As the Longhorns start the new season against Notre Dame, we remember another game against the Fighting Irish 45 years ago and what it meant for Freddie Steinmark, whose historic story will be told on the big screen.
Freddie Steinmark wasn’t wearing his No. 28 jersey, but his presence on the sideline helped inspire his Longhorn teammates to victory over Notre Dame in the 1970 Cotton Bowl.
On New Year’s Day 1970, the eyes of Texas and Americans everywhere were upon the Cotton Bowl, where junior Freddie Steinmark and his Texas Longhorns teammates were about to play Joe Theismann and the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame in an improbable meeting that would crown college football’s 100th anniversary. A two-year starter at safety, and the heart of the Texas defense, the small but fearless Steinmark would only be a spectator that day. Just three weeks earlier, after he helped Texas beat Arkansas in the “Game of the Century,” a thrilling, come-from-behind victory that prompted President Nixon to enter Texas’s euphoric locker room and proclaim the Longhorns national champions, a nagging pain in Steinmark’s left leg was discovered to be bone sarcoma. Treatment was fast and severe: The leg was amputated at the hip.
Steinmark—the subject of the biography Freddie Steinmark: Faith, Family, Football (University of Texas Press, September 2015) and My All American, a movie shot in Austin that is scheduled to be released in October, starring Aaron Eckhart as legendary Longhorns coach Darrell K Royal and Finn Wittrock as Steinmark—had wanted to play against Notre Dame more than anything (it had been his dream to play college football for Notre Dame, but the team rejected him because of his size). Notre Dame’s loss was Texas’s gain, and Steinmark vowed that if ever he got the chance to play against the Irish, he’d make sure they rued their mistake. After the amputation, doctors told Steinmark that going to the Cotton Bowl was impossible. Yet, there he was on the sideline with his teammates, cheering them on and steadying himself with crutches.
The Longhorns prevailed. In the emotion-filled Texas locker room afterward, Coach Royal presented the game ball to Steinmark, who died a year and a half later. When reporters asked Steinmark how he felt that day after the victory, he called it “the greatest day of my life.”