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Naperville area players on Irish’s ‘73 champions ready for BCS title game

Jeff HeNaperville poses for portrait his Naperville home holding his football helmet from his days playing defensive end for Notre

Jeff Hein of Naperville poses for a portrait in his Naperville home holding his football helmet from his days playing defensive end for Notre Dame, which included the 1973 National Championship season, on Friday, January 4, 2013. | Jeff Cagle~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: February 7, 2013 6:27AM



There are some Naperville area residents who have a special reason for rooting for Notre Dame Monday night, as they play Alabama for the college football national title.

That’s because nearly 40 years ago, they played for the Notre Dame team that beat Alabama 24-23 in the Sugar Bowl to claim the 1973 college championship.

Naperville resident Jeff Hein, 60, played defensive end for the Irish in that game. He believes this year’s team “is mentally tough” and faces a stiff challenge based on all the press Notre Dame has received leading up to the game.

“There have been a couple of games this year against Pitt and Stanford where the team had to come back and they’ve shown a resolve I can admire,” Hein said. “A lot of people forget we played Alabama again the next year in the Orange Bowl and we were ranked maybe seventh or eighth and beat them again. I think the biggest difference between our team and this one is the commitment players have to make to football. It’s a year round thing now.”

Hein admits that players are more in the spotlight today thanks to social media and the money that is tied to college athletics, but that when the game starts, all of that is forgotten.

Greg Szatko, 60, also lives in Naperville and was part of that championship Irish team. He said that Notre Dame’s head coach at the time, Ara Parseghian, “was one of the best coaches at that time” and that the game today “is totally different.”

“We had great team chemistry on that team and a lot of the guys went pro after that,” Szatko recalled. “I think the guys today are a lot bigger, but we were big, too. I was a defensive tackle at 285 pounds. But back then many of us were lighter and slower.”

Szatko predicts Monday’s matchup and outcome will be determined by turnovers, which always seems to be the recipe for victory or defeat. He said this year’s squad will likely be a little nervous.

“The guys have played well all year and came up big against Stanford and Pitt, but that’s why you play those games during the season,” he said. “Being number one is important and each team has to have a little luck to win. Even if Notre Dame doesn’t, they’ve come a long way.”

Lisle’s Tom Maschmeier, 58, is the “youngster” of the local group who played in that legendary game for the Irish. He said that Notre Dame’s underdog status heading into this year’s big game isn’t anything new.

“A lot of people have written us off before, and I know that Coach (Brian) Kelly has talked about that,” Maschmeier said. “At the same time, he’s produced a viable team on the field and the proof is the game that will be played. We played Alabama the next year and were a big underdog then and we beat them a second time.”

Coaches always play an important role in molding champions and Maschmeier believes the era of the “legendary coach” like Alabama’s Bear Bryant or Parseghian may be over.

“Coaches often don’t last more than two to three years at some places and people today are always chasing the money,” he said. “Parseghian didn’t make that much money and even ran a small side business with an insurance agency because he had to. What’s changed the most today I think is how the kids are handled. The Woody Hayes kind of people were real task masters, but Kelly is a bit that way, too. He can get pretty upset on the sidelines.”

Most football fans remember it was kicker Bob Thomas’ field goal with 4:26 remaining in the fourth quarter that eventually was the margin of victory in the Sugar Bowl against Alabama. Thomas, 60, who currently works as an Illinois Supreme Court judge, believes players in his day faced more challenges with the bad Astroturf as well as less effective equipment.

“A lot of the issues we had to deal with back then have been taken off the table,” he said. “Today, you’re left with the skill sets of both teams. There are a lot of similarities between the teams back then and the two that are playing this year.”

In terms of game preparation, Thomas predicts Alabama’s coach Nick Saban has done a good job preparing his team for the championship game and that Notre Dame’s Kelly “has been calling other coaches he trusts to see how to handle the logistics.”

“You have so much time off since the last game, and you wonder about what to do with the team when you get down there,” Thomas said. “Saban probably has a bit of an advantage there because he knows the routine. But I think Notre Dame is hungry and hopefully is going to come out into the daylight again.”

Monday’s outcome is sure to answer a lot of questions about how the former national champions and today’s team stack up, but Szatko offered the ultimate perspective.

“If we could line up against this year’s Notre Dame team, and play them against the guys I was with back then when we were 40 years younger, I think it would be a very tough game for both teams.”



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