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July 28, 2007
Irish Illustrated's Legends Series: Frank Pomarico
Frank Pomarico, from Howard Beach, New York, moved into the starting lineup at left guard during his sophomore year in 1971 at Notre Dame. He remained a fixture for the Irish through the 1973 season when he was named tri-captain, along with Dave Casper and Mike Townsend.
There were bigger players for the Irish, faster players, and players who went on to stellar professional careers. But no one cherished his role as a leader of the Notre Dame squad more than the 6-foot-1, 250-pound Pomarico. His journey to and through Notre Dame truly was a labor of love toward his alma mater.
The 1973 starting offensive line of (from left to right) Steve Neece, Pomarico, Mark Brenneman, Gerry DiNardo and Steve Sylvester, along with tight end Dave Casper, helped pave the way for an offensive unit that averaged an incredible 350.2 yards rushing per game.
Here is Pomarico's story as told to Irish Illustrated senior editor Tim Prister, the author/editor of What It Means To Be Fighting Irish (copyright 2004, Triumph Books, Chicago, Ill.)
Notre Dame was a simple choice for me. When I was growing up in New York, Gerry DiNardo and I were classmates in grade school and high school, and his brother, Larry, was someone we looked up to.
Larry was a great baseball player, and when he went to St. Francis Prep, he was a model for us to look up to. He was a great student, a great shot-putter, a great rugby player He was three years older than me, so when he was a senior, I was a freshman. Larry was just the model that we wanted to be like. He did everything the right way. He was a sound individual; he did well with adjustments; he did well with his own classmates
So now I get to high school, Larry goes to Notre Dame, Gerry and I are sophomores in high school, and Larry comes back talking about this guy named Ara Parseghian. Of course, Larry could have gone to any school he wanted. All the academies, Harvard but he picked Notre Dame because I think he thought that was his greatest challenge athletically as well as academically. Our goal was, 'Maybe someday that can happen to us.'
I had a pretty good senior year at St. Francis Prep, and remember, I modeled my stance, the way I approached things, everything was geared to being like Larry. Finally, I had achieved my goal!
I was on the all-city team, and when I went to Notre Dame, the other players asked me, 'Were you all-state?' And I said, 'No, I was all-city.' All-city doesn't sound like much, but when there are nine million people in the town, it means something, and I didn't realize that until later on.
My senior year I was recruited by North Carolina and Notre Dame. The other tackle, a guy who was in Larry's class, went to North Carolina and he became the all-ACC tackle at 209 pounds. That was Paul Hoolahan, who then went on to become the athletic director at Vanderbilt and is now the executive director of the Sugar Bowl.
Paul is a real fiery Irishman and was always competing with Larry. So he went to North Carolina, Larry went to Notre Dame, and there weren't too many schools that wanted me. Places like Villanova said I was too small. Most other schools thought I was too small. I was 6-foot-1, about 235 when I came to Notre Dame.
Ara took a chance on me. He had success with Larry and thought, 'Let's see if we can have a warm body with Frank.' Gerry went to a year of prep school because he left St. Francis at 200 pounds. He came back at 240.
I knew all about Ara before I got there. Ara was a very, very impressive guy. He's got these piercing eyes that make you stand at attention, and everything he said was gobbled up because we felt if we wanted to be successful as a team, as individuals we were going to try to emulate his intensity, his character. That was something that we believed in. Even if you lost games, you would still win by showing your character and strong will.
Ara instilled in us that the game may be over and we may have lost the battle, but we didn't lose the war. We were always trying to achieve and improve on the athletic field, as individuals, or in the classroom. So it was never really lost; time just ran out. He used to talk about not having a breaking point.
I loved every day at Notre Dame. I guess I was really living a dream. Coming from New York with a very ethnic background, Notre Dame was just a dream. And then to start as a sophomore was unbelievable to me I get a little emotional every time I talk about it.
And then to get Larry's number (No. 56), wow! It wasn't as much the number itself as it was the fact that (the coaching staff) knew how much it meant to me and gave me the number. He was the left guard in 1970, and I was the left guard in 1971. So from 1968 through 1973, the left guard at Notre Dame was from St. Francis Prep.
When I think of my greatest memories at Notre Dame, the first one was my sophomore year (1971) against Northwestern when we came out of that tunnel. It was more than just coming out of the tunnel. It was also the feeling and emotion that was shared with me by guys like Walt Patulski, Dan Novokov, John Dampeer, Andy Huff, Ed Gulyas, John Cieszkowski They were supportive. These guys were saying, 'You're going to do it; it's going to be easier than practice!' So we go out, score the first touchdown over my hole, and went on to win, 50-7.
The Monday before the game, Ara told me that Northwestern's best defensive tackle was a guy named Jim Anderson. He said, 'Frank, you're going to be playing against him. We're expecting a lot from you.' That was such a great feeling, and I had a great game.
Then we slipped by Purdue (an 8-7 victory), but before we played Michigan State the next week, they moved me to tackle. Here I was with just two starts under my belt, and I'm changing positions!
(Left tackle) Jim Humbert had a bad knee, and I was playing against a guy named Wes Josephs, who was a big, strong, heavy guy. I think they thought that I could block a little stronger on the runs than Jim. Jim was real quick and got real good leverage on guys, but to drive a guy out? I was a better choice, plus Jim had a bad knee. We beat Michigan State (14-2), and the next week I was back at guard.
