Former Notre Dame S Pat Terrell transcends memorable 'Catholics vs. Convicts' play

Mike Vorel
South Bend Tribune

Pat Terrell is more than just that play.

And don’t get him wrong, it was a heck of a play. A heck of a game, too. Honestly, how many games essentially decide a season, then warrant a documentary nearly three decades later?

That’s the case with then-No. 4 Notre Dame’s 31-30 victory over then-No. 1 Miami in 1988, a meeting that was infamously dubbed, “Catholics vs. Convicts.” A former Irish safety, Terrell batted away Miami quarterback Steve Walsh’s two-point conversion attempt in the corner of the end zone with 45 seconds left, cementing Notre Dame’s most impactful victory in years and saving its undefeated season.

Terrell went on to play nine NFL seasons with four different teams.

But that game — that play — is his legacy.

“Even late in my NFL career, whether it was a commentator or reporter or just a conversation with people, it was always, ‘Oh yeah, Terrell. That’s the guy that made that play,’” he said with a laugh. “When I was a younger player in the NFL, I kind of didn’t like the attention for that play, believe it or not. Football is a long season. There’s a lot of plays to be made.”

And to be clear, Terrell made plenty more plays — both at Notre Dame and beyond. Earlier in the Miami game, the quarterback-turned-receiver-turned-safety jumped a Hurricane route, scooped a batted pass out of the air and returned the interception 60 yards untouched for an Irish touchdown. In nearly a decade in the NFL, he played in 139 games (starting 70 of them), and racked up 337 tackles and 11 picks.

The 6-1, 204-pound Memphis native enjoyed stints with the Rams, Jets, Panthers and Packers.

But his most lasting bonds were forged in South Bend.

“It sounds like a cliché. Everybody in college that plays on a college football team is close,” Terrell said. “When you win a championship like we did, you certainly have to be a close team. But when you win such a huge game and go to such a great school with such great tradition, we’ve even become closer over the years.

“In all my years in the NFL, I still stay in contact with more guys from that (Notre Dame) team than in any phase of my football life. So to be able to look back and remember this with your friends and teammates, that’s what makes it so special.”

Saturday will be special for Terrell and his teammates. That’s when ESPN airs the 30 for 30 documentary “Catholics vs. Convicts” (9 p.m.), which chronicles not only the game but the birth of the shirt that made such long-lasting waves. The former Irish safety has already seen the documentary twice — once at the Chicago Film Festival, and again on Notre Dame’s campus a day prior to the home game against Miami on Oct. 28.

This time, he’ll watch at home with his family.

“It’s been a great life. I’ve got great friends, a great family,” said Terrell, who lives in the Chicago area with his wife and five kids. “This is a great event to be a part of.”

These days, Terrell’s focus lies not on the field, but in the skies. After retiring from the NFL, he became an international airline pilot for Boeing 757 jets. Now, he owns Terrell Materials Corporation, a company that builds runways and freeways. Terrell has accomplished a lot since being engulfed by teammates on the edge of the Irish end zone.

But even 28 years later, he’s still “the guy that made that play.”

And now more than ever, he’ll take it.

“Having children and being from a school with a tremendous amount of history, I am truly humbled and honored that I was part of a game and able to make a play that was so memorable,” Terrell said on Thursday from O’Hare airport, where his company is building a new runway.

“It’s probably more so for my family and my children to be able to see the play their dad made at a place with such rich and incredible history. I appreciate it more now than I did as a current player.”


Twitter: @mikevorel

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)