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Rise of the Irish brings back memories for Foley

Tim Foley already has his BCS National Championship T-Shirt. There are plenty of Notre Dame fans in Springfield, but there may not be a bigger fan than the former Irish offensive lineman who grew up in Cincinnati, gained fame in South Bend and long ago found a home in Springfield.

Foley played for Notre Dame’s 1977 national championship team and was an All-American as a senior in 1979, so seeing his old team playing for the national title again on Monday against Alabama will be a special treat.

“I watch every game that I can,” Foley said. “I don’t go up as often as I used to. It’s been an almost 20-year drought. This has been a remarkable year. Let’s hope we remember we have one more game.”

If Notre Dame wins, then Tim and his brother Dave, who played at Ohio State, will both be able to brag about playing for the only undefeated teams in the country this season. Already both can claim national championships and All-American honors. Dave Foley was the co-captain of the 1968 Ohio State national championship team.

Both Foleys, who have long worked together at the Foley Benefits Group in Springfield, starred at Roger Bacon High School in Cincinnati.

“It’s pretty remarkable,” Tim said. “Two brothers who went to different schools approximately 10 years apart, and we both won national championships. The Foley boys had some luck going for them and were in the right place at the right time.”

Tim Foley started his career at Notre Dame in 1976 and became the first freshman offensive lineman to receiver regular playing time. Freshmen weren’t allowed to play until 1972 because of NCAA rules.

In 1977, he started for the first time, blocking for a quarterback named Joe Montana.

“That was just an unbelievable season,” Foley said. “We were the preseason No. 1. I started as a sophomore at left tackle. We beat Pittsburgh (19-9) in the opener, and they were the reigning national champions. Then we go down and get beat by Ole Miss (20-13) on a hot, hot day. It was a huge upset.”

One of Notre Dame’s biggest victories that season came against No. 5 Southern Cal. It was a 49-19 rout, but everyone remembers it as a the green jersey game. The players didn’t find out until game day they would be wearing emerald green jerseys instead of the traditional navy blue.

“The night before (basketball coach) Digger Phelps said, ‘Tomorrow, we’ll be known as the green machine,’” Foley said. “We go warm up in the blue, and then we come into the locker room and see these green jerseys hanging in the lockers. It was electric. I still get goosebumps thinking of it.”

Notre Dame completed a 10-1 season by routing No. 1 Texas 38-10 in the Cotton Bowl. With No. 2 Oklahoma’s loss to Arkansas, the Irish were voted No. 1.

Thirty six years later, Foley hopes the luck is with the Irish again.

“Over the last 10 years, people have asked me if I felt Notre Dame could ever win the national championship again,” Foley said. “I thought we would never have the opportunity to play in the national championship, so this has been just a pleasant surprise. I hope we can keep it going.

“Alabama may be a better team than Notre Dame, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be a better team on Monday night. I guess the one thing that concerns me is Notre Dame hasn’t been in this position for a long time as far as preparation. This five or six-week wait is agonizing. If things go well early for Notre Dame and we don’t have to play catch up, we have a chance. If things go south early, it could be a long night.”

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