Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Where Are They Now? Mike McCoy

[] Being larger than most is usually an asset when it comes to football. But for former Notre Dame and Green Bay Packers standout lineman Mike McCoy, being larger meant being told at an early age that he wasn’t able to play a sport in which he would eventually excel at the highest level. McCoy was not allowed to play football in elementary school for fear he may hurt someone. Once he reached Cathedral Prep High in Erie, Pa., McCoy finally found an ally in head coach Tony Zambrowski. Zambrowski and other coaches helped McCoy learn to turn his size into an asset, a weapon that with learned aggression would push him toward a college scholarship and eventually a job in the NFL. McCoy was a three-year letter-winner at Notre Dame who earned consensus All-America honors under former Irish coach Ara Parseghian.

McCoy was selected second overall in the 1970 NFL draft by the Green Bay Packers and played 11 seasons with the Packers, Oakland Raiders and the New York Giants. McCoy’s pro football honors include being named Packers Rookie of the Year, Packers Dodge NFL Man of the Year, Notre Dame Pro Player of the Year, and induction into the Erie, Pa., Pro Hall of Fame, Cathedral Prep Hall of Fame and the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame. McCoy also received the Harvey Foster Humanitarian Award from the Notre Dame Alumni Association. Another prestigious honor was the Bronco Nagurski Legends award, which recognized the top defensive players in last 40 years. McCoy now is the driving force behind the inspirational Mike McCoy Ministries program and lives in Jefferson, Ga., with his wife, Kia. The couple has four children, Molly, Maggie, Katie and Caleb, along with six grandchildren and another on the way.

Q: Being from Pennsylvania, wasn’t Penn State or Pitt a more likely college choice? What about Notre Dame caught your attention?

A: “I did not start playing football until my sophomore year in high school (at Cathedral Prep), because I had always been told that I was too big to play football. My mom used to always tell me, ‘Don’t sit on your friends’ bicycles because you will break them.’ Coach Tony Zambrowski was a driving force in my high-school football career. After a very successful junior year a lot of colleges began to look at me. Coach Zambrowski asked me where I was looking to go to college. I told him that I had no idea where I wanted to go. He asked me if I had ever considered going to Notre Dame (Zambrowski’s alma mater) and at that point I did not even know that Notre Dame existed. He took me on a trip to visit the campus, and I knew very quickly that Notre Dame fit me perfectly. I was the first person from my high school class to sign a letter of intent to play college football. I also visited Syracuse, Penn State and Indiana.”

Q: What was your best Notre Dame football memory?

Notre Dame Irish defensive end Mike McCoy (77) at Notre Dame Stadium. [Photo: US Presswire, via Spokeo]
A: “The rivalries with USC and Michigan State were very fierce during my time at Notre Dame. We didn’t do so well against Purdue when I was there, so we won’t talk about that. (laughs) The game we played against USC my junior year, however, has to be the best game during my college career. (It was the last game of the 1968 regular season against defending national champion USC, and prior to the game the Los Angeles media had proclaimed McCoy as a “sure bet All-American for 1969.”) The media said I was a ‘dominating force on the line of scrimmage’ against USC that day, and the Notre Dame defense held Heisman Trophy winner O.J. Simpson to a career-low 55 yards on 22 carries. At one point during the fourth quarter, Simpson looked up at me and said, ‘Oh no, not you again.’ I guess I left quite an impression on him.”

“My senior year we were invited to play the Texas Longhorns in the Cotton Bowl, which was the first time that Notre Dame had been invited to a bowl game in 45 years. That was pretty special. When we were recruited to play football at Notre Dame, we were told that Notre Dame never went to bowl games, so to receive that invitation was quite an achievement for us as a team.” (Texas beat Notre Dame 21-17 and won the national championship.)

Q: What was the weight training program like under Father Bernard Lange, Notre Dame’s legendary weight room guru?

A: “South Bend was a very small town, and other than school and football, there wasn’t much to be offered. Father Lange’s gym was right behind Keenan Hall, and on my own I started going over there to lift weights. This was not an activity that was encouraged by the football coaches. It was different era. Father Lange’s gym was such a unique environment and Fr. Lange was such a force that it drew us back to his gym. Our time was precious. Between football and school work we did not have a lot of free time, but I really enjoyed going over to the gym and spending time with the other guys who were there. More important than lifting weights was the time that I spent getting to know Father Lange as a person. He was such a remarkable person. I remember one time I went over to the gym, Father Lange was in his 80s and he was partially blind from being a diabetic. He asked me to help him down onto his bench. Then he said, ‘Can you hand me those dumbbells so that I can do some flys?’ I looked at him and said, ‘The 35 pound ones?’ And he replied, ‘No, the 85 pound ones.’ And then I did some flys with him. Even in his 80s he was still in amazing shape.”

