Chris Zorich heard Tom Landry announce his name and he was suddenly the most hyper person in the crowd of 1,000.
"Wow, hold on a second, it feels like I'm about to play a game," Zorich said, his voice choked with emotion, as he stood to accept the Lombardi Award Thursday night as the nation's top collegiate lineman."I apologize. I didn't have a prepared speech," he stammered. "Right now I'm at a loss for words."
Zorich, a finalist for the honor as a junior when Michigan State's Percy Snow was the winner, beat out Outland Trophy winner Russell Maryland of Miami and tackles David Rocker of Auburn and Moe Gardner of Illinois.
"I'm not trying to put the Outland Trophy or the Heisman down, but you've got to understand the person that the Lombardi was named for," Zorich said. "It's such an honor to me. I can't believe I was even considered for it."
Landry, former coach of the Dallas Cowboys, was the featured speaker at the awards dinner honoring Vince Lombardi, the former Green Bay and Washington coach who died of cancer in 1970.
Zorich, a 6-foot-1, 266-pound nose tackle, had 57 tackles, three sacks and 11 tackles for losses for the Fighting Irish this season. He suffered a knee injury against Pittsburgh that threatened the rest of his season. But he rebounded and earned his second Associated Press first-team All-America selection.
"I had a tough time envisioning anything like this after the Pittsburgh game," Zorich said.