The most satisfying game was the Southern Cal game in 1973 (a 23-14 victory). They were national champs in 1972 and 1974, and when we played them in 1973, we were 5-0. The first four games of that year I had ripped up my ankle and I was in a cast for about a month. I came back for the Rice game and only played on an extra point. I started the Army game and I probably wasn't ready, but I wanted to come back. I knew if I didn't come back for the Army game, I probably wouldn't play against Southern Cal.
We had such intensity playing against Southern Cal in those days, mostly because they were the essence of athletes. They were big; they were strong; they were fast; they were talented. The thing they had too was this air about them from California. You know, good weather, Hollywood, everything at their fingertips as far as the good life was concerned that was how we thought about them.
Back in South Bend, it was cloudy, it was dingy, it was disciplined as far as school was concerned. We had all this snow in the winter It was just a contrast of lifestyles, and we represented more of the middle class, hard-working individuals, not the flashy athletes.
We had a strong ground game. We were going to grind it out. We weren't going to win on the big play. The buildup to that game after Anthony Davis had scored six touchdowns the year before was intense. Playing against them was an emotional, electric time.
Anthony Davis had been on the cover of Sports Illustrated, and somebody made copies of that cover and put them all over the crosswalks at Notre Dame. Every time the students at Notre Dame would come across one of those pictures, they'd spit on it or stomp on it. So the intensity wasn't just with the team; it was with the whole university. When Southern Cal came in here it was like the anticipation of a heavyweight fight.
Remember I said we were going to grind it out against them? Well, we did, but we also had an 85-yard touchdown run by Eric Penick, so we did beat them with the big play as well while limiting Anthony Davis.
My college career culminated with the (24-23) victory over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl to win the national title. It was overwhelming. The culmination of seven years of dreaming ended in the locker room with my father, my grandfather, and my little brother, not yelling and screaming, but just watching everybody go crazy. I don't think we had the animosity toward Alabama that we had toward Southern Cal, but it was a humongous victory for us.
That year, Ara had broken precedent by making three of us captains. I think it was very close in the voting between me and David Casper as the offensive captain. So Dave was the team captain, I was the offensive captain, and Mike Townsend was the defensive captain, so to speak. We all had different roles. I was more of a quiet leader. I tried to lead by example through hard work during the off-season and tried to do the right thing.
One time Ara said, 'I don't want you going down to the bars. If you get caught, you're going to get thrown off the team!' So I didn't go down to the bars. That was the kind of respect we had for him.
Ara concentrated on ball control and always gave us an advantage as far as blocking rules were concerned. (Quarterback) Tom Clements was Ara on the field. He was the fulcrum of the offense because he understood what Ara was talking about, and you could recognize it on the field.
I think the closest we could get to what Ara did was having Tom out there. He had such a command of Ara's offense, and it was a very complicated offense. We had guards pulling one way, backs going the other way; we were always screwing up the defense.
As far as the school is concerned and what Notre Dame means to me, it has become more crystallized as I have gotten older. When my daughter graduated from there, I realized not only that Notre Dame is a great place but that it is a great place because it has good people there.
The thing that makes it great is the kids who go there. The kids I met with my daughter, I recognized that these were the same kind of kids I went to school with. They were good kids who wanted to give back to the community and supply hope to the community in the future. That makes it different from other places, and that's what it's all about.
Notre Dame is about the people; it's not about the bricks and the mortar and the Golden Dome per se. Notre Dame was a special place to me because of Ara Parseghian, because of (academic adviser) Mike DeCicco, not because of the Golden Dome. That's not what makes it great.
One time somebody asked me if the tradition of Rockne and Gipper helped us in our games, and I said, 'The tradition here is the guys I'm with right now that make it such a special place. They're the guys who help me.' Because of the people, there is no place in the world quite like Notre Dame.
Frank Pomarico, 54, is in sales in Jackson, Mich. He also coaches tight ends and tackles at Lumen Christi High School, where his son, Tommy, starred the past couple of years before accepting a preferred walk-on offer from Lloyd Carr at the University of Michigan.
The younger Pomarico, at 6-foot-4-and-a-half, 255 pounds, is a tight end/long-snapper who has run a 5:48 mile.
"People say to me, 'How can you send your son to Michigan?' Pomarico laughed. "I tell them, 'I pray for Notre Dame but now I root for Michigan.'
Pomarico moved to Michigan from Las Vegas, where he got to know several Notre Dame graduates and subway alums in 2002-03 before returning to the Midwest. Pomarico served as athletic director at St. Joseph's High School near the Notre Dame campus before moving to Jackson.
Pomarico does a radio show with former UNLV football coach Harvey Hyde (1982-85) in Las Vegas and still loves talking about Notre Dame football. Like Irish fans, he sees the upcoming schedule as rigorous, but views it with encouragement and confidence in Charlie Weis' ability to take Notre Dame to new heights in the future.
He wishes Weis would have called and offered his son the same opportunity Michigan State and Michigan did. But that hasn't changed his feelings about his alma mater.
"I love Notre Dame, you know that," Pomarico said. "I always have and I always will."
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