One of the abiding pleasures of a football weekend at Notre Dame used to be the pep rally in the Old Fieldhouse, that drafty, dirty, airplane hangar of a building where the Irish once played basketball. There was always a lot of singing and shouting and for the really big games, the ones against Purdue or Southern Cal, there was always a special emotional treat, like Pat O'Brien showing up to do his Rockne thing again.
A few decades of Notre Dame victories were foretold in that old gym but, alas, now it is gone. After the school's new multimillion-dollar Athletics and Convocation Center was built, the Old Fieldhouse was deemed no longer useful and an eyesore besides, and it was ordered torn down. This year the pep rallies will be held in the antiseptic atmosphere of the new Convocation Center, and if the rallies will just not be the same, one thing will be—the power and the glory of the Notre Dame football team.
Last season the Irish had a typical 8-1-1 season, but this was generally deprecated because Notre Dame played only two top teams—-Purdue and Southern Cal—and failed to beat either. But in the Cotton Bowl, their first postseason appearance in 45 years, the Irish muffled their critics.
Now, with 24 lettermen back from that team, Coach Ara Parseghian should be able to deliver the Irish into another bowl—if bowls are still In with the Notre Dame hierarchy and if their beefed-up schedule permits. Besides Purdue (which has won three straight from the Irish) and Southern Cal, Notre Dame has replaced two easy marks—Tulane and Air Force—with Louisiana State and Missouri.
Although the Irish will be hard put to replace the likes of Tackle Mike McCoy (a consensus All-America) and Linebacker Bob Olson (who holds the school record for career tackles), Notre Dame still has its usual full complement of talented individuals. Split End Tom Gatewood is a swift, sure-handed pass receiver and Halfback Denny Allan is an inside running threat. And in Guard Larry DiNardo, who spent part of the summer touring the Vietnam war zone, Notre Dame has someone who can lead sweeps for Quarterback Joe Theismann, the skinny little fellow (6', 170) who has been destined for great things ever since he first set foot in the office of Publicity Man Roger Valdiserri.
"Son, how do you pronounce your name?" asked Valdiserri.
"Thees-man," said Theismann.
"Nope, from now on it's Thighs-man," said the P.R. man, "just like in Heisman."
Indeed, the young man from South River, N.J. is a strong contender for college football's top award, as befits someone who became the first quarterback since the storied Harry Stuhldreher to lead Notre Dame into a bowl. In his 14 starts the Irish have won 10, lost two and tied two. And Theismann has personally completed more than 55% of his passes, rushed for more than 600 yards and even caught a TD pass. With credentials like those the folks in South Bend are even willing to overlook the fact that Theismann belongs to the First Reform Church of South River. "Of course," says Joe, almost apologetically, "I go to mass more than a lot of Catholics."
Most of the teams on Notre Dame's schedule should go to mass before facing the Irish. Even without the Old Fieldhouse, Notre Dame still will be, well, Notre Dame.