Justice Served: Rocket Finally in the Hall of Fame

To me, Rocket Ismail is the embodiment of Notre Dame football. I was a bit too young to live through the Tim Brown era–and while I have vague memories of the 1988 National Championship–it had already been placed in my brain that winning was normal for the Fighting Irish. To be expected, right?

Tuesday, January 1, 1991 is the first concrete memory I have of watching a Notre Dame game from start to finish. In a few weeks I’d be turning 9 years old and the combined experience of joy turned to disbelief presented at the end of the ’91 Orange Bowl couldn’t have been a more apt introduction to the decades of fandom to come.

After a far too long wait, Rocket Ismail will finally be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame 28 years after his final game at Notre Dame and a punt return touchdown that never was.

Rocket had a curious career insofar as looking back through the media guides you might be not be able to understand his true impact in college while his professional career started out in the CFL and away from the brighter lights of the NFL. He was the type of athlete that didn’t always fit well in to the early Holtz option offenses as evidenced by Ismail not receiving a single carry from scrimmage as a freshman. He scored 15 total touchdowns in his career, including just 8 scores from scrimmage, and finished his 3 years with 2,580 total yards from scrimmage. Five players in history, including Christian McCaffrey a few years ago, had more yards from scrimmage in one season.

However, Rocket fully lived up this name as someone who wasn’t around very long but when he touched the ball he was full of fireworks powered by jet fuel. His speed and acceleration were legendary, allowing him to be only the 4th two-sport All-American in Notre Dame history with a 6.07 time in the indoor 55 meter race, better speed than the likes of Bo Jackson, Willie Gault, Darrell Green, and Notre Dame’s own Allen Rossum. Ismail ran a 4.27 time in the 40-yard dash during the NFL Combine–one of the best marks of all-time–and is said to have ran a 4.18 40-yard dash on campus for scouts. Whether the last figure is accurate has been a debate for years.

Either way, Rocket was special for how well his track speed translated to the football field. No one before or since has got to the edge of the defense and raced past defenders quite like #25 for the Irish.

His numbers are best digestible in his averages. As a runner he posted 7.7 yards per carry on 131 carries and 22.0 yards per reception on 71 career catches. As a punt returner he averaged 13.4 yards and as a kick returner 27.6 yards. Any of these stats by themselves would’ve made Rocket a great college player but packaging it all together is what made him special.

When I close my eyes and think about Notre Dame, he’ll always be the first player who pops in to my head. In a way, I’m glad he Rocket didn’t come around when I was older and able to watch every single second of his career unfold from when he was in high school and onward. I’d probably be complaining about his lack of efficiency running the football! Keeping that childhood mythical status is just perfect.

Congratulations to Rocket on being Notre Dame’s 47th player inducted into the Hall of Fame.

By |2019-01-07T20:28:27+00:00January 8th, 2019|Football|16 Comments

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ClearwallAndy RobertskiwifanThe Guys Get Shirtsjuicebox Recent comment authors
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More Noise
More Noise

Eric — terrific news, and great reporting. Unlike you, I was already an older fellow when Rocket appeared — but honestly, it was the same magic. Yeah, the two kickoff returns against scUM were wonderful — but the one that did it for me was the KO return against the Canes in ND Stadium, he was right in front of me when he kind of stumbled for a split second, then just… turned on those afterburners. Like he speeded up and the Convicts oops Canes stayed on regular speed. Truly special and I am so glad his brand of pixie dust “illuminated” the young Murtaugh (much to all our benefit if it helped you become our Founder!)

Concrete Charlie
Concrete Charlie

I was going to post about that 1990 game against Miami and you beat me to it. I was probably siting somewhere behind you among a bunch of Miami fans in the North end zone. They used to split opposing fans up back then…some in SE corner, some in North.

Anyhoo, he had been thrashing them in the first half but had to leave because of illness. When the teams came out for the second half all the Miami fans were celebrating because he wasn’t on the field. Then he trotted out of the tunnel, set up for the kick return, and BOOM.