Q: What was it like playing for Ara Parseghian?

A: “My time playing under Coach Ara Parseghian was a great experience. It has become more significant to me as I’ve gotten older and have had a chance to look back on it. When you are in school you are so busy with classes and practice, and at that point in your life, you really don’t have a lot of experience with different coaches and game strategies. After playing in the NFL and having a chance to experience other coaches, it is then that you truly realize what a remarkable experience you had. When I look at the schools that we played when I was at Notre Dame, and the things we accomplished as a team, what we had under Coach Parseghian was really unique. You definitely appreciate it more as time goes by.”

“My senior year in high school, when I signed my letter of intent to play football at Notre Dame, Coach Parseghian sent me a picture with a message saying, ‘Welcome to the Notre Dame family.’ That meant so much to me. We still have it framed in our house. Notre Dame really is a family that stays with you throughout your life.”

“Parseghian also did a great job of surrounding himself with a great staff. He was an amazing coach, but his surrounding staff was made up of quality people, and that just enhanced what he could do on his own. This was probably the best group of coaches in college football at the time: Paul Shoults (defensive backs), John Ray (linebackers), Joe Yonto (defensive line), Tom Pagna (offensive backfield), Jerry Wamphler (offensive line), John Murphy (prep team), George Sefcik and Wally Moore (freshmen).”

Q: What do you remember about the NFL Draft?

Green Bay Packers defensive tackle Mike McCoy (76) against the Minnesota Vikings at Metropolitan Stadium. [Photo: US Presswire, via Spokeo]

A: “Draft day back then was nothing like it is today. Monetarily, the NFL salaries back then were nothing like they are today, either. I did not go to New York City for the draft. It was not a big deal at all. In fact, I was not really even sure if I was going to get drafted, so I was busy making plans to head to law school. If it happened it happened, and if it didn’t I had other plans. The Chicago Bears had made a trade with the Green Bay Packers, and the Packers moved up to the second overall spot. The Pittsburgh Steelers had the first overall pick of the draft, and they selected Terry Bradshaw. Then I got the phone call from the Packers telling me that I was their pick.”

Q: What are the best and worst things about playing in the NFL?

A: “The NFL back in the 70′s was a totally different ball game than it is today. We all worked during the off-season because the NFL did not pay enough to be our sole form of income. I worked in several different fields – sales, banking and real estate – all the while trying to figure out what I wanted to do when I grew up. It was quite the balancing act. During the off season you worked in your alternate career for five or six months, working from 8-to-5, and then trained in the evening so that you would be ready to jump right back into the NFL. You didn’t even see your fellow teammates in the off season until training camp started back up. The team owners assumed that you would stay in shape during the off season and come to camp ready to play.”

Q: What did you do after football?

A: “I knew the end of my football career was coming when I got traded to the New York Giants for my 10th and 11th seasons. When I was no longer wanted by the NFL, we decided to move back to Pennsylvania to be near the grandparents.”

“Five years into retirement, my daughter – who was in seventh grade at the time – came home and began to tell about me all of the pressures and temptations she was being exposed to in school. At that moment I had a great epiphany about what I could do to help. I decided to join a friend of mine who was putting together an organization that was sending former NFL players around the country to speak at schools and serve as positive role models.”

“Notre Dame and NFL had given me this great platform to reach people and spread my message. I took a pay cut, and a huge leap of faith, and worked there and set out to make a difference. I was also on Bill Glass’ staff speaking in prisons, Public and Catholic schools. I now have Mike McCoy Ministries reaching students in Catholic Schools with the message of Hope, Faith and Encouragement. I have partnered with Notre Dame‘s with their “Play Like a Champion Today” Educational Series.”

(Over the last 20 years, McCoy has spoken around the world, from schools in Scotland to prisons in South Africa.)

Mike McCoy speaking at the ND Alumni Club of Gettysburg.
“It brings me great satisfaction going into the schools and getting feedback from the kids; to hear exactly what they are going through and figure out how we can help them. A lot of students open up to me through our comment cards about a lot of serious subjects including depression, drug and alcohol abuse and other problems they are dealing with at home. This feedback allows me to help kids who are in tough situations get the guidance and trained help they need.”

“I believe every student in America is currently at risk regardless of their race, creed, or financial situation. Whether they attend a public school, private school, Christian school, or a Catholic school, they are all at risk due to the influences of our culture. The shift started in the late 1950′s and early 1960′s from faith, family and friends to what we have today – friends, friends, maybe family, and where faith is almost irrelevant. It’s my job to stand up against the influences that are undermining the future of so many.”

