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Transcript of interview with Pat Terrell

Matthew DeFranks | Friday, October 5, 2012


On choosing Notre Dame:

“Going to Notre Dame, especially when I did, I graduated high school in 1986, leaving the state of Florida was a big challenge, especially when you’re getting recruited by the Big Three, which was Miami, Florida and Florida State. It wasn’t a very popular decision. Notre Dame had just gotten spanked by Miami down in the Orange Bowl in Gerry Faust’s last year. There’s a few different reasons. Notre Dame was the place I knew that was the right fit for me because it had the best matrix, the best mix of athletics and academics. Not that any of the other schools I was looking at didn’t have good academics, but the mixture and the focus on making sure the student-athletes were students first and athletes second. I’m sounding like I’m a brainiac here but I wanted to be around people who had similar goals that I had. So I thought it would be the best fit. I came here with an unpopular answer of ‘Well, it’s just four years of my life, I’ll make the sacrifice to make sure I got a quality education and play top-notch football. Looking back on it, it was one of the best decisions of my life. My decision to come to Notre Dame was actually a very mature decision at that time … It was a mature business decision but looking back on it, it was a great decision.”

“You’re talking with all your buddies who are 17 or 18 years old at the time and they’re all pushing you to go one direction for whatever reason. The thing that impressed me the most when I was going through my recruiting period was that all the successful dads and moms, when they asked me ‘Pat, what schools do you have it narrowed down to?’ and I would say ‘Notre Dame,’ I would get the raise of eyebrows and it was like ‘Wow!’ That stuck with me that the fact they thought it was great I was looking at these other schools but when I would say ‘Notre Dame,’ I would get all these different reactions.”

“[I weighed Miami] very heavily. Probably Florida a little bit more. I kind of thought I was going to have a great time taking my recruiting visits but at the end of the day, it was going to be one of those three schools. After looking at Notre Dame and seeing the schedule, I thought it would be a great opportunity to play in Southern Cal one week, New York the next week and in Miami the next week. I had a chance to really see the country and just be limited to quadrants of the United States and make friends from all over the country because I think that’s very important and valuable once you start thinking about different places where you want to live. It was a tough decision at the time but the closer I got to making my final decision, the more clear it became … The best question is ‘If I had to do it all over again, what would my decision be?’ and the answer is clear that I would make the same decision.”

On the rivalry with Miami:

“It was heated. It was heated by a lot of the media but players as well. There was the respect factor that was involved. As an athlete, most of those players knew it was a game of respect. We felt Miami didn’t necessarily respect us as athletes and I think they were walking with a swagger and deserved to because they earned it, quite frankly. You have a lot of players, such as myself, I was recruited by those guys too. All of a sudden, you’re looked upon as this ‘you couldn’t even play here.’ That made games pretty intense. We knew that we had a national championship caliber team not just because going undefeated and the polls and that but we knew as athletes, we look around and my teammates were from all over the country. Any one of them could have been a starter as a major contributor at any school in the country. So I think that rivalry really came from this is not the same team that got spanked down in Miami a few years earlier, this is the real deal. We were intense. I don’t think we were necessarily arrogant but we were confident. Sometimes confidence can rub an arrogant team the wrong way. It was fun. We knew it was a big game so it wasn’t like that fact that we ran out of the tunnel and it was a big crowd meant it was a big game. We knew going in to it the intensity early in the season. The week leading up to the game, we probably would have been better off if we didn’t stay on campus. We had to because we had to go to class.”

“There are some great rivalries, Michigan-Ohio State, USC has big rivalries. They’re big and intense but this was probably the biggest, the bigger type rivalry across the country. You still had Florida-Florida State, Florida-Georgia, those are big games. But was the Florida-Georgia game that big of a deal to someone in Washington? USC-UCLA, that’s not that big of a deal to people who live in Miami Beach. This one you knew that everyone around the country picked a side and it was a big deal throughout the country and that’s why I think it was such a big, memorable type of rivalry.”

