Notre Dame may not be perfect, but as the authors of Under the Tarnished Dome: How Notre Dame Betrayed Its Ideals for Football Glory are learning, it is very, very good. The school's response to the book, a highly critical look at the Irish football program under coach Lou Holtz that was released last week, was so swift, so deftly orchestrated and so scathing that writer Don Yaeger (his coauthor is SI senior writer Douglas S. Looney) was shaken.
"I told a friend I felt like I should move in with Salman Rushdie," Yaeger said as the Notre Dame attacks on his and Looney's "motives and methodology" poured forth. "He told me, I don't think Salman would want to be near you.' "
Yet, for all the fuss the book has brought, Notre Dame has faced such scrutiny before. Much of the material most quoted by the media, that dealing with steroid use among Irish players, echoes an SI article written by former Notre Dame player Steve Huffman (Aug. 27, 1990), who alleged widespread steroid abuse under Holtz. Likewise, the book's portrayal of Holtz as callous and blind to players' injuries, mirrors the image projected in Huffman's article. Notre Dame responded to the Huffman story three years ago with self-righteous denials, characterizing the charges as the lashing out of a disgruntled player.
What is different this time is that Yaeger and Looney have gotten scores of former Irish players to buttress Huffman's observations. In fact, says Yaeger, many sources agreed to talk because they were offended by Notre Dame's response to the Huffman piece. Yaeger says the book grew out of a phone call from an Irish player who took exception to Yaeger's praise of the Notre Dame program in his 1990 book on the NCAA, Undue Process; he and Looney interviewed 84 players, says Yaeger, all on the record, and "90 percent of them" on tape. And while there were some positive voices, the testimony in Tarnished Dome clearly paints the picture of a program that, if not yet renegade, is no longer holier than thou—or even than Miami or Oklahoma.
The book links the decay of Notre Dame's standards to Holtz's arrival in South Bend from Minnesota in 1985. Under Holtz's predecessor, Gerry Faust, the Irish had gone a dismaying 30-26-1. Notre Dame was ready for a big-time college coach who knew how to win. Holtz delivered the goods, including a national championship in 1988. But, the book argues, Notre Dame sold its soul to achieve this. Besides steroid use, say Yaeger and Looney's sources, there was classroom cheating, double standards for football admissions and booster handouts.
The Irish's response to the book has been predictably hard-line. Holtz says he hasn't read it and refuses to discuss any of the allegations for fear of distracting his team. Notre Dame executive vice-president Rev. E. William Beauchamp served as the university's front man when the networks lobbed their questions last week: NBC, which has a five-year, $38 million contract to televise Irish football games, barely mentioned the book during last Saturday's telecast of Notre Dame's season opener against Northwestern; ABC sent Notre Dame alum Mary Ann Grabavoy to South Bend to ask Beauchamp a few gentle questions.
In an interview with SI, Beauchamp said that "the whole premise upon which this book was written is false." He cited Notre Dame's own investigations into steroid abuse and its own exit polls of players; the school's findings don't square with what was published.
Moreover, he said, Notre Dame has been hearing from sources in the book who claim they were "misrepresented." Beauchamp said these reactions were not orchestrated, though he admits that the school sent some former players copies of their quotes, asking, "Are you aware of how you're quoted?"
The effect of such a question must have been powerful. One former player, John Askin, wrote to the university to say he was "blackmailed into the interview" and "would never have allowed [Yaeger] to use my good name to promote a TRASH book." Yaeger calls the Askin letter especially curious. He says he has his original interview with Askin on tape. Further, he says that in March he discussed all of Askin's quotes with him and that on Aug. 29 he sat down at Askin's dining room table to go over the book. Askin, says Yaeger, told him, "I'm proud of what I said in the book." Askin's letter to the university was dated the next day. Askin could not be reached for comment last weekend.
Still, one can understand Notre Dame's alarm. The claims of steroid abuse and player abuse will be denied and in time forgotten. And Notre Dame will continue to win because Holtz can virtually guarantee that. But what might not be forgotten under the weight of all this testimony is something that former player Tom Riley said to the authors: "What separates Notre Dame now from any other school? Absolutely nothing."