“We get some referrals through Notre Dame Alumni Clubs but the majority of our speaking engagements come through recommendations from schools we have previously visited and my Notre Dame contacts. The Ministry is basically me and my volunteer wife, Kia! I have a great board of directors who help guide the Ministry. Kia is presently battling a very rare cancer called Sarcoma.”

I’d like to give a big thank you to Mike McCoy for spending a little with us. If you’d like to help out the Mike McCoy Ministries visit his web site at He would love to come to speak in your Catholic Schools. He only asks for expenses. You can also visit an NFLPA site Search Mike McCoy in the upper right search field and he will get a donation for every visit to his site. It costs you nothing!


Sunday, January 20, 2013

A Bittersweet Night in St. Louis

[Stan Musial won seven National League batting titles, was a three-time M.V.P. and helped the St. Louis Cardinals capture three World Series championships. Photo: Patrick Burns/The New York Times]

[] It was an evening St. Louis Blues fans had all been anxiously awaiting. The NHL lockout finally in the rear view mirror, the Blues were ready to take the ice against the Detroit Red Wings and get the 2013 season started.

Stan and Lil Musial (Photo from Fox2 St. Louis)
On an evening that should have been a celebration, fans in St. Louis had their world rocked with the announcement of the passing of Stan Musial ... "Stan the Man." At 92 years of age, I know I should not be so shocked at his passing, but it really brought me great sadness when I heard the news.

I had the great pleasure of meeting "Stan the Man" once. I used to work at an advertising agency that was in the same building as the offices of "Stan the Man, Inc." I was walking to the vending machine one day (chocolate fix) when I ran into Stan. It was such a great honor to meet him and get a chance to talk to him, and he in return was pleasantly surprised that a young girl like myself actually knew who he was. It is a moment I will never forget. That and when he played "Happy Birthday" on his harmonica for one of my co-workers ... that was pretty cool as well.

I am overjoyed to have hockey back, but I am filled with sorrow at the passing of a truly great man.

Here is what people are talking about on twitter ... about the Blues, and Stan the Man. Rest in peace, Stan.


Saturday, January 19, 2013

Self Compassion

Photo from "From The Soil"
Just a few thoughts this morning ...

"The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. The Lord is good to all; God's compassion is over all that God has made." Ps 145:8-9

Are you compassionate to others?

Are you compassionate to yourself?

So often we are so good at taking care of all those around us, yet we forget to take care of ourselves. It's not selfish to be self compassionate.

Self Compassion: Being kind and understanding toward oneself in instances of pain or failure, rather than being harshly self-critical; perceiving one's experiences as part of the larger human experience rather than seeing them as isolating; and holding painful thoughts and feelings in *mindful awareness* rather than over identifying with them.

When we stop being self critical and self-harming and start being kind to ourselves, it opens up the pathway to increase resilience.

When you are motivated by self-compassion, you are given the opportunity to learn from your failures.

Have a beautiful Saturday.


Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Where Are They Now? Vagas Ferguson

[Notre Dame Irish running back # 32 Vagas Ferguson in action during the 1978 Cotton Bowl against the Texas Longhorns, photo: US Presswire.]

[] Although Vasquero Diaz “Vagas” Ferguson grew up in Richmond, Ind., Notre Dame was nowhere on his radar. A resourceful Notre Dame recruiter discovered him, in this small town near the Ohio border and won him over with some Fighting Irish magic. Ferguson finished his senior year as the nation’s fifth-leading rusher, fifth in Heisman Trophy voting and with All-America honors. He ranks third all-time for total yards (3,472) among Notre Dame running backs, averaging 5.2 yards per carry. He was a first-round pick in the 1980 NFL Draft and played for five seasons with the New England Patriots, Cleveland Browns, and Houston Oilers. He now lives back in his hometown of Richmond, Ind. and is active in his local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and a member of the Indiana Football Hall of Fame.

Q: Growing up in Indiana, surely you had heard about Notre Dame football and all of its legendary players and coaches. Right?

A: “To be truthful, I didn’t hear about Notre Dame until my sophomore year of high school. The schools that most of us talked about were Purdue, Indiana, Michigan and Ohio State. Those schools got a lot of local coverage. I had the chance to visit Notre Dame during my sophomore year in high school because my cousin Lamar Lundy, Jr., a tight end, was being recruited by Notre Dame through a Notre Dame alum who lived in Richmond. He was a senior when I was a sophomore and I got to tag along on his visit to Notre Dame. My cousin ended up going to California – Berkeley, but that trip to Notre Dame left quite an impression on me. I took official visits to Big Ten schools primarily. I went to Indiana, Purdue, Ohio State, Michigan and Iowa; Notre Dame was the last school I visited. (Notre Dame recruiter) Brian Bulac was a driving force behind my decision to attend Notre Dame. He came to my home to speak to my grandparents (Vagas’ mother died when he was eight, and his father lived nearby). Education was top on my grandparent’s list. They wanted to make sure we got a good education, and that was the first thing he talked about when he walked in the door. You will be a football player at Notre Dame, but you are a student first. That impressed my grandparents, and impressed me as well. Most schools only talked about what I could for them on the field.”

