At Texas, they call it the Attack Squad, because that is what happens to the poor young souls asked to play against the Long-horns varsity first team.
At Notre Dame, the same unit is known as the Prep Team. "Prep" is short for preparation, and unfortunate freshmen scrubs had better be prepared to take a lick or three everyday from their older teammates.
"You'd run a play, come down the line and you'd really get popped by the varsity defense," Notre Dame quarterback Joe Montana said today. "They hit you hard, then they laugh and help you up."
Montanas and hin Texas counterpart, Randy McEachern, spent many hours posing as human tackling cummies for their respective schools. Both young men says they will never forget the bone-rattling experience, even as they prepare for a Cotton Bowl confrontation here Monday.
They are so alike in so many ways, and each man has come a long way since those dreary days.
They are starters now, but each man began his college football career as the last quarterback on the depth chart.
Each man also spent a full season recovering from a debilitating injury. Each man came off the benchto perform major miracles this season. And each man carries a weighty burden into this Cotton Bowl affair.
"What's it like being the quarterback at Notre Dame?" tight and Ken MacAfee asked rhetorically. "Well, every year you're expected to either go undefeated or win the national championship. I think that just about says it all."
And what sort of pressure does a young man face when all the eyes of Texas are watching him direct an undefeated team with visions of a national title?" "If you think about stuff like that," McEachern said today, "you'll drive yourseld crazy. Sure there 's pressure. I just thank the coaches for having enough faith to stick with me and let me play."
The Texas coaches no doubt also are thankful that McEachern never became discouraged enough to give up football. They gave him enough cause.
As a freshman, McEachern helped run the Attack Squad with a half dozen other young quarterbacks. As a sophomore, he was redshirted but still made all the trips as a third quarterback, in case of injury to the first two.
"It was fun to fly around the country." he said, "but ut was awfully frustrating to suit up for every game knowing there was no way they'd play you. You'd work out all the week, then stand around on the sideline and feel completely helpless."
He had that very same feeling as ajunior after undergoing knee surgery that ended his season. So, in 1976. McEachern watched the longhorns from a radio booth , serving as a spotter for the Texas radio network.
McEachern seemed destined for more frustration in 1977. Once again, he began the season as Texas's No. 3 quarterback. But in the first period of that annual insanity known as the O'Klahoma gave, the Longhorn's first quarterbacks went down with serious injuries.
Enter McEachern, before a packed and howling house. The Sooner partisans were howling for blood; the Texas crowd hoping for a miracle.
"Yeah, I was shaking pretty bad when I walked out there," he said. "But after the first lick, I was fine." The same could not be said for Oklahoma. McEachern directed his team on an 80-yard scoring drive just before the half and Texas held on for a 13-6 victory.
The following week, McEachern brought Texas back in fourth quarter for a tense 13-9 vistory in a nationally televised game against Houston.
He suffered a knee injury, but came back in the season finale to throw four touchdown passes, tying a school record, as Texas completed as 11-0 regular season with a stunning 57-28 rout of Texas A&M.
"It really has been a dream come true," he says now. "I'm still not sure all of this is happening to me. Oh, yeah, it's really changed my life. I'm finding out I-ve got a lot more friends than I ever knew before. I guess it makes everything worth it, but there definitely are times when I got kind of despressed.
"I know this; next spring (his fifth year ofeligibility because of his junior-year injury), there'll be six or seven guys I'll have to beat out to keep my job. At Texas, that never changes."
Montana of Notre Dame experienced many of the same agonies. As a freshman, he guided the Prep Team against the varsity defense and neveer made the travelling squad.
He did see some action as a sophomore, directing come-from-behind victories over Air Force and North Carolina. But there was also talk in South Bend that coach Dan Devine and Montana didn't get along especially well, something the quarterback now vehemently denied.
"We never had any problems," he said. "I don't know where that got started."
A week before the 1976 season-opener, Montana had another major setback when teammate Willie Frye tackled him in a scrimmage and helped separate the quarterback's shoulder. Montana missed the entire season and feared for his football career.
"It was the first injury I'd ever had," he said. "I was pretty scared."
And yet, there was Montana returning to glory in Notre Dame's hour of greatest need.
It was the third game of the season against Purdue. Notre Dame's first quarterback, Rick Lisch, had been ineffective and was pulled from the game. Number 2 man Gary Forystek suffered a serious shoulder injury late in the third quarter. So Devine turned to Montana, his team trailing, 24-14. "We were kind of excited to see Joe come out," MacAfee said.
"We all remembered what he's had done a couple of years ago. The whole line just picked up. We knew we were going to win."
Montana immediately directed a field-goal drive, then moved his team to two fourth-quarter touchdowns that saved the game and, perhaps, Notre Dame's season.
And so, these two come-all-the-way-back quarterbacks lead their teams into a packed stadium Monday afternoon, with 75,000 in the stands and millions more watching on television.
"I can't wait," said Joe Montana.
"It's a lot more fun than the Attack Squad," said Randy McEaschern.