Upcoming ESPN 30 for 30 documentary will focus on 1988 champs

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — Twenty-seven years to the day when the Notre Dame football program awakened and shook college football’s new world order, Francis Patrick Creadon III waded into history.

His own history, and the one involving the fascinating big-picture ascension of the Irish under coaching icon Lou Holtz that seem to crisscross with one another at every turn.

Creadon’s Thursday dart game with former Notre Dame quarterback Tony Rice in Dillon Hall, catching passes from the now 48-year-old on the South Quad, drinking up the nostalgia on the anniversary of ND’s topping of late ‘80s college football ruffian Miami wasn’t about personal reminiscence.

It was about sharing the back stories people either never knew about or had long forgotten, bringing that era to life one memory at a time, taking the first baby steps of what will eventually be an ESPN 30-for-30 documentary.

There is no working title yet, no projected release date, and Creadon — known to his friends and the documentary world as “Patrick” — estimates there’s roughly a year of work ahead of him.

But there is a palpable vision.

As 14th-ranked Notre Dame (5-1) was prepping for a different rival this week, USC (3-2), for a Saturday night clash at Notre Dame Stadium, Creadon and his crew began filming this week, first in Madison, Wis., then Chicago and, for the past three days, in South Bend.

Tuesday they’ll be at the home of Holtz, and later interviewing former Miami quarterback Steve Walsh, Rice’s counterpart in the epic 31-30 Irish upset at ND Stadium that eventually slingshotted ND from the No. 4 spot in the polls to a stranglehold on No. 1 they would not relinquish in 1988 (after a brief stopover at No. 2).

“It’s like asking someone who’s driving coast to coast, ‘How is you cross-country road trip going?’ And you haven’t even left Maine yet,” said Creadon, the project’s director.

Like Creadon, Jerry Barca was in the stadium that day. One of the producers on the project and the author of “Unbeatable,” Barca was just 11 years old at the time, but he convinced his parents to let him fly by himself from New Jersey and stay for the weekend with his older brother, an ND student at the time.

“I don’t think there will ever be anything like it in college football again,” he said of the intensity of the rivalry between the two then-independents, a game that actually exceeded the pregame hype and the bravado and dominance Miami brought to the table before and just after.

“My wife (Christine O’Malley) and I are a film-making team,” said Creadon, a Riverside, Ill., native and Southern California resident. “We had wanted to work with 30 for 30 before, and they had pitched us stories in the past, but none of them seemed like a great fit.

“But (in May), two months after my father passed away, they sent us an e-mail out of the blue. They said, ‘You went to Notre Dame, right? What do you know about the Catholics vs. Convicts football game?’

“And I said, ‘How much time do you have?’ ”

Creadon was a senior at Notre Dame during the 1988 season. As a sophomore, he lived two doors down in Dillon Hall from Rice when the latter was a freshman sitting out due to a piece of NCAA legislation called Proposition 48.

Because of what was then a brand new rule affecting admission standards throughout college sports — and a controversial one at that — Rice was prohibited from practice or playing with the team that season.

So Creadon turned out to be one of the Dillon Hall residents Rice threw to on the South Quad as he was incubating toward the day he’d be ND’s star quarterback. They threw darts too on a regular basis.

One of Creadon’s roommates during college was Mike Green, the team manager for the 1988 national championship football squad. One of their friends was Ray Lopez, the leprechaun mascot that year. And Creadon’s best friend then, back in high school at Fenwick — and still today — was Pat Walsh.

Walsh, an ND student at the time and an aspiring walk-on basketball player, was one of the student entrepreneurs behind the “Catholics vs. Convicts” T-shirts.

“The thing about it, I hated that shirt,” Creadon said. “I hated it then and I hate it now, because I thought the shirt was insulting to the other team and I thought it incited very hard feelings, I think, on both sides of the football.

“But this is (film) a study of that game and that team and that T-shirt, believe it or not.”

Creadon’s history with Notre Dame runs deep. His grandfather, Francis Patrick Creadon I, was a freshman in 1924, the year the Irish won their first consensus national championship, under Knute Rockne.

Rockne also happened to be Creadon’s chemistry teacher. The elder Creadon had hoped to play football for him, but because of an injury where he lost two of his fingers, the would-be halfback never did get any real traction on sticking with the team.

“The Four Horsemen were here when he was here,” Creadon said. “A couple of them came back to his house over break. He knew those guys well.”

Creadon’s father, Francis Patrick Creadon II, was a 1960 graduate.

“It’s fantastic to be back here and I love it,” Creadon said. “But with my father passing away in May, it’s also bittersweet. It’s a very emotional story for me.”

The framework of the story involves the 1988 season, the most recent of ND’s 11 consensus national titles and bookended by Miami’s championships in 1987 and 1989.

The two schools took an indefinite break from each other following ND’s 29-20 victory in 1990. They ended up bowl partners in 2010, with the Irish trouncing the disinterested Hurricanes, 33-17, in El Paso, Texas.

The first scheduled meeting since the rivalry's peak years was a Shamrock Series game during the 2012 season in Chicago’s Soldier Field, another one-sided Irish win. They’ll next meet Oct. 29, 2016 in South Bend, as Creadon’s work is expecting to be wrapping up.

On Thursday, safety Pat Terrell was back on the Notre Dame Stadium turf, being filmed showing where he batted away Miami’s two-point conversion pass attempt with 45 seconds left to play in 1988. They later met nose guard Chris Zorich at the Grotto.

“This is an incredibly powerful and inspiring story on both sides of the football,” Creadon said. “The main story happened on the football field, but the secondary stories around it are unbelievable.

“(Miami coach) Jimmy Johnson and Lou Holtz had a very, very deep history before that game. There’s one involving former president Ronald Reagan. Everyone we’ve asked to be in the film has said ‘absolutely.’

That included Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez, ND’s defensive coordinator in 1988.

“He was very emotional talking about that day,” Creadon said. “What happened that day, still resonates today. Whoever you talk to, the one thing that keeps coming back again and again, they’ll tell you it’s the best game they ever played or coached in.”

ehansen@ndinsider.com

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Twitter: @EHansenNDI

Former ND safety Pat Terrell, here celebrating his defensive play that clinched Notre Dame's 31-30 upset of Miami in 1988, is part of the story for the upcoming ESPN 30 for 30 documentary "Catholics vs. Convicts" that will air on Saturday. (SBT File Photo)