Q: Can you talk about the diversity issues at Notre Dame in the 80s?

A: “When I was at Notre Dame in the late 1970s, we were in a time of awareness. Racial issues were very much being addressed and it wasn’t any different at Notre Dame than it had been at my high school back home. You tended to hang out with people who looked like you. You congregated as a group, black females and males. Women had not been at Notre Dame very long at that time either, so they had an especially tight bond as well. The black students that I met the first few weeks I was at Notre Dame, guys and girls, we became really close. We were new and didn’t know any of the upperclassmen so we just kind of took each other in. We still stay in touch today. You gravitate to people who are more like you. It’s not a negative thing. You renew yourself through people who have similar experiences as you
do. Today, that is changing. I can see it my kids and grandkids today. I have bi-racial grandkids. They don’t even see that kind of stuff at all.”

Q: What is your favorite Notre Dame football memory?

Notre Dame Irish running back #32 Vagas Ferguson in action during the 1979 season at Notre Dame Stadium. Photo: US Presswire.
A: “The most important thing that I took from Notre Dame was the development of relationships, and crossing the barriers of race. Football did that for us. We had to play as a team and support one another and that broke down a lot of racial barriers that we were facing during that time as players. My favorite memory on the field had to have been the 1979 Cotton Bowl against Houston. It was below zero; so cold, in fact, that they had to put salt down on the field to thaw it out. In the fourth quarter, we were behind 34-12 with seven minutes left. Late in the game the defense made a big play (a Tony Belden blocked punt) and got points on the board which really changed the momentum for us. (Quarterback Joe) Montana, who had been sick with the flu and missed most of the third quarter fighting below-normal body temperature, returned to execute an unforgettable fourth quarter comeback.”

“Down 34-28 with six seconds remaining, we had just enough time to run two plays. The first play was a pass pattern where myself and receiver Kris Haines went to the flat and we had to get across the goal line from the 8-yard line. With the limited amount of time remaining in the game, if we caught the ball, we had to score. The first play we ran was not successful. At this point there was only two seconds on the clock. On the next play, Montana looks over to the sidelines and the coaches put up their hands as if to say, ‘Do whatever you want to do. Joe, you call it.’ He got down on one knee and drew the play (the same play we had just run), just like you would in the school yard, and told myself and Kris Haines how to run it. Haines said he could beat the guy that he was covering. Joe told him, ‘I’ll hit ya in the corner of the end zone.’ We ran the play, scored and won on the last play of the game. Incredible.”

Q: How do you remember your NFL draft experience?

A: “I was dating my fiancĂ©e at the time and she was a student at Purdue. Most of the guys were in their rooms watching the draft, but I really did’’t even think about it. I never got into that stuff. If I got drafted and got the chance to play in the NFL it was just an added benefit. All I knew was that it wasn’t going to make or break me. It wasn’t that important and I wasn’t worried about it at all. I had always told the guys, ‘I don’t care where I go, but I really want to go some place warm.’ And where did I end up? New England. My buddies ended up in San Francisco and New Orleans. How the heck did they end up there and I’m stuck in New England and I played there for three years (1980-82). Going into my fourth year we had a new coaching staff come in and I didn’t get along with them, so I got cut. After New England I played a little bit for the Houston Oilers and a little bit for Cleveland Browns. After that I moved to the USFL in 1984 and played for a year in Chicago. Then the USFL went under and I was pretty much done.”

Q: How would you describe your NFL career?

A: “The friendships you make and the people you meet are definitely one of the best things that I took away from the NFL. If I think of anything it is those relationships that I developed. I still keep in touch with many of the guys I played with in New England. Looking back you don’t remember the records or the individual touchdowns, but you do remember people. It’s a blessing to know I can go anywhere in the country and run into people that I know. It’s no longer about football it’s about relationships.”

Q: Where did life take you after football?

A: “Believe it or not, there was a Fortune 500 company in Richmond, Ind., called Belden Wiring Cable Company. They did wiring for computers internationally and all over the U.S. I was looking for a job once I finished playing football and I had sent out a lot of resumes in the Chicago area without much luck. It’s all about who you know, and I didn’t know many people in Chicago. A friend of mine recommended that I call the president at Belden and I landed an interview. I went to Richmond for the interview and they really liked me. They needed a salesman in Chicago and I was already there, so it was a good match. They trained me and I started working there for 6 1/2 years until 1991.”

