Notre Dame's Gatewood floored by call from College Football Hall of Fame
It wasn’t a sense of entitlement that prodded Thom Gatewood to implore legendary Notre Dame coach Ara Parseghian to move him from running back to wide receiver early in his Irish football career.
It was actually a sense of survival, from the daily poundings administered by the first-string defense that Gatewood took on the scout team in the fall of 1968, in part because he was playing a position that was completely foreign to him.
“I never played football until the 10th grade,” Gatewood said in a telephone interview Friday. “Just simple things, like putting your hands in the right position to take a handoff, I didn’t know how to do. And no one was going to slow down to let me catch up.
“I was emulating O.J. Simpson one week and Leroy Keyes the next. There wasn’t a lot of throwing in those days, so the tailbacks were featured guys, and that made me a target in practice. But all those skills I learned ended up making me a better wide receiver. And when coach Parseghian finally did give in and let me move, those skills really helped me.”
The college football world was reminded just how far Gatewood took those skills and that opportunity, when he was inducted Friday into the College Football Hall of Fame.
Gatewood, ND’s leading receiver from 1969-71 and a consensus All-American in 1970, becomes the 45th Notre Dame player to be inducted into the Hall, but joins Tim Brown as the only other pure wide receiver in that group. No other school has as many players in the Hall as ND, which also counts six of its coaches as Hall-of-Famers.
“I had to scrape myself off the floor when I found out,” Gatewood said of his selection. “I’ve been on the ballot for 30, 35 years. I wasn’t sure if I was ever going to be recognized with the other players from my era — Lydell Mitchell, Franco Harris, Terry Beasley, Pat Sullivan, Joe Theismann and Archie Manning.
“My wife always encouraged me, ‘You belong, so it will eventually happen.’ ”
The 64-year-old Gatewood, who had his first name legally changed from Tom to Thom more than a decade ago, joined 14 other former college football standouts, including Oklahoma linebacker Brian Bosworth, Texas Heisman Trophy winner Ricky Williams and Michigan State halfback Clinton Jones.
Coaches Bill Snyder (currently at Kansas State) and Jim Tressel (formerly of Ohio State) joined the 15 players.
“I can’t wait to walk up to Clinton at the December function and remind him that I had to imitate him in our practices when I was on the scout team,” Gatewood said.
The announcement, moved up from its former May time frame to tie into the College Football Playoff National Championship Game, was made in Dallas. Gatewood will participate in the pregame coin toss Monday night prior to the title game at AT&T Stadium in Arlington. Texas.
The rest of the 2015 Hall of Fame class includes Nebraska linebacker Trev Alberts, Arizona State linebacker Bob Breunig, Millsaps defensive lineman Sean Brewer, Pitt offensive tackle Ruben Brown, Florida wide receiver Wes Chandler, Yale running back Dick Jauron, Washington offensive tackle Lincoln Kennedy, the late Michigan running back Rob Lytle, Marshall quarterback Michael Payton, Kentucky defensive end Art Still and Texas Tech linebacker Zach Thomas.
Gatewood was ND’s career pass receptions leader (157) for 35 years, until Jeff Samardzija and Rhema McKnight leapfrogged him in 2006. In the classroom, Gatewood was a two-time academic All-American and made the dean’s list all eight of his semesters at ND.
The Baltimore, Md., native lives in Lebanon, N.J., and currently is the owner and president of the advertising specialty company Blue Atlas Productions and the co-owner of Larkspur Lane Ltd., a television production company.
He also teaches tennis lessons to kids part-time.
“It helps me to stay in shape and is a passion of mine,” he said. “It’s my way of showing that generation, with all these video gamers and Facebook users, that they’ve got to get out and sweat every once in a while.”
Gatewood still follows the Notre Dame football team closely, often coming to South Bend to watch in person.
“It brings back a lot of great memories when I come back,” he said.
His favorite memory, though, unfolded in old Yankee Stadium, where the Irish took down Army, 45-0, in 1969.
“I had played football, baseball and basketball in high school,” Gatewood said, “but that was the first time my parents ever got a chance to see me play in any athletic event.
“I scored two touchdowns, and they really didn’t know what that meant. They were two people witnessing a game that they knew nothing about, didn’t understand and didn’t know the rules. But they heard the P.A. announcer calling my name and heard the crowd chanting ‘Gatewood.’
“They knew that was special, and that’s what made it such a fun, cool memory for me.”