Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Harry Oliver, RIP | by Mike

Notre Dame legend Harry Oliver passed away today at the age of 48. He had battled cancer for the past two years. As the linked article mentions, Harry made the most famous field goal in Notre Dame history when his 51-yard field goal into the wind as time expired gave Notre Dame a 29-27 win over Michigan on September 20, 1980.

YouTube has both Tony Roberts's call of the play:

and Michigan broadcaster Bob Ufer's call of the play (in which he experiences some Mike Hart-esque trouble with numbers):

A longer version of Tony Roberts's call can be heard here.

Irish fans around the world would congratulate Oliver on the play for years to come, as an Irish Sports Report article recounts:

"I tell you what, it seems to come up probably at least once a week," said Oliver, now an engineer in the construction business. "You know, everybody's got their 15 minutes (of fame), and I'll take every bit of this, because it's gone on for the last 24 years."

The kick came up again one night last winter when Oliver and a buddy were sitting in a bar. A woman, one he had never seen before, walked up to Oliver and asked if he was the same guy who kicked the field goal against Michigan. Her father, an 80-year-old diehard Irish fan, would love an autograph.

"I said, 'Holy cow, that's really neat,' " Oliver recalled.

Some time later, the same friend who was with Oliver at the bar that night, was in Paris. When he saw some people wearing some Notre Dame gear, he approached and asked if they knew who Harry Oliver was. Of course they did.

"He was like, 'Holy cow, I can't get away from this guy. He's everywhere. He's gone international,' " Oliver recalled.


He's been at the same job for 15 years, and also has a real estate company. But ask any Irish fan about Oliver, and they'll take you back to that day nearly a quarter-century ago.

"It's probably what's going to go on my tombstone instead of when I was born or when I died," Oliver surmised. "It's going to be 'September 20, 1980. Notre Dame 29, Michigan 27.' "
Harry's kick occurred before I was born. I often find that while I appreciate great moments in Notre Dame history that occurred before my birth on an intellectual level, they usually don't have the emotional resonance of moments that I witnessed in person (such as Pat Terrell batting down the 2-point conversion or the #1 flag being raised on the field post-FSU). Yet for some reason that I could never quite pinpoint, Oliver's kick has always seemed to resonate with me. As I read a great post on NDNation by Chuck84, I finally realized why it was so easy for someone like me to latch onto the moment:
This was the real Rudy story. This moment was a thousand times more meaningful and was more improbable than a mop-up tackle to end a three TD victory. Oliver's persona was much more emblematic of the little guy who made his dream come true at Notre Dame. It was Oliver's humble demeanor which made him incapable of becoming the self-promoting lout which Ruettiger was and is.

Harry was a Moeller High School product and a mechanical engineer who blended easily into the student body. You would never know the 5'10" guy who walked right by you on the way to Mass or the Library was the same guy who came through at the most improbable moment to end the most dramatic finish between college football's two winningest programs. The kick also gave ND a Sugar Bowl bid and a shot national title going into mid-November that year. Not many pundits expected ND to be there.

I still recall a post-game quote by Butch Woolfolk (who was seen in the famous picture rushing in to block the attempt): "Man that guy's gonna have all the women he wants tonight." Oliver replied, "The only woman I care about tonight is on that Dome."
RIP, Harry.

(8/9 - has an excellent retrospective on Harry. Check it out.)