“Going into 1991 I decided that I needed to get back home. My grandparents were getting older and I had gone through a divorce and wanted to move back home so that my kids could be around family. I also wanted to go back to school and get my masters, but without a support network I could not continue to work, raise kids and go back to school. So in December, 1991 I went home for Christmas and a family friend who worked at the local Richmond school system called me. She was in HR/administration and she asked me if I’d be interested in coming in for an interview. They were creating a new position, to have someone oversee the non-sport extracurricular activities at the high school and thought that I would be perfect for the job. The timing could not have been better. Here I am trying to move back home and a job practically falls into my lap. The Lord blessed me indeed. I went in and spoke with them and told them that the job sounded great but I’d need a little time to think about it. They told me to take my time as they were in no rush. They were not even going to implement the program until the following school year.”

“When I got back to Chicago after Christmas, the HR woman from the high school called me yet again, and this time she asks me if I’d be interested in taking over as the interim athletic director at the high school. I asked her if I could think about it and she said, ‘Don’t think about it too long!’ I hung up the phone and was literally jumping up and down. I called her right back and said, ‘Yes!’ I explained that I would have to give my company notice and couldn’t start until Feb, and she replied, ‘We’ll hold the job for you until February 1.’ I moved my kids back to Richmond, moved in with my grandparents, got the kids enrolled in school and started as the interim athletic director … and I’ve been here 20 years now. Taking that job allowed me the opportunity to go back to school and earned my Masters in Education and Certificate of Principal through the University of Miami of Ohio, which I never would have been able to do if I had stayed in Chicago. It allowed me to take care of my grandparents and my kids were in a much less hectic environment and surrounded by family. Blessings all around.”

Q: What advice do you have for current college athletes?

A: “Get your education and get that degree! When it’s all said and done and you have to put sports away, you will have to make a living for the rest of your life. The effort you put into your school work will determine the quality of life that you’re going to live. My grandparents always told me, ‘Don’t always hang your hat on football, you have to get your degree.’ I had to remind myself constantly that I had to get the education piece so that I at least had that going for me. I knew that as a Notre Dame graduate I could get a job anywhere. That degree meant a lot me.”

Q: What is your favorite Dan Devine memory?

A: “What made Dan Devine good as a head coach is that he surrounded himself with good position coaches. You dealt with your position coach way more often than you actually dealt with Coach Devine. He was not very outgoing, didn’t talk to people a lot and was kind of withdrawn. He would talk to us, but he didn’t talk to the public very much. He and his family had previously had some bad experiences with the media and I think that was part of why he was so withdrawn. We didn’t know that, we just accepted him the way he was. You have to be able to delegate to people and trust them. Coach (Gerry) Faust, unlike Coach Devin, was not able to do that.”

“I had two backfield coaches when I was at Notre Dame, Jim Gruden (his son is former NFL head coach and ESPN football analyst Jon Gruden). Indiana had recruited me starting in my sophomore year of high school all the way through, and Coach Gruden was there before he got the job at Notre Dame. During the recruiting process he told me, ‘I’m gonna coach you some day’. During my junior year of college he left Indiana and came to Notre Dame. He taught me more about the running back position than any other coach and took me to another level of play. I absolutely contribute the success I had my junior and senior years at Notre Dame to Coach Gruden. I trying to stay in touch with him to this day.”

I’d like to give Vagas Ferguson a big thank you for stopping by the blog. Next week I sit down with Notre Dame lineman Mike McCoy.


Thank you to Norm Sanders for his editing help & perspective on this story. Norm is the St. Louis Blues beat writer for the Belleville News-Democrat and you can catch him on Twiter at @normsanders

Friday, January 4, 2013

Here Come the Irish

[] Cathy Richardson grew up in the western Chicago suburbs of Burr Ridge, Illinois and graduated from nearby Hinsdale Central High School. Before she began her music career, Richardson worked as a cashier and an auto mechanic in her father's gas station. In 1990 she started her music career full-time. Notre Dame fans may not recognize Cathy Richardson's name, but they will most definitely recognize her song, "Here Come the Irish" which has been played at countless pep rallies, athletic games and university events. After spending some time in New York City and San Francisco, Richardson is back in Illinois raising her 16-month-old daughter

Q: How did you first become interested in music? Was it something you knew you'd always pursue?

A: "My mom was a singer and there was always music in our house. We had a piano that she played and sang along to, and encouraged us to sing along as well. From a very young age I got a lot of positive feedback on my voice. From the age of four people were telling me, 'wow, you have a great voice.' I liked the attention and decided that I wanted to pursue a singing career. As I got older, I picked up the piano and the guitar, both of which I play by ear -- I picked up the flute in the school band and play that by ear as well. I also had music instruction through choir, both at our church and in my school."

Q: I know you just got back from your European Tour with Jefferson Starship. What is it like following in Grace Slick's footsteps and being Jefferson Starship's lead singer?

