When you’re a quarterback that wins a national championship at Notre Dame, your 15 minutes of fame lasts a lifetime, especially when you are the star of one of the greatest plays in college football history.
“It’s my trademark,” Packers Quarterbacks Coach Tom Clements said with an easy smile. He didn’t resist having the clock turned back to New Year’s Eve, 1973. Why would he?
Most kids use college to springboard them into a life of fulfillment. Before this night was complete, Clements would already achieve fulfillment. If he never did another thing, he had already done enough.
It all goes back to that one play: third-and-8, on the Notre Dame 4-yard line, needing only one more first down to win the national championship. Alabama trailed, 24-23, and had pinned Notre Dame deep in its own territory late in the game. Alabama’s plan was to force a punt and kick a game-winning field goal.
“I’m reminded of it a lot, but there are days I don’t think of it,” Clements said. “Ara (Parseghian) made a great call. We got into a running set. They reacted to the run and the clean-out guy ran right by his guy.”
Clements spiraled a perfect pass to tight end Robin Weber. It clinched the win and passed Clements into Notre Dame lore. At the tender age of 20, Clements had achieved immortality.
So where do you go from there?
Well, Clements went to the Canadian Football League. In the mid-1970s, the NFL was a game for big quarterbacks with big arms. Defenses were still playing bump-and-run coverage and quarterbacks had to have the arm strength to allow them seven- and nine-step drops and still be able to get the ball downfield the moment the receiver came the least bit free. That wasn’t Clements’ game.
“The type of quarterback the NFL was looking for then was a pocket passer; don’t run around. That wasn’t my type of game,” Clements said.
He spent five great years in the CFL, spent some time with the Kansas City Chiefs, then went back to the CFL for seven more great seasons. He’s in the CFL’s Hall of Fame.
“I have no regrets. I had a lot of fun winning a couple of championships. It was a good life,” Clements said of football above the border.
Had the NFL game been more wide open, as it is today, he might’ve never gone to Canada. Clements’ talents were perfectly suited for today’s NFL game.
If he wasn’t successful as a player in the NFL, he sure has been as a coach. His reputation made its greatest gains in reclaiming the careers of quarterbacks Kordell Stewart and Tommy Maddox, while serving as the quarterbacks coach in his hometown, Pittsburgh.
Along the way, Clements twice interviewed for the head job at Notre Dame. The second time was when Charlie Weis was hired.
“That’s when I thought I would get it,” he said.
A head job?
“I’d still pursue it. I’d like to be a coordinator again, but this is a tough place to leave. We have a chance to be good for a number of years. I still want that next step up the ladder, but it would have to be a good situation,” Clements said.
His current quarterback is the best quarterback he’s coached. That’s what makes Clements’ situation in Green Bay especially good.
“You could tell he had talent. He had all of the physical tools, plus, he’s intelligent,” Clements said of Aaron Rodgers, the reigning Super Bowl MVP. “I think it worked well that he was able to be seasoned a little before he became the starter. When he became the starter, we had no trepidation.
“The biggest things playing quarterback is decision-making and accuracy. Then you have Aaron’s ability to make plays. Leading up to the Super Bowl, I was interviewed about Aaron and I said he’s the entire package.”
Some would say he’s already achieved immortality, too.