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Waking the Echoes: Reggie Ho

| Saturday, September 6, 2014

Reginald “Reggie” Ho remembers his first few years at Notre Dame.

He remembers sitting in the stands with his fellow students.

He remembers watching Irish star receiver and eventual Heisman Trophy winner Tim Brown return kicks for touchdowns.

What he didn’t expect, though, was to be the hero in a season-opening 19-17 win over No. 9 Michigan in 1988, in a game played under the lights at Notre Dame Stadium.

The Observer from Sept. 1988.Observer
The Observer from Sept. 1988.
Before that, Ho was just another walk-on. And before that, Ho was just another student. Still, he knew he wanted to try out for the football team.

“As a student, watching Notre Dame football itself is an amazing thing,” Ho said this week by phone.

But the 5-foot-5 Ho was persistent in wanting to try out. He recalled repeatedly going to the Irish football offices in the JACC and speaking with office personnel.

“They understandably looked at me, ‘What’s this guy doing?’ Ho said.

He wanted to speak with the coaches. But secretaries kept sending him away in what Ho, with a laugh, described as a “long process.”

Eventually, Ho was granted a chance to chat with Irish assistant coach Pete Cordelli. Cordelli told Ho, then a sophomore, to go play interhall football. Ho, who lived in Cavanaugh Hall, played for his dorm during the fall season.

“I had only one kick and fortunately made it,” Ho said laughingly.

Ho returned in the spring and earned a tryout with the football squad. Ho and other hopefuls met with assistant coach Vinny Cerrato at Cartier Field on campus.

“I just tried to give it my best shot and do whatever I can and go wherever the coach called, and fortunately I was able to do well,” Ho said.

As Ho describes the tryout, the kickers had to attempt 10 field goals. Ho made nine, while other students made eight. Ho, despite his unconventional stature and style, made the team along with a few others for the 1987 season.

“The first time we’re in practice I see the way he pointed his finger and head,” then-Irish head coach Lou Holtz remembered. “I go, ‘What the heck is going on?’”

But Holtz anointed Ho his starting kicker for the 1988 season. The Irish opened the campaign against Michigan on Sept. 10 under the lights — portable structures hauled in from Ohio for the occasion. Ho described the South Bend weather as a beautiful, windless night.

“That’s when we had so many younger players,” Holtz said. “We didn’t know how good we were going to be.”

Ho said the team felt prepared heading into the matchup with the Wolverines, having built off a strong summer during which Ho said the team developed great chemistry.

Notre Dame opened the season ranked 13th in the nation, with the Wolverines a few spots better.

“There was a lot of excitement in the air, and we obviously needed it,” Ho said. “We weren’t going to let anybody come to our stadium and beat us.”

Ho, in his first game as the starting kicker, buried three field goals — from 31, 38 and 26 yards — to get the ball rolling in a low-scoring affair.

“Coach Holtz, he prepared us for a lot of pressure situations,” Ho said. “Fortunately, I made the first one. I said whenever I’m called upon again to go out, I’ll try to make the next one. You go in with the attitude you’re gonna make it because you’re not going to let the team down.”

Then, late in the fourth quarter with the Irish trailing 17-16, Ho stepped up for another 26-yarder. He drilled it, and Notre Dame led 19-17 with 1:13 remaining in the fourth quarter. Notre Dame’s defense held, and the Irish improved to 1-0 in what would be a national championship season — the program’s last title to date.

“It was one the happiest, most wonderful moments of my life,” Ho said.

“It was really the team that put me in the position to make the field goals,” Ho added. “[Irish running back] Ricky Watters running a punt return back for a touchdown — it was a great collective team effort. It was a really wonderful, wonderful night.”

The 1988 Michigan game is often referred to as “The Reggie Ho Game,” as the 5-foot-5 walk-on lifted Notre Dame to victory, picking up the slack for a young offense that didn’t score a single touchdown.

“He didn’t have a real strong leg,” Holtz said of Ho. “If we get a penalty on the extra point, we’re gonna have to go for it because we’ll be out of Reggie’s range.

“He was very accurate and he made four field goals and was not the least bit daunted by the situation, the crowd or anything else.”

Ho connected on nine of 12 field-goal attempts during the 1988 season, and he canned 32 of 36 extra points.

Ho, who was a pre-professional major and earned a Bachelor of Science degree at Notre Dame, works now as a cardiologist in the Philadelphia area. He specializes in pacemakers and defibrillators and has been practicing for the last 15 years in the area.

And 26 years out from his historic performance against Michigan, Ho is not fully out of the spotlight. Actor and comedian Ken Jeong, of “Community”and “The Hangover” fame, is directing an ESPN “30 for 30” short film on Ho. The film should be out sometime next year, said Ho, who returned to campus a few months ago for the film. While there, Ho had the opportunity to meet with some Irish players, including sophomore receiver Corey Robinson and senior cornerback Josh Atkinson.

Ho will be back in town this weekend as Notre Dame squares off with Michigan for the final scheduled meeting.

“It’s just a great rivalry,” Ho said. “It’s kind of sad to see it end because they’re two great programs. In the future, we’ll probably be playing again some day, which will be nice.”

For now, the history books will hold the rivalry’s memories, like that beautiful September night in 1988.

“I never thought I’d ever be a part of the Notre Dame football team,” Ho said. “But I guess I was very, very blessed, and glad to be a part of it.”

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About Mike Monaco

Senior Sports Writer Mike Monaco is a senior majoring in Film, Television and Theatre with a minor in Journalism, Ethics, and Democracy as well as Business Economics. The O’Neill Hall native hails from the Boston area and is an aspiring play-by-play broadcaster.

Contact Mike