On the buzz before the game:

“You would have thought that every student was going to strap it up and play. They were the ones talking the most trash, quite frankly. There was an electricity in the hallways, in the dorms. It was electricity in South and North Dining Halls during lunch. It was unlike any other week that I’ve ever been involved with in my four years at Notre Dame. The student body was passionate about this game, they were emotional about this game. Lou Holtz did a wonderful job with us, keeping us maintained, focused. You still have to go 10 yards for a first down, still only get six points for a touchdown. He kept it real to really keep us calm but it was totally new. It’s hard to hide electricity leading up to a big game like that.”

“Leading up to the game, the student body was talking more trash than we were, that’s for sure. So when we saw it, it’s not like we endorsed it but it was funky. I spent four years going to college with some very creative individuals. I wasn’t surprised but you had to laugh at it and say ‘Oh boy.'”

“Quite frankly, we had one class that were carryovers from Faust. That was a big deal for them. For the sophomores up, we never lost. We didn’t get beat by that team down there. There’s a lot of university pride but it wasn’t about what they did to us or running up the score because quite frankly, a lot of us from that team weren’t involved in that game. There was a class that was there but it wasn’t even an issue. It was just that Miami had a swagger and an arrogance about them and I believed that we just felt the only way for us to gain respect in football is not by talk but by doing it. It wasn’t like we had a great opportunity to shock the world. We fully expected to compete at a high level with the No. 1 team in the country and we couldn’t wait to get on the field with them. That’s where our intensity was, that’s where our focus was. We couldn’t wait to get out there and snap the ball. It wasn’t that we were trying to upset anyone, play beyond our means and hang in there for four quarters with the No. 1 team. We wanted them to snap the ball so we could smack them in the mouth. Period.”

On the tunnel fight:

“The hype on our campus was big. It was equally massive, I’m sure, in Coral Gables. It was a massive game. Football is a game of respect and there’s a lot of pride involved. The logistics of our tunnel have never been too inviting for two opposing teams to be that close anyways. We’re very cordial and usually on any other game, both teams make compromises using the same tunnel, go around the back of the line but there was a lot of arrogance going on. Rocket was back for a punt and one of the guys bumped into him and knocked him down. The other guys ran through our line. Maybe in a different situation we would have moved but our guys felt this was our house, they were showing us disrespect by running through the line. Miami thought they were being disrespected by us by not giving them ground or making sufficient room. That just kind of led to the famous altercation in the tunnel. It was intense. I don’t think the cameras picked up how intense it really was.”

On the intensity of the pregame speech:

“It was an intense atmosphere. The highlight was probably Lou Holtz saying ‘Leave Jimmy Johnson’s ass for me.’ That was so intense because half was laughter and half was if this guy is ready to at it like that and we’re not ready, there’s something wrong. The combination of that comment from Lou was timeless. It was perfect.”

“It was intense. I could tell you all kinds of stories like that. That was not only a team win but [also] a university win, the student body. The crowd has never been so loud and intense for any game I remember playing at Notre Dame. The coaches have never been so intense. Each play was big. That’s one game I remember, I’ve played in playoff games, NFC championship games, for some reason, that game, you remember that second and third [down]. It was like every play was electric. It was so important. It’s hard to point out every single thing because it all kind of melts in. All I remember are intensity, electricity and it was a game with two great teams out there fighting.”

On his feeling before the game:

“There’s always a sense of nervousness but I was excited. I wanted to be a starter ever since I stepped foot at Notre Dame. For me, I had the opportunity not to come off the field. That’s what I wanted to be. I wasn’t out there like ‘Oh my God, look at these guys I have to cover’ because I covered all those guys in high school and kicked a lot of ass back then. A lot of people don’t realize this but Leonard Conley, on that last two-point conversion play that I broke up, I had been covering Leonard Conley since my freshman year in high school.”

“I was nervous at every game just because it helps your focus. I would much rather go against those receivers than Ricky Watters and Rocket Ismail. That’s where our chip was because we feel like we weren’t given the respect. We weren’t mad, this was our opportunity to earn respect.”

