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College alumna recounts road to 1988 Fiesta Bowl

Jillian Barwick | Thursday, November 29, 2012

For Julie Wagner Feasel, a 1989 graduate of Saint Mary’s, the similarities between the 1988 national champions and this year’s Irish are uncanny.

“The media didn’t have high expectations for our quarterback, Tony Rice. However, just like Tony showed everyone that he could lead the team, so has Everett Golson,” Feasel said. “Lou Holtz was in his third year of coaching at Notre Dame, just like [Irish] coach Brian Kelly is now.”

The media also honed in on a similar tragic story among the players, much like they have with Manti Te’o since his grandmother and girlfriend passed away within a day of each other before the Michigan State game.

“[Nose guard Chris Zorich] was raised by a single mom in a rough Chicago neighborhood and he attended a career tech school because he thought that was his best prospect for a job – he had no thoughts of even going to college because he knew there was no way his mom could afford it,” Feasel said.

Fortunately for Zorich, he was noticed on his high school football field by Notre Dame recruiters, who then gave him a scholarship.

“The sad part of Chris’s story though is when he returned home from the Orange Bowl [the following year against Colorado], he found his mother dead in their apartment,” Feasel said. “Her health had been declining but he didn’t think that she would pass away while he was gone. He did, however, go on to graduate from Notre Dame.”

Just like this year’s team, the 1988 team had an incredibly tight-knit family feel to it, Feasel said. And much like this year’s team, no one expected the 1988 Irish to make it to a national championship.

“To this day when I talk about Notre Dame football, I tell people that my senior year was the last national championship year,” Feasel said. “We were undefeated going into the Miami game, which to this day is known as the Catholics vs. Convicts game.

Both teams were undefeated with Miami on a 36-game win streak and the defending national champions.

“It was then I think we all started believing Notre Dame could go all the way.”

Notre Dame kept building the momentum only an undefeated team can do. Much like this year’s showdown at the Coliseum, the team pulled through with a 27-10 victory over the USC Trojans. Then it was on to the national championship.

“To this day, I cannot believe my parents let me take their car from Columbus, Ohio, to Phoenix, Ariz.” Feasel said.

Feasel and three of her girlfriends piled into her parents’ station wagon while eight of her friends from Notre Dame drove a rented RV from the Midwest to Arizona for the game.

“The atmosphere in Phoenix was clearly more pro-Notre Dame than West Virginia, but I will say the West Virginia fans were incredibly nice,” Feasel said. “Notre Dame led the entire game. When the game was over, confetti was released, the team was given national championship hats and people stormed the field. Players and Coach [Lou] Holtz were lifted up on other people’s shoulders – it was an incredible scene. I am so glad I was able to be there.”

As for current students trying to purchase national championship tickets, Feasel had a lower bill.

“My game ticket was $31.65 and the ticket to the official pep rally was $2,” Feasel said.

Feasel’s nephew, who is a Marine, bought tickets for the game from Stub Hub as soon as Notre Dame beat USC last Saturday, but he paid around $2,000 a ticket for only two tickets, Feasel said.

“He used the money he made serving in Afghanistan this year to buy a ticket for himself and his brother and asked for his leave to be extended an extra day so he could go to the game. The official Notre Dame travel packages are between $1,700 and $2,400 which is really too much for students to pay, with the game tickets starting at $350,” Feasel said.

Feasel said she is glad her daughter Meghan, a senior at Saint Mary’s, could have a similar football experience.

“I won’t be going to the national championship game, but my entire family has said they will chip in to help my daughter go because they know how much it means to her.”