NFF College Football Hall of Fame Class of 2015: Thom Gatewood
ASN will profile all 17 new members in advance of the Dec. 8 NFF awards dinner in New York City.
Thom Gatewood started his rise from a backup running back to a starting star receiver at Notre Dame by lobbying the coaching staff in spring practice early in his career. Hall of Fame Coach Ara Parseghian finally had heard enough of Gatewood saying that his talents were being wasted at tailback. So, he gave the 6-2, 190-pounder from Baltimore a chance at split end.
Parseghian paired Gatewood up with starting quarterback Joe Theismann (a 2003 Hall of Fame inductee) to run a few routes. Because Gatewood didn’t know any of the plays, Theismann whispered them in his ear like they were in a pickup game. A crowd of players gathered around to watch the experiment.
“Fortunately, for me, I ran under everything he threw long, caught short routes, crossing routes, beat zone coverage, held my own in one-on-one situations, and we even improvised a few routes,” Gatewood said. “A week later I moved to wide receiver and found myself listed as the No. 6 split end. Each practice gave me more confidence, and I was on my way toward an opportunity to move up the ladder.”
Gatewood said that once he and Theismann developed “the rhythm of each other’s mechanics and how well we both could read defenses, we were on our way to obliterating the Notre Dame record books.” In 1970, Gatewood-Theismann would spark Notre Dame to a then school-record 252.7 yards passing a game. Gatewood, who played only three varsity seasons, held several Notre Dame receiving records for more than 30 years after his college career ended.
“Parseghian came up with using me as his ‘possession down’ receiver in an unique manner, and I became known as the ‘swinging gate,’” Gatewood said, “because like a gate on hinges, I always started out in a fixed position, but on any given play I could move and line up or shift to various spots on the field. This made it more and more difficult to double and triple (team) me.”
Over his three varsity seasons, Notre Dame posted a 26-5-1 record. In Gatewood’s sophomore season of 1969, Notre Dame ended a 45-year bowl ban and played Texas in the Cotton Bowl, where Gatewood caught six passes for 112 yards in the 21-17 loss to the top-ranked Longhorns. A 54-yard pass from Theismann to Gatewood temporarily gave Notre Dame a 10-0 lead
“I think the Cotton Bowl organizers didn’t really think we would actually match up as well with Texas as well as we did,” Gatewood said.
Notre Dame would move through the 1970 season unbeaten until losing to USC in the regular-season finale. Then, in a Cotton Bowl rematch, Notre Dame snapped Texas’ 30-game winning streak, 24-11, as Gatewood caught an early 26-yard score from Theismann, popping his hamstring on the play and basically ending his day. The Irish defense did the rest in knocking Texas from the ranks of the unbeaten.
Gatewood, who is one of three Notre Dame football players who have doubled as Hall of Famers and NFF National Scholar Athletes, played for the New York Giants during parts of two seasons. Currently, he is owner and president of Blue Atlas Productions, a promotional products distributor, and a co-owner of Larkspur Lane, LTD., a video television production company that has won several Emmys and Peabody Awards.
Above: Thom Gatewood's early lobbying of coach Ara Parseghian paid off when along with Joe Theismann they became one of the most productive offensive pairings ever for the Irish.