Weber catch huge in UA-Irish lore

He has gone from the answer to a trivia question to a sort of media cult figure overnight, not that Robin Weber ever snuggled up completely with obscurity.
"I'm not a real small guy," the former Notre Dame tight end said recently via telephone from his home in Dallas. "So bottom line is, people kind of guess I played football. Then all you have to do is Google 'Robin Weber Notre Dame football,' and it's over with.
"The autograph requests come, and ticket requests - if we're worth a darn. It's not hard to make friends these days, with the Internet."
Weber's recent spike in popularity derives from a singular moment, a fourth-quarter, 35-yard pass play during the first meeting between historic college football titans Notre Dame and Alabama 39 seasons ago in the Sugar Bowl.
That play was the signature moment in No. 3 Notre Dame's 24-23 upending of the top-ranked Crimson Tide, vaulting the Fighting Irish past probation-shackled Oklahoma and into the top spot in the final AP poll in 1973.
Monday night in Miami Gardens, Fla., the two iconic programs meet for the seventh time with the top-ranked-but-underdog Fighting Irish (12-0) looking to spoil an Alabama coronation for the third time in history. A ninth-ranked Irish team denied Alabama a split national championship in the Orange Bowl a year after Weber's heroics in Ara Parseghian's final game as Notre Dame coach.
The play
Late in the fourth quarter, with the Fighting Irish up 24-23, Crimson Tide punter Greg Gantt on fourth-and-20, boomed a punt that settled inside the Fighting Irish 5-yard line.
Notre Dame freshman Ross Browner was flagged for roughing the punter. In those days, the penalty was 15 yards, but there was no automatic first down that came with it - something the TV announcers doing the game didn't realize.
In fact, in the weeks and months that followed the game, because of their misstatements, Alabama coach Paul "Bear" Bryant was barraged with thousands of letters and telegrams criticizing his judgment and questioning his sanity.
In reality, the penalty would have only given Alabama a fourth-and-5 still on the wrong side of the 50. Bryant opted to let his defense try to win the game.
Weber wasn't on the field for first or second down. The Irish netted a total of 6 yards on those two plays, bringing up third-and-3 from the 8. Into the game came Weber, whose playing time for the run-oriented Irish had increased significantly from midseason on, when Notre Dame started using two-tight end sets with regularity.
Parseghian called for a running play initially, but he also wanted a long count to try to draw Alabama offsides. An Alabama defender did jump, but so did Notre Dame All-America tight end Dave Casper. Notre Dame was penalized, and the Fighting Irish were now facing a third-and-8 from the 3.
"I'm thinking, 'Now we're definitely passing,' " Weber said. "I kept looking over to the sideline for (split end) Pete Demmerle to come back in the game."
And for good reason. Weber, a sophomore, had caught only one pass to that point in his collegiate career. But he stayed in and Parseghian called "tackle trap pass left."
It was a misdirection play designed to look like a sweep. The ball was supposed to go to Casper, according to the late Tom Pagna, an assistant under Parseghian.
Alabama loaded up nine players on the line of scrimmage, anticipating the run. Weber fired off the line and the defensive end barely touched him. The cornerback, who was supposed to be covering Weber man-to-man, tried to avoid Weber when the big tight end dipped his shoulder, faking that he was going to throw a block.
"I ended up just blowing right by him," Weber said. "That left only the safety, and he was giving me a huge cushion. I'm thinking to myself that maybe I should break my route off for a 7-yard out instead. But I remembered that I'd get in trouble, so I broke it off at 30 yards just like I was supposed to. I kept thinking, 'I hope they see me, because nobody's around me.' "
Casper was covered, and quarterback Tom Clements spotted Weber. Weber didn't immediately see the ball coming because a defensive lineman leaped up and almost tipped the pass.
"I'm like, 'Yeeoww, here it's comes.' " Weber recalled. "I caught it clean over my shoulder. I got about 5 more yards after the catch before the safety came over and cut me, knocking me about 7 yards into the Alabama bench, right in front of Bear Bryant.
"I was laying on my back thinking, 'Am I going to be cleated?' I come out of the crowd and looked for the flag. No flag. Checkmate. Game over."
The completion gave the Fighting Irish a fresh set of downs, allowing them to run out the clock. Weber spent the rest of the game on the sidelines, then quickly left the stadium.
Future impact
Weber grew up in Dallas figuring he'd end up in college anywhere but Notre Dame, even though he went to Jesuit schools.
"I thought Texas, Southern Cal, Alabama, Oklahoma - but I had no intention to go to Notre Dame. I knew what February up there was like. But when I sat down with Ara, outside his office after the tour and getting a taste of the campus, I accepted on the spot, because I knew he was the guy who was going to deliver.
"Notre Dame came down and played Texas (at the end of the 1969 and '70 seasons following the end of the school's self-imposed 45-year bowl ban). And they gave Texas a run for their money. I was kind of fascinated by him and the school and started doing my research and started finding out about the history.
"Now I'm part of it."
Can this year's Fighting Irish dash Alabama hopes again?
"I love this Notre Dame team," Weber said. "They've got a chip on their shoulder. They've got something to prove. The way you prove that is you go out there and you go undefeated and win a national championship. That's what every one of those guys came to Notre Dame for, in addition to the education, which is exactly why I went to ND."
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