(MCT) — Twenty-four years later, it still seems so unlikely. The walk-on placekicker from Kaneohe, Hawaii, standing a mere 5-5 and 135 pounds, with a style as unorthodox as they come, emerging as the hero in a game that jump-started Notre Dame’s last national championship season.
That remarkable Sept. 10, 1988, night at Notre Dame Stadium has since been deemed “The Reggie Ho Game,” a triumph etched in Irish lore. That night, starting his first collegiate game, in front of a national audience, Reggie Ho nailed each of his four field-goal attempts, including a game-winning, 26-yarder with 73 seconds left, to help 13th-ranked Notre Dame knock off No. 9 Michigan, 19-17.
But even now, as he reflects on the game, the always-humble Ho deflects attention.
“It was a team effort. We all won the game together,” says Ho, who has lived in the Philadelphia area for all but two years since graduating from Notre Dame in 1989. “We wouldn’t have won if Ricky Watters didn’t score the touchdown or if the defense didn’t hold at the end. So it was just a nice win for us and the start of our championship season.”
Ho, now 45, works at Philadelphia’s Jefferson University Hospital as a cardiologist specializing in electrophysiology, treating heart rhythm disorders. Occasionally, patients recognize him from his heroics at Notre Dame. And while he may downplay his keynote performance, he does not hide his continuous love for the Fighting Irish, who take a 12-0 record into Monday night’s BCS championship game against Alabama (12-1).
“I’ll be glued to my TV,” he says, smiling.
An avid fan who feels a connection to star linebacker Manti Te’o because of his Hawaiian roots, Ho watches every game and keeps tabs on everything from the day-to-day team news to the latest recruiting scoops. He tries to return to South Bend at least once a year, and this year attended Notre Dame’s Oct. 13 overtime triumph over Stanford.
Growing up in a Catholic family, Ho, who is of Chinese descent, always followed Notre Dame from afar. His older brother, Mark, attended the school, so he followed suit, majoring in pre-professional sciences in the hopes of becoming a doctor like his father, Reginald, an oncologist in Hawaii. His younger siblings, sister Gianna and brother Tim, also would go on to get their college educations in South Bend.
The library was where Ho admittedly spent most of his freshman year. But after earning straight A’s and one A-minus, he realized there was more to the college experience than poring through chemistry books and studying for biology exams. He wanted to do something else, too. A kicker during his time at St. Louis High School in Honolulu, Ho decided he would try out for Lou Holtz’ football team.
He began training again, kicking in the parking lot with some of his friends, practicing kickoffs and aiming at imaginary goalposts. He made the team the spring of his sophomore year and served as Ted Gradel’s backup during an 8-4 season in 1987, booting an extra point in a blowout win over Navy.
When the 1988 season rolled around, he shared kicking duties with Billy Hackett, who handled kickoffs and field goals longer than 40 yards. Against Michigan, the field goal opportunities came from distances of 31, 38, 26 and 26. It was all Ho.
“Going 4-for-4 against Michigan, he kind of became a folk hero, really,” says Blue & Gold Illustrated’s Lou Somogyi, who has covered the Irish since 1985. “That was a national championship performance. You didn’t know it at the time, but as the weeks, months went by it’s like, ‘Wow, this guy came through huge.’”
With the program back in the spotlight this season, Ho’s family, most of which still lives in Hawaii, has found more reason to occasionally reminisce about Reggie’s place in Notre Dame history. Ho’s brother, Tim, remembers watching the ‘88 Notre Dame-Michigan game on a nine-inch black-and-white television in his dorm room at Gonzaga, the school he attended before transferring to Notre Dame.
That night, Ho trotted onto the field to kick his first field goal, a 31-yarder, and displayed his unusual pre-kick routine for the first time. After lining up a few steps behind holder Pete Graham, Ho would swing both arms to his right, wiggle his fingers and then drive through the ball.
“His routine was a normal routine in high school. So when I was watching TV I was like, ‘What’s going on?’” Tim Ho, back in Kaneohe, says with a laugh. “No matter how silly it looks, it worked for him.”
After helping Notre Dame go 12-0, Ho could have returned another season. Yet, he decided to graduate and pursue medical school instead. “What better way to end,” he says, “being undefeated and having started for Notre Dame? I decided that I had a great run and it was time to move on.” He attended medical school at Penn, and aside from a two-year stint in San Francisco in the late ‘90s, has lived in the area ever since.
Ho remembers his time on Notre Dame’s football team fondly, most notably the bond and camaraderie of the team.
“That’s the same way I think we’re kind of like this (2012) team,” he says. “There’s a lot of bonding on that team, which is great. That’s what holds the team together. They all play for each other.”
Ho doesn’t wear his championship ring, but his helmet from the 1988 season is displayed at his home. His No. 2 jersey from the Fiesta Bowl victory over West Virginia is stashed away somewhere, too.
“I walked on with the hopes of just making the team,” he says. “But then to become starting placekicker and then to score points at Notre Dame Stadium, that was quite an honor. It was quite a blessing. I cherish those moments quite well.”