Cathy Richardson with Jefferson Starship
A: "An absolute blast – it's really, really fun. I was such a huge fan of Jefferson Starship when I was growing up so it was really a natural fit for me to jump in. Jefferson Starship is such a great showcase for me, for my voice and for performing – definitely some I never imagined would happen to me – it’s perfect. For my stage persona, throughout the years in my bands I've always stood behind the microphone, sang and played the guitar."

"In this band all I have to do is sing, so it gives me an opportunity to "perform" a bit. It's been fun to discover new parts of performing without having to be stationary and standing behind the microphone. I've incorporated some of Grace's weirdness on stage but they keep asking me to do more and be weirder. It's really been a great experience."

Q: How did you get introduced to Notre Dame and asked to sing John Scully’s song “Here Come the Irish” song which appeared on The O'Neill Brothers CD?

A: "John Scully (Notre Dame center, 1977-1980) and Jim Tullio wrote the song together. Jim was a (Grammy Award winning) producer friend of mine that I had worked with in Chicago. John had written this beautiful song about Notre Dame and he and Jim just hired me to sing it. At the time (1997) I was doing a lot of commercial recording sessions. People would write songs and then would hire me to sing them. That's how I got involved on the "Here Come the Irish" project; I was hired as a session singer. After we recorded it I never really heard anything about it and then 10 years later I got a call from the school. They said, 'Do you have any idea how popular this song is?' and I had absolutely no idea."

"They asked me to come and sing it at a basketball pep rally and it was an incredible experience. I felt like I was the Notre Dame "Beatles." The response that I got from the audience literally blew me away. I started going to the school and doing performances at special events. You don't have to be affiliated with the school to be affected that way. I know for people who go to Notre Dame, the way that they feel about the school is different from how most people feel about their college or university. It's just different -- I can't put it into words. It's more than just pride, it's a spiritual thing. Music transcends those sorts of titles and boxes that we put ourselves into because I'm not a Notre Dame graduate or Catholic and I still can feel the impact of the Notre Dame spirit."

Here Come the Irish of Notre Dame:

Q: You also sang another John Scully song "Our Lady of the Lake." What about Notre Dame draws you to it?

A: "The school asked John to write a song that dealt more with the spiritual feeling of the Notre Dame and was less of a "rah-rah" song, something more deep and spiritual. The first song was more of an anthem. "Our Lady of the Lake" is more of a spiritual description of the school. I've sung it at a couple of events, but we debuted the song at the NYC pep rally for the Notre Dame/Army game in 2011 outside of Lincoln Center. Another amazing experience."

Our Lady of the Lake:

Q: What is your favorite song to perform live?

A: "That changes from day-to-day. Performing live is such an in the moment thing. When I sing with Jefferson Starship the set changes a lot. Certain songs are more fun to sing for different reasons. When my voice is really on and in a good place there is a song called "Hyperdrive" that is really fun. But if I'm really tired that song is really hard to sing. It depends on the day, how rested I am and how into it the audience is."

Q: What Was it Like performing in “Love, Janis” in New York, Chicago and San Francisco?

Cathy Richardson sings in the role of Janis Joplin
in the musical "Love Janis" at the Marines Memorial
 Theatre in San Francisco, CA.
(Photo: Laura Morton/The Chronicle/SF)
A: "Performing in "Love, Janis" was awesome. It was so many different things for me. The New York City run was the longest (a year and a half) and a lot happened while we were there. We were there in 2001, and were in New York City on September 11th and that is something I will never forget. While performing in the New York City run I went from being this sort of locally recognized bar star to being under the New York, Off Broadway, national spotlight. A lot of celebrities came to see the show, and it was a huge growth period for me both as a performer and as a person."

"When I left the show in New York City I thought I was done with Janis and that I’d never do it again. Seven years later they called me and asked me if I wanted to do a run in San Francisco. I had come full circle between my time in New York City and my time in San Francisco, but the show was such a great fit for me that I couldn’t say no."

"When I went to New York City to do the show Off Broadway I had dreams of getting signed to a major label and becoming rich and famous, and it really looked to me as if I was headed that way. I had a meeting with the VP of a major record label and I was headed there on the morning of September 11, 2001 when the world as we knew it changed all in an instant. After that, the whole world changed. Record companies were not hiring talent. The VP that I had the meeting with got fired and so did the entire rock department of that label. New York City pretty much kicked my ass in a way that I was not expecting. When I went home to Illinois, everything that I thought I wanted to do in my life and my career had changed. I sat down and reevaluated what I wanted out of life. 'God is trying to tell me something here', I thought. I decided that I wasn't going to pursue that big rock star career path anymore and that I was just going to do good work. I gave up on the fame pursuit and just tried to be great in everything that I did."

