On This Date in Sports January 1, 1979: Chicken Soup for the Win

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Fighting the flu and hypothermia, Joe Montana appears to be done as he sits in the locker, with Notre Dame trailing Houston 34-12 in the Cotton Bowl. However, after downing some Chicken Soup, Montana goes back in the game and leads the Irish to an improbable comeback scoring 23 unanswered points, in the game’s final seven and half minutes as Notre Dame wins the game 35-34.

Coming off their tenth National Championship, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish coached by Dan Devine stumbled out of the gate in 1978, losing the opening game of the season 3-0 at home to Missouri. The also lost the following week in South Bend to Michigan 28-14 to end any chance of back-to-back titles. The Irish would recover to win their next eight games, including a 26-17 win over Pittsburgh, to hand them their first loss of the season. Against USC in the final game of the season, Joe Montana nearly led Notre Dame to a comeback win on the road, as the Irish took a 25-24 lead in the fourth quarter after trailing 24-6. However, the Trojans answered going down the field and kicking a game-winning field goal. USC would use the 27-25 win to capture a chare of the 1978 National Championship.

After an 8-3 regular season, Notre Dame would accept an invitation to the Cotton Bowl in Dallas. It was the second straight appearance in the Cotton Bowl for Notre Dame, who won the National Championship in 1977 after upsetting unbeaten Texas 38-10. The tenth-ranked Fighting Irish would take on the ninth-ranked Houston Cougars in the Cotton Bowl. The Cougars coached by Bill Yeoman won the Southwest Conference with a record of 9-2, going 7-1 in conference play with their only losses coming against Memphis State and Texas Tech.

The weather in Dallas on New Year’s Day was frightful, as it came the day after one of the worst ice storms in the city’s history. Wind chill temperatures were subzero, as the 24-degree temperature was the coldest in the history of the Cotton Bowl. The weather had an impact on attendance as just half of the stadium was filled, despite a sellout being announced, as conditions made many people stay home and watch the game on television.

Notre Dame got off to a good start, scoring the game’s first 12 points on a three-yard run by Joe Montana, and a one-yard run by Pete Buchanan. However, they missed the extra point on both touchdowns. Over the next three quarters, Houston would score 34 unanswered points, as Joe Montana feeling under the weather began to struggle. The Cougars got on the board late in the first quarter as Willis Adams caught a 15-yard pass from Danny Davis. Houston would take the lead in the second quarter on a one-yard run by Randy Love. They extended the lead to 20-12 on a pair of field goals by Kenny Hatfield.

At halftime, doctors advised a flu-ridden Joe Montana to stay in the locker, as he was dangerously close to hypothermia, with a body temperature of 96. To try and get his body temperature back to normal, team trainers covered the Notre Dame quarterback in blankets and fed him a bowl of Chicken Soup. While Montana was in the locker, Davis scored twice in the third quarter to extend Houston’s lead to 34-12.


Montana a fifth-year center in his final collegiate game was feeling good enough and asked to get back in the game midway through the fourth quarter. As he got on the sideline the Irish bench sprung to life, with Steve Crichy returning a blocked a punt for 33 yards to get Note Dame, back in the game, as Montana’s first play was a successful two-point conversion pass to Vagas Ferguson. After a three and out for Houston, Notre Dame quickly got the ball back and cut the deficit to six points on a two-yard run by Joe Montana as he completed a two-point attempt to Kris Haines. The Irish again got the ball back quickly but appeared to have fallen short when Montana fumbled at the Houston 20 with two minutes left. The Irish defense again got the ball back quickly giving Joe Montana one last chance to be the hero at the Houston 29 with 28 seconds left. Montana would take four plays, including a big 11-yard run to get the ball near the goal line, where he hit Haines on an eight-yard touchdown pass as time expired. Looking to win the game Joe Unis needed to hit the extra point a second time after a penalty, but each time it was good as Notre Dame had a 35-34 win.

The win would give birth to the legend of Joe Montana, who after being drafted in the third round by the San Francisco 49ers went on to become one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history, winning four Super Bowls in the 1980s. The game also would go down in Notre Dame lore, proving once again why they are the greatest program in the history of College Football.