On the two teams’ talent:

“Us as players felt that the attitude towards our team was they had more talent. We were a faster team than Miami. People don’t even realize that. Our corners, Todd Lyght and Sam Smagala, ran a 4.3 40. D’Jaun Francisco ran a 4.3 40. I ran a 4.3 40. There were no wide receivers on Miami’s team that ran a 4.3 40.”

“Their quarterback, Steve Walsh had all the statistics but Steve Walsh couldn’t play basketball, jump straight up, do a 360 and slam it with two hands. That’s an athlete. Not one wide receiver they had was better or more physical to cover than Ricky Watters and Rocket in practice. We had so many running backs that our fourth team running backs played years in the NFL. Not theirs. Chris Zorich was way more intense to play against.”

“They were a good team but, talent wise, I think we had more talent. So I think part of the rivalry was ‘Can the overachievers hang in there with the king?’ Miami was legitimately the No. 1 team because they hadn’t played us yet. Period.”

“It wasn’t like the Fiesta Bowl where I felt that these guys shouldn’t even get a first down. It wasn’t like that. That’s being overly arrogant and not accurate. We knew it was going to be a 60-minute fight but not for one minute were worried about being outmatched, talent-wise. That’s what the chip on our shoulder was. Period.”

“Lou Holtz had put together an incredible assortment of football players slash athletes. That’s why we were motivated. I think the student body was motivated by other reasons.”

On his interception return for a touchdown:

“I think Frank Stams tipped it and it was off to the races. It was exciting. Playing against my hometown team, my home state team, I had people in the stands and people from all over Florida were watching that game because I’m a Florida guy. To be able to make a play early in the game like that, it’s a relief because it puts you in a good zone, your confidence level raises. That interception was big for me. It was good for the team to know that we’re able to produce on defense to put points on the board. That was fun. I had a bigger thrill running the interception back, at the time, than I did making the two-point conversion bat.”

“Being from Florida and being in the secondary with Todd Lyght and D’Juan and George Streeter and Stan Smagala, I was more worried about those guys laughing at me getting caught by a quarterback, even though he did have a huge angle on me. I was more worried about having to hear from them that I let Steve catch me. I had some hidden motivation factored in there and that was my secondary.”

“It was brutal. In our secondary, if you messed up, it was pointed out by your teammates as well as the coaches. And that’s what made that team so special. We didn’t play for the coaches. We played for each other. We held each other accountable. Everybody wanted to be better because you didn’t want to let your teammate down. And that’s what made that team so special.”

On the Cleveland Gary fumble:

“I was right there. There was probably nobody closer to that play than me. It ticked off a lot of my Miami buddies. It looked like he was bobbling that ball a little bit (laughter). It was a wash. Earlier in the game, they gave [a Miami receiver] a touchdown when his knees were on the ground and then he stretched across the goal line and they called it a touchdown. I don’t know why no one ever brings that play up. To me, it was a wash.”

“It was going towards our tunnel. He caught a pass, his knees were down and then he reached across and fell into the end zone and they called it a touchdown. That play changed the game.”

“There were turnovers throughout that game and that was one of the many turnovers.”

On the feeling after Tony Rice’s fumble:

“There was no point at all that we had doubt. Going in to the game, we knew it was going to be close. We knew we weren’t going to blow them out because they had a heck of a defense and they had a heck of an offense. We knew they weren’t going to blow us out because the closer they got to the end zone, the more difficult it got to put the ball in the end zone. Miami had an offense that was incredible. We weren’t surprised by the fact that they could move the ball between the 20s. Their offense was designed to do that. It was a very pro-style offense, they executed it extremely well. Our big deal in that whole game was shown by our scheme. They’re going to make completions, they’re one of the leading passing teams in college football but we wanted to limit those yards after the catch. So if they made a completion, they were going to pay the price for it and they were going to get hit hard.”

On the Hurricanes and their comebacks:

“As a player, it’s such an intense game in the fourth quarter, you don’t say ‘Oh my God, they’ve come back on so many teams.’ We knew that we had to keep playing. We knew which plays were effective for them and they knew what plays were effective for us. But we just stuck with the same thing. We made adjustments throughout the game but we stuck with the same goal of no yards after catches and don’t give up any big plays. We were able to maintain that which kept us competitive and kept us in the game.”

