is similarly infected with the same big game meltdown blues. They will have to get used to it. And make their peace with it. It may heal for all of them eventually on the life wisdom level, over the passage of much time, but the pain never quite goes away. And we offer that fact from 38 years experience.


If I were an abstract artist, I could paint it:

The Visual

Flashes of red and white, blue and gold, in pom-pom and human form – are moving violently against each other on an almost pure, but swirling white background day. A never aging coed smile flashes from a foreground figure as she flashes the Cougar Claw hand sign from the field level to us fans in first level. She will never grow old. Nor will her smiling moment of joy ever be swept away by what is yet to be. QB Danny Davis, running north to south, right to left, is running out of bounds for a first down. It is all fluid. Heart-filled. Dynamic. And indelible. And it brings some to tears quicker, if viewed in the company of bonded Cougar supporters as a major canvas piece, in the dark of evening, while listening to the song “Kiss Today Goodbye” from the musical, Chorus Line, 1979.

The Soundtrack

Kiss today goodbye,
The sweetness and the sorrow.
Wish me luck, the same to you.
But I can’t regret
What I did for love, what I did for love.
Look my eyes are dry.
The gift was ours to borrow.
It’s as if we always knew,
And I won’t forget what I did for love,
What I did for love.
Love is never gone.
As we travel on,
Love’s what we’ll remember.
Kiss today goodbye,
And point me toward tomorrow.
We did what we had to do.
Won’t forget, can’t regret
What I did for Love.
(partial of all lyrics) ~ Kiss Today Goodbye, Chorus Line.
Back to actual 1979 Cotton Bowl

Near the end of the game, with time running out, UH owned the ball on about their own 28 with 4th down coming up, but still leading, 34-28.

Punting into that hurricane from the north was no option. ND already had blocked one punt for a TD. Another option might have been to risk Danny Davis running back to the end zone for a safety. If it worked, the Cougars could then hope to survive with a 34-30 lead as their kicker tried to a get a free kick far enough down the field to run out the clock or maybe even get lucky enough to recovery a fumble in the horrible field conditions.

UH did neither. They tried to run the ball for a short distance first down, which would have been a game-winning play, but they were stopped short – allowing ND to have the ball again from 29 yards away – and about 0:28 seconds left in the game.

Four quick players later, with time now showing 0:00 after Montana took the snap from the UH 9 yard line and rolled right. Joe found wide receiver Chris Haines for a falling out-of-bounds catch with one foot in the end zone for a touchdown.

With the game clock done, ND and UH were tied 34-34. It didn’t stay that way long. ND then kicked the extra point and the games was decided. The Irish and Joe Montana had come back to defeat the UH Cougars in the 1979 Cotton Bowl, 35-34.

Footnote: During the Summer of 1979, we invited UH QB Danny Davis to our house for dinner. When asked about the “take a safety” option on the Cougar’s last play, Danny smiled, even throwing a little appreciation my way: “Hey, Bill,” Danny said, “now you’re thinking like me. That’s what I wanted to do too, but Coach Yeoman was afraid that I might slip down on the icy field on my way to the end zone. Then they (ND) would have been almost sure to score that close to our goal line.”

“That makes sense. How do you feel about it now?” I asked Davis so many years ago.

“Coach made the right call,” Davis quickly confirmed. “We came awfully close to making the first down that would have made all other talk unnecessary.”

“It just wasn’t our day.”


Special Reminder: By the earliest CST time you read this column, it will be Wednesday morning, February 8, 2017. – Don’t forget! – Tonight from 7-8:30 PM is time for the Houston Cougar Football Panel and Exhibition at the Heritage Society downtown. Please join us, if possible. Here’s a link to the column we wrote last week for program details:

UH Cougar Football Panel is Feb. 8th


 Bill McCurdy

Publisher, Editor, Writer

The Pecan Park Eagle

Houston, Texas


2 Responses to “The Not-So-Grim-Reapers of Comeback Glory”

  1. Fred Soland Says:

    How about the Oiler meltdown to Buffalo in the playoffs.
    That has to rank as the worst meltdown in history.

    • Bill McCurdy Says:

      No question about that one, Fred, but my intent here was to compare how both Brady at the NFL level – and Montana at the college level – both proved themselves as legends of greatness on the backs of two great comebacks against meltdown play by their foes. Although the Oiler loss to Buffalo in January 1993 wasn’t the Super Bowl, indeed, it was 7 points worse than the Pats’ 28-3 deficit in SB51 when “Luv Ya Blue” went up on the Bills by 35-3 in the 3rd quarter. Of course, the Bills’ eventual 41-38 win also didn’t exactly launch Buffalo back-up QB into Hall of Fame status. He was just a leading partner in the one-game-wonder performance against all odds on a given Sunday in the land of long ago – a team performance that will also never be totally forgotten or forgiven by ancient Oiler fans, but you are still so right. It was the worst of the worst meltdowns in all of important football history, so far.

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