News coming through today that we lost college football legend Ara Parseghian at the age of 94. The passionate Notre Dame coach was indeed that about the game, not just in his coaching career, but in calling the games as well after he retired for what he said was going to be a 1-year absence from coaching. He preferred to coach from the broadcast booth and was a respected commentator for both ABC and CBS well into the 80’s. But when he did coach, it was an “Ara” of excellence, which showed truly on the airwaves.
Parseghian, Schembechler, Hayes. Bryant, McKay and Paterno all coached during the 70’s and it was a given you would see at least one of those coaches every Saturday through ABC’s coverage of the sport. Michigan-Ohio State, Alabama-Auburn, USC-UCLA all piped into our living rooms, along with the great cross-country rivalry of USC-ND. While these days you can see ND with some regularity on NBC or ESPN, it was through a syndicated highlight show the following day you could see Ara and co. mow down the weaker foes and barely escape against those same foes. It was Ara himself who ended ND’s self-imposed post-season blackout with the 1970 Cotton Bowl against Texas, which paved the way for a more significant classic a few years later, a New Year’s Eve epic against Bear Bryant’s Alabama Crimson Tide, which propelled the Irish to the National tile in 1973. Ara never coached against Bo(he was an assistant under Ara at Miami (O), nor did he coach against Woody in the 70’s, but he would be in the ABC booth that night in 1978 at the Gator Bowl when Hayes struck an Clemson player on the sidelines as he was going out of bounds, a moment which really went unnoticed until the next day when we woke up to the front page news that Hayes was fired for that punch.
By the end of the decade, Bo and the Bear(and Paterno) were left, but you can say the era really began to come to an end when Parseghian retired at the end of the 1974 season. He was tireless not just as a coach, but as an humanitarian. Who can forget those emotional 1970’s commercials to fight MS, which showed images of his daughter who died at just 17 because of the crippling illness? He was tireless on those TV sidelines, too in an time when the coach really was the big deal, back when it was truly an “Ara.”