“It wasn’t like we just gave them the touchdown, they executed extremely well and they scored. You go to the sideline and see what they’re going to do so it wasn’t like we knew it from the get-go. We weren’t surprised but, as a player, you don’t go out there surprised about anything. When they call a defense, you go out there and execute. That’s kind of how that was handled.”

On the trash talk during the game:

“There was [trash talking] earlier in the game but later in the game, all that was done. Both teams had already shown respect that was due to each other, on our part and on Miami’s part. Trash talk is usually early in the game or not a close game. At this point, we’re just competing. Those guys are bringing their A-game and we’re doing the same. The trash talking is more like what you’re going to do or what you just did. In a game like that, you don’t talk about what you’re going to do, you just go out and execute.”

On the two-point conversion play:

“Barry Alvarez gets a whole lot of credit for that. We knew certain plays Miami had executed very well throughout the season. They did like a pick so we anticipated to look out for that play, maybe a couple other plays that were effective for them. My challenge was to stay on top to make sure I could clear any picks. Steve Walsh had such a great arm that if you gave anybody any room in the end zone, he was going to zip it in on you and it’s over. I think a key, key, key member of that play was George Williams. Without that pass rush by George Williams, Steve Walsh could have found an open receiver and zipped the ball in. That’s why it’s a team game. George was able to get in his face which clearly blocked any opportunity for a quick pass. He applied pressure and no one like to back up and avoid a sack while trying to make an accurate pass. He was a huge part of that play. Mentally going in, I remember Leonard Conley and myself, we both kind of smiled because we knew each other. Here we go again. We had played against each other so many times before that it was kind of ironic that we ended up right there competing once again. At that point, as a defensive back, you want them to throw to your man. If you’re not thinking that way, you’re going to get struck. Teams with that attitude typically don’t win championships. Everyone out there wanted to make that play. Fortunately for me, it came it my guy and I was able to make that play. It was fun. I do remember anticipating that route from that formation which is a big deal. You have to give the coaching staff a lot of credit.”

“They have been for years trying to figure out why I didn’t just catch it, why did I have to make it so dramatic. I just wanted to make sure that no body was going to catch that ball.”

On the Miami offense:

“They moved the ball, they absolutely did but they weren’t chucking 40- or 50-yard bombs on us or big runs for 20 or 30 yards. They knew how to move the sticks. We didn’t play with a bend but don’t break attitude but because of their scheme, because of their talent, they’re going to complete passes.”

On other people’s reaction after the game:

“After the game, I talked to a few of my friends on the Hurricanes and they were pretty upset, obviously, it’s a big game. I had a lot of family in for the game and it’s always a thrill to be around family and friends to experience big moments like that in your life. That was a lot of fun. I think I became very popular for the first time on that team. It was a team effort.”

“Probably at the barbershop back at home. You come back home and you expect to hear all the that-a-boys and all the pats on the ball and friends you grew up with, you get comments like ‘You had a good game but do you know how much money you cost me?’ People were really upset with me. I think my parents took a lot of grief too. It was all in fun love.”

On the team’s feeling after the game:

“After that game, I realized that we just have to continue to get better. We have to continue to play at a high level. We didn’t feel like we upset anybody. We felt like a good team beat a good team. It didn’t take us to beat Miami to think we were a good team. It added to our confidence but we didn’t go into that game expecting to lose. We’re as good individually, we match up maybe even better. But can we put this together as a team and be victorious? We were able to do that and that brought our team close. We knew that we had a very good football team. As far as having the talent to win a championship, there was never a doubt in my mind.”