"So when I went to San Francisco to do "Love, Janis" I just wanted to do good work. I didn't care about the reviews. And the funny thing is the reviews I got in San Francisco were even better than from the show in New York City. All of Janis' friends came to the show and they were crying and said to me that my performance had taken them back to that time. The whole journey was just amazing."

"The show was going so great that I decided to move to San Francisco. Five days later, the show was closed. Once again, my world was turned upside down. I thought to myself, I have enough money to survive for a year, let's try this. That was when Big Brother had reached out to me to sing with them on the 40th anniversary of the "Summer of Love" tour. That's where I met Jefferson Starship. At the end of that tour their singer who had been with them for 13 years quit and they asked me if I'd like to join the band and that's just what I did. We went into the studio the next year and recorded an album and I've been with them ever since. That's the fun thing about life: if you stick around long enough, things happen."

"Love, Janis" preview:

Q: What is next for Cathy Richardson?

A: "I think that next year there will be more Jefferson Starship. I have a project called the Macrodots and my friend Zack and I are writing materials for a second Macrodots release. I am hoping to be able to go over to Europe and tour as my own artist, as the Cathy Richardson Band, and take advantage of the fans I'm making with Jefferson Starship. I know that it won't last forever and I have to think about what happens when Jefferson Starship comes to an end. What I'm trying to do now is pave the way towards continuing to do my own thing down the road."

Q: What advice would you give to young women who want to get into the music business?

A: "The music business is a lot of different things, and there are varying degrees of success. You can make a living, you can be successful, or you can go to the top. If you want to have a career in music, it's absolutely possible and there is no right or wrong way to go about it. I believed in myself and said this is what I am going to do with my life and I wouldn't stop until I got there. And as long as you're doing what you love and what you want to do, you are successful as far as I'm concerned. If you believe in yourself and have a single-minded focus, 'this is what I want to do with my life' and point yourself in that direction you will get to where you want to be. You say what, and the universe will say how, there is no one direction, it's a big journey. The point where you are is the only thing that is real, everything else is imaginary. I didn't end up where I thought I would, but I look at my collective career and think, 'Holy crap, I did a lot and am doing a lot.' That was my biggest lesson -- it was not this pie in the sky out there dream, I was out there doing it the whole time."

A big thank you to Cathy Richardson for stopping by the blog and sharing her story. The "Where are they Now?" blog series will resume in two weeks with more of your Notre Dame football favorites!


Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Notre Dame – Alabama Preview

[] Coffee in hand I greet the new year and sit down to write my final Notre Dame football preview of the year, Notre Dame vs. Alabama.

Notre Dame football, with a 12-0 season, once again returns to college football relevance and heads to the national title game for the first time in 24 years. But does a young and inexperienced team like Notre Dame have what it takes to beat a battle-tested defending national title team like Alabama? Alabama has been in this national spotlight before and knows exactly what it takes to win the big game.

No. 1 ranked Notre Dame and No. 2 Alabama will answer all of our questions in Miami on January 7 in a dream matchup for the national title that has the college football world on the edge of its seat.

Many comparisons have been made between this year’s Notre Dame squad and the 1988 ND team which was the last to bring the crystal football home to South Bend. In 1988 the undefeated ND squad beat West Virginia in the Fiesta Bowl to bring home the national title. This year’s team will attempt to match that same feat.

There is something magical about a coach’s third year at Notre Dame. Frank Leahy, Ara Parseghian, Dan Devine and Lou Holtz all won national titles during their third year as a head coach at Notre Dame. Brian Kelly, in his third season at ND will attempt to join this storied list of national championship winning coaches.

“The tradition of Alabama and Notre Dame brings special attention to it, but we’re just trying to be the best team on Monday, Jan. 7,” Kelly, the AP coach of the year and Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year Award winner, told the media.
“All of that tradition, what’s happened in the past, is not going to help us Jan. 7, but we do respect the traditions.”

The fact that Notre Dame has made it to the national title game this year is quite a surprise, even to the Notre Dame faithful. Many alumni and fans didn’t think this day would come again anytime soon after suffering through rough patches with coaches Bob Davie, Tyrone Willingham and Charlie Weis. Coach Brian Kelly didn’t have the most magical of starts either, losing games on controversial calls, with defeats at the hands of Tulsa and South Florida being at the top of that list.

Even with the Cinderella season that Notre Dame had it still looked like they would be shut out of the championship game, needing losses from both Kansas State and Oregon in order to jump in the BCS standings. This seemed like a scenario that was too much to ask for, but amazingly enough the stars aligned and the unthinkable became reality. The Kansas State Wildcats got routed by the Baylor Bears, followed by an Oregon Ducks upset at the hands of the Stanford Cardinal. The number one sign was once again lit up on top of Grace hall and with a win over Southern California the following week the Irish are headed to Miami to try and make history one more time.

