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Notre Dame's Pat Terrell On Excelling Under Pressure In Football And Business

November 12,2017 00:19

If he hadn't made that play, the hype around the Notre Dame-Miami game wouldn't be the same. It might not even exist. Pat Terrell batted down Miami's two-point conversion pass. He secured Notre Dame's 31-30 victory in the legendary game, the one ...and more »



Notre Dame Athletic Communications

Pat Terrell saves the Notre Dame win in 1988.

If he hadn't made that play, the hype around the Notre Dame-Miami game wouldn't be the same. It might not even exist.
Pat Terrell batted down Miami's two-point conversion pass. He secured Notre Dame's 31-30 victory in the legendary game, the one dubbed "Catholic vs. Convicts" because of a bootleg student-made t-shirt. The Fighting Irish ended the No. 1-ranked Hurricanes' 36-game regular season winning streak and went on to win the national championship.
After Notre Dame, Terrell played nine years in the NFL for the Rams, Jets, Panthers and Packers. He became a commercial airlines pilot after football. Now, he is the president and CEO of Terrell Materials, a heavy highway construction company in Chicago where one of his projects included building a runway at O'Hare International Airport. 
In an interview with Forbes, he answered questions about preparing for big moments, managing the highs and lows of football and life and how playing in pressure-filled games has helped him excel in business.
Q: When you played in the '88 Notre Dame-Miami game that was just your second start at safety. The week before at Pittsburgh was bit rough. What was your approach to preparing for such a big game and big opportunity against the No. 1 team in the country?
Terrell: It was in fact my second start, but I had a lot of playing time in the nickel and dime defenses. Having the film from the Pitt game was very important to me to correct any mistakes that I made against the Panthers. My position coach Chuck Heater and my defensive coordinator Barry Alvarez were key to getting me up to speed. Probably the best thing they did for me was to tell me to relax and play fast and aggressive.
Q: You beat Miami in ‘88 and go on to win the national championship. You lose to the Hurricanes in ‘89, ending the Notre Dame’s longest winning streak, and Miami goes on to win the championship. How do you manage the highs and lows of football? And in life?
Terrell: Losing to Miami was definitely the toughest loss of my college career. Miami was a great team, but I still feel that we beat ourselves. We were an even more talented team that year than in '88. What I am proud of is that we stayed positive and focused. We beat the No.1-ranked team in the country in the Orange Bowl later that season. We went to bed that night with the best record in college football that season at 12-1. We thought we won our second national championship! The following morning we found out that the 11-1 Canes were GIVEN the title even though they were beat by a two-loss Florida State team during the season.
In business, sporting sneers teach us a lot of lessons. You work your guts out on a task that you can control and don't fret about the things you can't control. We never went into the tank after our loss. If we did, we wouldn't have had a chance against No. 1 Colorado.
One more thing. Our school-record win streak was due to many factors. We had great leadership from our coach, Lou Holtz. He kept us focused on the formula for success. His attention to detail, no matter how insignificant the task, allowed us to execute with confidence and precision. In sports and in business, when you're properly prepared, you execute with confidence and great things happen.
Q: How did playing on big pressure-filled stages prepare you for business and life after football?
Terrell: You don't choose to go to Notre Dame to be average or just fit in. Not all NFL players played at big schools, but there is a lot less guess work when evaluating talent when players excel against competition that is most similar to the NFL. Additionally, there is a phrase that many players like to quote: "Big time players make big time plays in big time games." That works in sports, business and life.
I was fortunate to be coached by one of the best at one of the best universities. Lou Holtz was consistent in his strategies to win. He taught life lessons that were applied to football, "Do the right thing. Do the best you can, and always show people you care." Notre Dame helped instill leadership and ethics. Today, as a CEO, I know playing football on that big stage and in those big games taught me so much. People will always look at how you handle adversity and how you handle success. As a business leader, it is important that my team sees my vision and believes in it.  When that is done, people can prioritize the efforts needed to win. WIN, as coach Holtz would say, "What's Important Now?" Clearly, football has taught me that the better prepared you are the luckier you become.  There are no shortcuts!
Where the Notre Dame-Miami rivalry started: 

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