On winning a national title:

“That is a great feeling. The Fiesta Bowl was probably the most confidence I’ve ever had going into a game. We had such an awesome season, we knew the formula to win. We knew what it was going to take, not just outscoring and hoping to get a few good plays. We knew the formula to win. After that game was such a neat feeling because we knew we accomplished something special with a group of special guys. It was just an almost told-ya-so attitude but we something special that we were going to remember for the rest of our lives. It was such a thrill to do it with those group of guys. Not only were we great athletes, great football players but just great character people. It was a lot of fun. It was a great feeling, a feeling of accomplishment and it made us hungry. The majority of starters on that team were juniors and sophomores. We knew had a lot of returning starters for the next year and we wanted to keep it going. We enjoyed the moment but we knew we had something great here that we wanted to continue to maintain.”

On Lou Holtz:

“Lou Holtz, not only was he a great football coach but he was a great life coach. You’ll hear a lot of different funny stories. People like me owe a lot to him and I love him to death. He taught me a whole lot not just about football but about life. Lou was extremely intense, and that’s an adjective that probably pretty common with him but he would set the bar high for us. There was no such thing as compromise. He was the ultimate leader and no one person is bigger than the team. That was really amazing how he could do that. He wouldn’t sugarcoat things so we had equal complaints as we did laughs. We did find plenty of humor in his intensity but we all bought in to it, we all listened to it and we all believed. We all sang from the same sheet of paper. It was a great experience, especially at that stage of your life. As a collegiate athlete, to have a leader like that was, for me, just incredible. I feel very privileged and glad I had the opportunity to play for him.”

On his NFL Draft experience:

“It was fun. It was a dream come true, your whole family is involved. I chose not to go to New York. When I got drafted, it was the first year they allowed junior to enter the draft and I didn’t know if I was going to go first round or second round so it was pretty intense. It’s neat. I felt confident that I was ready to play at the next level. Coach Holtz had confidence that I was ready to play at the next level. I had some great combine workouts and to be drafted is really a neat time in your life. You feel like someone has recognized your strengths, your potential. It’s your first job out of college and it was surreal. It was fun. You felt that a lot of hard work and sacrifice paid off and you’re just excited to go to the next level.”

“After spending four years in South Bend, to get the call that you’re going to be living in Southern California was a nice phone call to get. It was fun also. Frank Stams was drafted the year before me and the year after me, they drafted Todd Lyght and they skipped a year and then drafted Jerome Bettis. They had a little Notre Dame thing with their top draft picks.”

On whether Los Angeles will get another pro football team:

“I do. It’s the second largest television market in the country. LA loves it’s sports but LA has a lot of other things going on too so it’s sports have to be on a high level, have to be entertaining. I just think the market is way too big to not have an NFL franchise. It’s going to have to make sense economically but I just think it’s a matter of time.”

On playing for the expansion Carolina Panthers:

“At that point, things start changing from just making a lot of money to wanting to win championships. That was a point in my career when I wanted to win. I knew winning from Notre Dame and I wanted a Super Bowl. All a sudden, when you’re playing for an expansion team, it was frustrating. Before the season, you’re thinking ‘What are the chances of us being competitive?’ But the way Jerry Richardson, our owner, elected to build this team, he built it on the backs of season veterans. I quickly realized in training camp that we had guys I had a lot of respect for, played against throughout my NFL career. I knew, wow, with the talent we have, with the experience level and with the quality of players we have on this team, we’re going to be competitive. And sure enough, in our second year, we went to the NFC championship game. We were one half away from being in the Super Bowl. Being on an expansion team when you’re winning is a lot of fun. Charlotte was a wonderful city. We had Rocket, Steve Beuerlein, Kinnon Tatum, Rod Smith, several guys from Notre Dame on that team. I had so many teammates on there that it was a lot of fun. The fans loved having a brand new football team in their city. They treated us like royalty. We loved the franchise, loved the team, loved the stadium and that’s a special part in my heart. I feel like started that franchise out in the right direction and it was a big deal.”