More Noise
More Noise

Charlie,
Thanks for reminding me about the illness. I was basically not far behind the Miami bench and I remember seeing Rocket come out and I looked at the Miami team, and you could tell they were a’buzzin’… then WHAMMO!
Getting back to modern days… hey 18 Stripes recruiting gods, is there that speed around and can we get some? I miss Will Fuller actually…

Clearwall
Clearwall

E, your ND fandom apparently completely mirrors mine. Rocket was my first athlete I had a sports crush on and I feel exactly the same way you do about him. As a 9 year old in 1991 seeing him dominate the way he did gave him godlike powers in my mind. That never changed through my entire life. I still hold him up on a major pedestal and he’s my all-time favorite Irish player.

*site question*
I am unable to see a “post comment” button when I simply create a new comment. It only comes up when I reply. What’s going on there?

ND-Atl

Like More Noise below, I was fortunate to have a front row seat to rocket’s exploits on the football field and on the track. the laws of physics never seem to apply to him, there was no acceleration, he was just at top speed. I can only imagine what it would be like if rocket played in a modern spread offense or if he had the benefit of a quarterback who could actually throw,

I am glad he is finally in and I can stop griping about how long they made him wait. He was eligible for 18 years, should have been in year one.

tlndma
tlndma

Oh, what I’d give to see Bo kick it to him one more time.

Congratulations Rocket. It should not have taken near this long.

hooks orpik
hooks orpik

Great tribute! Also one of the first players I ever remember and definitely had that mystique as a kid. Glad he’s finally getting in.

juicebox
juicebox

Off topic:
Is Kliff Kingsbury really gone from USC already?
https://sports.yahoo.com/report-kliff-kingsbury-become-head-coach-arizona-cardinals-200738798.html

I am having a hard time believing that a guy who couldn’t win at a lower level school was getting that much attention from the NFL. Can anyone confirm if this is for real?

juicebox
juicebox

And Matt LaFleur is going to be the new Packer’s coach? What is happening????

hooks orpik
hooks orpik

Everyone wants to find the new Matt Nagy who was the new Sean McVay who was the new Kyle Shanahan. The young, sleek, “cool” coach with the perception of being an offensive/QB guru is definitely en vogue big time right now thanks to the success of those guys – especially McVay.

Pretty astounding though that you can get fired for being a mediocre Texas Tech coach and end up the head coach of the NFL so soon.

Also a Nelson Muntz HA-HA at SC for losing their fancy OC in 32 days flat.

Concrete Charlie
Concrete Charlie

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The Guys Get Shirts
The Guys Get Shirts

I think I posted this once on the old site, but I’m going to post it again here. There are very few pieces of sports journalism that I’ve enjoyed more than this: https://www.si.com/vault/1989/09/25/120610/the-light-and-the-lightning-notre-dame-sophomore-raghib-ismail-has-brilliant-speed-on-the-football-field-but-he-is-if-anything-more-dazzling-off-it

First taste’s free:
“‘I’ve always been different, anywhere I’ve been,’ says Raghib. ‘So really, strange as this sounds, this is familiar to me. I thank Almighty God for the chance to come here.’ Then he says, ‘I don’t know what Almighty God really prefers to be called, and neither do you. I am just a young man. Some things are not for me to know yet. But I do know that this feeling is in me when I try my best, run my fastest. It is a gift. When I run, I try and run like the wind because I know someone is watching me from the sky. And I hope the goodness I feel in me will stay when I stop running.'”

More Noise
More Noise

Fabulous read, thanks!!

kiwifan
kiwifan

He’s in my personal ND Pantheon, along with Montana, Bettis, Rice and Zorich.

Andy Roberts

I was only 4 when Rocket played his last game at ND, but somehow he still grabbed a hold on me. I remember being fired up beyond belief when he signed as a free agent with Carolina (my NFL team). I’ve probably watched many of his biggest highlights – the Colorado return that wasn’t, the Michigan returns, the Miami return, the Tennessee end around – 100+ times. I’ve loved every ND player since that could pull off even the palest imitation of him – Rossum, Getherall, Golden Tate, and the like.

We always talk about guys being one of a kind but there’s never been anyone like the Rocket.

kiwifan
kiwifan

Boy, that’s the truth, one of a kind for sure.

Wish I were 4 then. I’d be a lot younger.