Does the Irish defense have what it takes to stop Alabama and their SEC speed?

“Well, that’s who we are,” said Kelly, whose team won six times by nine or fewer points. “It’s been our defense all year. Our offense is able to manage enough points.”

When the Irish defense takes the field on Jan. 7 keep your eyes on Heisman Trophy runner-up Manti Te’o. He will be a significant factor in Notre Dame’s ability to stop Alabama’s running game. The senior linebacker has had seven interceptions and 103 tackles this year, and has proved to be the heart and soul of this Irish squad.

“We’re going to fight,” Te’o said after the USC win. “That’s our name. It doesn’t matter where we are.”

Te’o will have plenty of help from his fellow teammates, on a defense that is loaded with leaders and playmakers. Stephon Tuitt had 12 sacks and 13 tackles for loss, Prince Shembo had 7 1/2 sacks and 10 1/2 tackles for loss and senior captain Kapron Lewis-Moore contributed six sacks and 8 1/2 tackles for loss.

Notre Dame’s defense led the country this season with 10.3 points allowed per game and was ranked sixth nationally in the FBS with 288.1 yards. With the 303-pound Tuitt and 326-pound nose tackle Louis Nix up front, the Irish may be one of the few teams with a defensive line that can match up with the powerful Alabama offensive line anchored by All-American center Barrett Jones.

Alabama’s (12-1) national title hopes were also hanging in the balance earlier this season after being upset 29-24 by then-No. 15 ranked Texas A&M on Nov. 10. The timely losses by Kansas State and Oregon, though, pushed the Crimson Tide into the No. 2 spot in the BCS rankings on Nov. 18.

They held the No. 2 spot by winning their last three games including having to come from behind to beat Georgia 32-28 in the SEC championship game on Dec. 1. With the Tide down by 11, the Irish faithful almost saw Georgia take Alabama’s place in the national title game but the Crimson Tide proved once again that their veteran leadership knows how to win the big games.

As decisive and powerful as the Irish have been on defense, Alabama has been equally as tough if not better. Alabama was ranked second this season behind Notre Dame with 10.7 points allowed per game and ranked first with 246.0 yards per contest. The Crimson Tide staunch defense recorded 34 sacks, 81 tackles for loss and 17 interceptions.

“I … couldn’t be prouder of what this team has accomplished this season,” Saban said. “We had a young team coming back … and for this team now to have a chance to go back to the national championship game is a little unprecedented.

“They could have taken the idea that ‘Hey, we won it last year, we can take it easy this year,’ but this team made a commitment, did a lot of hard work. It’s a challenge that the coaches accepted and the players accepted, and I just can’t be prouder of a group of guys.”

While the Alabama – Notre Dame matchup could prove to be a low scoring game given the defensive prowess of these teams, Alabama’s offense definitely has an experience advantage over the Notre Dame offense lead by a red shirt freshman quarterback Everett Golson.

Alabama’s 38.5 points per game ranks them 15th in the FBS. Led by sophomore tight end Corey McCarron (26 touchdowns, three interceptions, 173.1 passer rating) and with a ground attack that boasts two 1,000-yard rushers in junior running back Eddie Lacy and freshman running back T.J. Yeldon, the Irish defense will need to be nearly perfect the slow down the Tide offense. The two Alabama backs ran for 27 TDs. The Tide had 10 400 yards games and topped 500 yards four times.

The Crimson Tide had an impressive 512 yards against the Georgia Bulldogs in the SEC championship contest, rushing for a season-high 350 yards.

Notre Dame, on the other hand, has a very young offensive unit lead by freshman quarterback Everett Golson. Golson has done an impressive job this season of running the Notre Dame offense despite his lack of experience. The red shirt freshman threw for 2,135 yards and 11 scores with only five interceptions (131.8 rating) while also rushing for 305 yards and five touchdowns.

Notre Dame’s run-heavy offense was led this year by senior running backs Theo Riddick (880 yards rushing) and Cierre Wood (740). Their veteran experience helped push Notre Dame to the 11th spot in the nation in time of possession at 32 minutes, 34 seconds per game. The Irish averaged 202.5 rushing yards per game.

The Fighting Irish and the Crimson tide have each won eight AP national titles, more than any other college football programs. As college football fans await the meeting of these two storied teams they can only hope the game brings the drama that came the last time they met for a championship. In 1973 a Parseghian-led Irish squad met a Bear Bryant-led Crimson Tide and Notre Dame hung on to beat Alabama by a score of 24-23 in the 1973 Sugar Bowl to win the AP title.

The Irish and the Tide have met six times, five of which have been won by Notre Dame. The last meeting came in 1987, when the Irish rolled the Tide 37-6.

Here come the Irish …