On leaving football:

“Ninety-nine percent of football players really don’t leave the game. You play as long as they’ll have you. Everyone pretty much leaves due to some type of injury and it adds up. It’s a young man’s game. When you’re in your 30s, your body can’t do what it did before. It’s a very physically demanding game. For me, I just knew that being an NFL football player wasn’t the end all of my life. I wanted to use that more as a springboard into my life as opposed to the last chapter. There were other things I was really looking forward to doing in my life. I miss it. Everyone says they’re okay with leaving but it’s a game you’ve played your entire life and all of a sudden, when you hang up those cleats, unlike basketball, you can’t meet up with your old teammates and go to the gym and play. Football, you will never put on a helmet and shoulder pads again ad have that kind of intensity of a full contact sport. You certainly miss it. I tried my hardest to prepare myself so my transition in to the real world wouldn’t make me miss it as bad.”

On becoming a pilot:

“It had been a passion of mine for years. A lot of my close friends always knew that. My rookie year, I got my pilot’s license and started my construction company. I’ve always been a very confident person but I also knew I was always one injury away from your career being over. I just wanted to make sure I was ready for my transition whenever it may come. I was fortunate to play a lot longer than I ever imagined I’d play. In turn, I built a lot of flight hours and had a few construction projects under my belt. My wife, Saint Mary’s graduate, class of 1989, when we first started dating my sophomore year, she knew me as Pat who played football but always wanted to be a pilot. She understood my passion for that and she supported that. So late in my NFL career, I had accumulated a tremendous amount of flight time and flight hours. I kind of wanted to do something else outside football immediately after so it could help me not miss it as much. And I’ve always advised my friends to do things you have a passion for and then it’s not a job. She knew aviation was a passion of mine and she supported it. I jumped on at full speed and flew corporate for a little bit and then I flew with the airlines and finally made myself up to captain. I was a captain-rated Boeing 757 pilot and basically flew all over the world. It was a great thrill of mine. It made me not miss football immediately after retiring from it because I was in a completely different career that, for me, was equally exciting. Yes, I did start missing football after the thrill of being a pilot became a job. But it served its purpose. It was something I was passionate about since I was a kid and I was able to accomplish two out of the three dreams I had since I was a kid: to play football, to fly planes, to build things.”

On his construction company, Terrell Materials:

“I own a construction company now, we build runways and freeways and that’s really been a thrill. I’ve been able to utilize all my tools from football and being an airline pilot to put everything together and I’m also doing something now that I’m very passionate about and very thrilled about.”

“It wasn’t Terrell Materials at that time [in my rookie season] but I was involved in a lot of different types of construction projects doing a lot of real estate development. As an airline pilot, I was able to spend a lot of my down time perfecting my business plans and promoting my company. When my company got a little bit bigger and the kids started coming, I had to make a decision to hang up the wings and grow my company Terrell Materials, which was also a smooth transition. At that point, I was able to fulfill a dream of mine being an airline pilot and I was type-rated on a 737, a 757 and a 767. That’s well beyond I thought I would ever go. And now, we’re building runways at O’Hare, we’re building freeways and now building instrument landing facilities for airport runways. That’s been a thrill and passion of mine. It’s equally intense as everything I’ve ever done but that’s all I’m used to anyways.”

On his family:

“There’s no more intensity than when I come at night. I have five children, five wonderful kids, three boys and two girls, a wife that absolutely incredible. Anything I do pales in comparison to what she does on a daily basis. She got her master’s at Western Michigan and is now an intense, intense homemaker. She keeps everything in line and she’s my best friend and we’ve been married now for 16 years, together since Notre Dame so it’s been a while. Family life is pretty cool. My older kids are realizing to play football. They love Notre Dame, no doubt. My girls are hooked on Saint Mary’s and my boys all want to go to Notre Dame so it looks like I’m never really retired. My wife and I get back to quite a few games. My sons are way bigger sports fans than I ever was so they keep me up on the latest on what’s happening at Notre Dame. Family life is good. That’s what it’s all about.”

On being recognized around Notre Dame:

“It’s kind of strange. Quite a few people do. First I was recognized as a football player at Notre Dame, then I was recognized as the guys who played in the NFL and now I’m just strictly recognized as that guy who knocked down that pass against Miami. I remember when we played that game, the capacity of that stadium was just over 59,000 but I swear I’ve met 90,000 people that said they were sitting right i