Tom Domin has something on his right hand that very few, if any, high school athletic directors have. He wears a college football national championship ring. Domin, the new Co-Interim Assistant Principal for Athletics at Riverside Brookfield High School, was a starter on the 1977 Notre Dame football team that won the national championship by soundly beating then number one ranked Texas 38-10 in the Cotton Bowl in Dallas on Jan. 2, 1978.
“It’s a highlight,” Domin said. “It’s a memory that doesn’t go away because of the connections that we have.”
The players on the national championship team still try to get together each year at a Notre Dame game and have official reunions every five years.
Domin, who weighed 210 pounds in college, was the starting flanker for Notre Dame in that game and during the entire 1977 season. Domin was primarily a blocker in an era where college football teams ran the ball much more frequently than they do today. He often lined up in a tight wing or slot position like an H back would today.
“I had a lot of blocking responsibilities,” Domin said.
Domin caught only four passes for 51 yards that season as a junior and ran the ball three times for a net gain of two yards, his blocking paved the way for a powerful Notre Dame rushing attack. But one catch Domin made in a nationally televised game against USC is one of the most memorable, if not the most memorable play, of that magical season.
It came in what has become famous as the green jersey game. On Oct. 22, 1978 11th ranked Notre Dame hosted 5th ranked USC in South Bend. Right before kickoff the Irish went back into their locker room and to their surprise they found new green game jerseys hanging in their lockers instead of the their normal home blue jerseys. The players went wild and the captains led out the green clad Irish onto the field between a wooden Trojan horse.
“You can’t even remember how crazy it was,” Domin said. “It just spurred a lot of emotion.”
After Notre Dame quarterback Joe Montana scored on a quarterback sneak to put the Irish up 13-7 in the middle of the second quarter the Irish lined up for the extra point. Domin was in his usual position blocking on the left wing of the formation. But the snap was bad and Ted Bergmeier chased after the ball that got away. He picked it up and reversed field and rolled left. With USC defenders flying at him Bergmeier tossed the ball up into the end zone. Domin straddled the sideline, reached his arms out over the sideline while carefully keeping his toes in the end zone to pull in the ball for the two point conversion. The play helped spark Notre Dame to a 49-19 thrashing of USC and set the tone for the rest of the season.
“He spun out of his scramble and spun left because he’s lefty and I happened to be on the left side so obviously I hung around the sideline until he floated it out there and then it became a tight roping act,” Domin said. “It was obviously pretty exciting because I didn’t get passed to a lot and it wasn’t an expected thing.”
Notre Dame started slow that season struggling to a win against Pittsburgh in the opener and losing the second game of the season on a hot day at Ole Miss.
They trailed Purdue in the third game of the season when Notre Dame head coach Dan Devine yanked quarterback Rusty Lisch. Second team quarterback Gary Forystek replaced Lisch, but quickly injured his shoulder on a hard hit. So Devine turned to his third stringer, a junior named Joe Montana. Montana led the Irish to a comeback victory and quarterbacked the team the rest of the season and after graduating from Notre Dame a year later went on to the San Francisco 49ers whom he led to four Super Bowl victories. Montana is now a member of the NFL Hall of Fame.
What was Montana like in college?
“An absolutely superb guy and competitor; quiet, witty,” Domin said. “He’s got a good sense of humor. He’s one of those guys where good things happened when you played with him. That’s that intangible. The difference was his mind, the coolness under pressure. He had that. That was something you could always count on.”
As a sophomore in 1976 Domin caught the only touchdown pass of his career, a 70 yard pass from Rick Slager in 48-0 win over Northwestern in Evanston. That catch help propel him into a starting role the rest of the season.
Domin missed his senior season when tore the posterior cruciate ligament in his right knee at week or so before the season opener and had to have surgery. His football career was over. His knee was never the same.
After a couple years in sales Domin decided he wanted to coach and got his teaching certificate at UIC and began a 35 year career at his alma mater Willowbrook High School in Villa Park.
Domin is one of the best athletes to ever play for Willowbrook. He played varsity football, basketball and baseball for three years each. As a running back his senior year he rushed for nearly 1,500 yards and led Willowbrook to the semifinals in the first year of the state playoffs where Willowbrook lost to eventual state champion Glenbrook North. As a middle linebacker he set a school record with 120 tackles.
As a senior at Willowbrook Domin was named to an 11 man high school All-America team. He was the first high school player Devine signed at Notre Dame. Domin started out as a running back at Notre Dame, but was moved to the flanker position his sophomore year after not playing as a freshman. He got a chance to play more after the captain of the team was kicked off the team.
“I tell kids you never know how you’re going to start,” Domin said.
At Notre Dame he had to adjust to becoming a blocker instead of the star carrying the ball. In his two year career at Notre Dame he caught 17 passes for 175 yards and that one touchdown. He ran the ball eight times for 20 yards. But 37 years later the statistics don’t matter. The national championship does. He knows that his blocking and his contributions were important.
“I wasn’t disappointed with it because it was a job I could do well,” Domin said. “Obviously it helps when you win and people are getting a lot of yards. You have to be somewhat unselfish.”