|Story entered Saturday, 07/28/2001|
Ted Mandell already was painfully familiar with his subject matter before he conceived of the idea of writing a book about some of college football's most astounding finishes.
As a Notre Dame alumnus, fan and a professor of film video production, Mandell knew all about the Fighting Irish's history of remarkable finishes and had personally experienced some of them.
While there were more wins than defeats, the game that stood out for Mandell was Notre Dame's 41-39 loss to Boston College in 1993. The top-ranked Irish, who a week earlier had knocked off previously unbeaten Florida State, appeared to have pulled off yet another amazing comeback victory with three touchdowns in the fourth quarter. But Notre Dame's hopes of a undefeated season and a national championship were dashed as the clock ran out, when Eagles kicker David Gordon nailed a 41-yard field goal.
"Every school has at least one game like that, and people can tell you right where they were when it happened," Mandell said. "I was in the south end zone (at Notre Dame Stadium). It was an amazing feeling, to be on top of the world one second and then to have your gut ripped out the next. I went from nirvana to nausea."
It is a feeling Mandell captures in his new book "Heart Stoppers and Hail Marys: 100 of the Greatest College Football Finishes (1970-1999)." More than two years of research is evident in the detailed narrative and many photographs of each game.
Mandell also found during his research the radio broadcasts of 64 of the games, which are included on a compact disc that accompanies the book. Mandell doesn't claim his book is a definitive work, but he said he tried to offer as complete an overview as possible by including games from Division I-A to Division III. No team dominates. Notre Dame comes closest with eight selections, but Michigan, Alabama, Auburn, Ohio State and Miami of Florida are involved in five games apiece.
Though the Notre Dame-Michigan series featured a number of exciting finishes during the three decades, only the 1980 game at Notre Dame Stadium is included in the book. Harry Oliver won that game for the Fighting Irish with a 51-yard field goal into the teeth of a stiff wind with no time remaining. Mandell said he chose the '80 game because he believes it best reflects the entire series. He refers to a number of other games, including one won by U-M in 1994 on Remy Hamilton's 42-yard field goal with 2 seconds left.
A game had to meet one or both of two criteria to be included: It either had to feature a great comeback or a memorable final play. Twenty-five of the games were settled by a "Hail Mary" pass, including ones thrown by Boston College's Doug Flutie at Miami in 1984, and by Colorado's Kordell Stewart at Michigan a decade later.
Mandell said he considers the most amazing of the "Hail Mary" games to be a Division III shootout between Principia College and Illinois College in 1985. Each team threw a "Hail Mary" pass for a touchdown in the final 10 seconds. Principia won, 26-22, on a 48-yard touchdown pass with no time left. Interestingly, the Indians had never practiced any type of "Hail Mary" pass play.
Mandell was thinking about a book when he began his research. Fascinated by the many wild finishes he'd seen and heard about in college football, Mandell started a Web site on the subject. He asked visitors to offer some of their favorites, and he soon discovered it was a popular subject.
As part of his research, he often obtained the broadcasts of many of the games. With enough of those in hand, he decided to enhance the written word with the spoken word.
One of Mandell's favorite calls is the one by the late Bob Ufer of John Wangler's last-second touchdown pass to Anthony Carter against Indiana in 1979.Another is by a student radio station of the finish of a 1997 Division III game between Amherst and Williams.
"The (Williams) students' radio equipment didn't show up in the first half, so they decided to tailgate," he explained. "By the time the students got on the air, they were drunk. Their call of the last-second field goal is completely unprofessional, but very funny."
Mandell said he chose the past three decades mostly because of his familiarity with them, but he chose as his benchmark game the 29-29 tie between Harvard and Yale in 1968. Undefeated Yale had a 29-13 lead in the fourth quarter and boasted the nation's best scoring defense, but Harvard scored two touchdowns and a pair of two-point conversions with less than a minute left. The Crimson connected for the final touchdown with no time remaining.
Asked why, as a Notre Dame fan, he didn't step back two more years to use the much-ballyhooed 10-10 tie between the Fighting Irish and Michigan State, Mandell replied: "Because it really didn't have a great finish. It could have had a great ending, but Notre Dame decided to run out the clock."
Possibly the most improbable comeback resulted in Auburn's 17-16 win against undefeated and No. 2-ranked Alabama in the 1972 Iron Bowl. With his team trailing 16-3, Auburn's Bill Newton blocked an Alabama punt. The ball bounced into the hands of teammate David Langner, who returned it 25 yards for a touchdown. Following the next Alabama possession, Newton again blocked a punt that Langner returned 20 yards for the winning touchdown.
"I've seen pictures of the two blocks, and they look like exactly the same play," Mandell said.
After receiving a copy of Mandell's book earlier this summer, staffers at Collegefootballnews.com used it as a basis to rank the top 100 finishes of the last three decades. The Web site also considered games from the 2000 season. Northwestern's 54-51 win against Michigan last November is not in Mandell's book, but it is ranked No. 5 overall on the Web site's list.
Mandell said he was tempted to rank the 100 finishes in his book, but decided it would be an impossible task.
"There's just no justification after the top 10," he said. "Once you get past 10 or 20, how can you say one game is better than another? It would all depend on what school you are rooting for."
Mandell's 'Heart Stoppers and Hail Marys' is published by Diamond Communications Inc. It costs $49.95.