A Mile Ahead
The time, 3:44.39, should astonish everyone. But no one should be the least bit surprised that when Steve Cram's eight-year-old world mile record of 3:46.32 finally fell, on Sunday in Rieti, Italy, it was to Nourredine Morceli. Though only 23, Morceli, a slightly built Algerian, has dominated the middle distances for the past four years. Indeed, shortly after Morceli burst onto the scene in 1990, former mile record holder John Walker of New Zealand, looking ahead to the '92 Olympics, said he could see no one beating Morceli in the 1,500 meters, the metric equivalent of the mile. "The only reason he hasn't broken the mile record already," added Walker, "is he races too often."
Walker has now been proved wrong on both counts. Morceli finished seventh in Barcelona, the victim of injury and bad tactics. Since then he has seemed bent on avenging that upset. He set his first outdoor world record four weeks later, running 3:28.86 for the 1,500. This year he has maintained a staggering schedule, narrowly missing his 1,500 mark in June, winning the world championship 1,500 in August and twice coming within a second of Cram's mile record, before shattering it under perfect conditions in Italy.
What's most astounding is that Morceli has done what he has without the goad of a real rival. "Most great milers through the ages have had someone at least in the neighborhood," says Craig Masback, a former 3:52 miler who now works as a TV commentator. "Ryun had Keino. Ovett and Coe had each other, and Cram had Aouita. Morceli is all by himself."
Though Malik Jackson, a standout strong safety on the Rutgers football team, was charged with robbery and aggravated assault following the June 23 mugging of a 21-year-old man in New Brunswick, N.J. (SCORECARD, July 26), Scarlet Knight coach Doug Graber refused to suspend him. "I know this young man; he's not capable of doing what he was accused of," said Graber, who allowed Jackson to continue practicing with the Knights while free on $25,000 bond.
Graber's faith was rewarded last Thursday, just two days before Rutgers' season opener against Colgate, when the Middlesex County prosecutor dropped all charges against Jackson after a grand jury determined that the arrest was a case of mistaken identity. The jury based its findings on two lie-detector tests that Jackson passed, as well as on phone records and a long list of witnesses who supported Jackson's assertion that he was in his dorm room studying on the night of the attack. Why was Jackson arrested in the first place? When a witness to the attack told police the assailants were "athletic-looking, well-built" young men, the police, in a curious bit of investigative procedure, got out the Rutgers football media guide, whereupon the witness pointed the finger at Jackson.
"This was very troubling to be falsely accused," said a relieved Jackson. "But I'm confident I can put this behind me. Now I'm going to concentrate on football and winning games." He got a fine start on Saturday, with four tackles, including a sack, in Rutgers' 68-6 rout of Colgate.
A new book charges Holtz with debasing the Irish's standards.
AP PHOTO/BRUNO MOSCONI(MORCELI)
Morceli broke the mile record by 1.93.
JAMES PERCIVAL/CYCLONE ILLUSTRATED(SCOREBOARD)
Iowa State quarterback Bob Utter had a pretty good night last Thursday. Before a crowd of 35,706 in Ames, Iowa, Utter completed seven of nine passes for 206 yards and three touchdowns and ran for another TD as the Cyclones beat Northern Illinois 54-10. And then he really scored. When the game ended Utter scrambled into the stands and headed for section 23, row 4. There, he dropped to one knee and proposed to girlfriend Sara Barber.
To make sure his intended receiver got the message, Utter had arranged for the scoreboard to back him up (above). When Barber accepted, her "yes" was also flashed to the cheering crowd.
The wedding date hasn't been set yet, but it looks like Utter can count on at least one reception in the future.
The Ol' Pigskin?
The current Harper's magazine provides a statistical comparison that could force a revision in accepted gridiron lingo: "Estimated number of cows it takes to supply the 22,000 footballs the NFL uses each season: 3,000. Number of pigs: 0."
They Said It
•Jeff Russell, current Boston Red Sox reliever and former Texas Ranger, after closing out a Sox win at Texas: "Some of the Arlington Stadium fans still remembered me. They gave me a standing boo."
•Wellington Mara, owner of the New York Giants, on who might be his team's most valuable player this season: "Our club already has its MVP: John Elway. Without Elway we never would have been able to get Dan Reeves as a coach."
•Jeff Reboulet, Minnesota Twin third baseman, when asked, after recently hitting his first homer of the season, if he had pointed to the leftfield bleachers before he connected: "No, I pointed to the dugout—where I usually go after I bat."