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Original Issue

A Read On the Irish

Notre Dame, attacked in a recent book, gave Michigan both chapter and verse

If Notre Dame Football continues to generate books at the current pace, the Library of Congress may want to relocate to South Bend. Already this season three books about the Irish have been published, to add to the considerable shelf of existing literature. The next Notre Dame coach better know his Dewey decimal system as well as his X's and O's.

Actually the current coach, Lou Holtz, pretty much knows where he wants to catalog the new titles. The late athletic director Moose Krause's glowing tribute, Notre Dame's Greatest Coaches—he singles out Knute Rockne, Frank Leahy, Ara Parseghian and Holtz—goes right alongside Holtz's chronicle of the 1988 national championship season. Less prominently displayed would be Shake Down the Thunder: The Creation of Notre Dame Football, a more objective look at the legend of Knute Rockne. According to its author, Murray Sperber, Rockne bet on his own team, and the academic transcript of George Gipp was blank for two years.

As for Under the Tarnished Dome: How Notre Dame Betrayed Its Ideals for Football Glory, Holtz (and the rest of Notre Dame) wants to file it under the rug. The book, published last week, with its allegations of steroid abuse, player abuse and double standards for athletes, has left Holtz increasingly wan and drawn, and frustrated by a university-imposed gag order that has prevented him from commenting on it. Whatever review he would like to give Under the Tarnished Dome, he is forced to mutter over and over, "I have not read the book, I will not read the book..." and look straight ahead, like a man who has found out his dog died.

Even while preparing for Michigan, which hadn't lost in a couple of years and planned to contend for the national championship, Holtz was being asked about "distractions." Even as Holtz was downplaying his team's chances—the offense, sans NFL-starter Rick Mirer, was suspect after a weak showing against Northwestern in the season opener, and Holtz was the first to point this out—he was being asked about supposed failures in policy detailed in Tarnished Dome. "I have not read the book," he intoned.

Even last Saturday, after his team had beaten Michigan 27-23, and after a quarterback who has still not won the Irish starting job had passed for 208 yards and run for 66 more and two touchdowns, somebody asked Holtz about "distractions." Poor guy. Holtz stared straight ahead and said, "I have not...."

However, if the Irish play many games like Saturday's, the publishing industry will return to its traditional job of raiding Notre Dame for inspirational material, and Holtz can give heartfelt reviews. This game will certainly be a central chapter.

Notre Dame was a decided underdog against the Wolverines, but not because of distractions. The Irish didn't have a satisfactory offensive line, end to end, and quarterback Kevin McDougal had received more fame as a teenage motocross racer than as a passer. McDougal wasn't exactly a brand name when he was recruited along with B.J. Hawkins and Clint Johnson to sit behind Mirer for three seasons. Holtz was apparently so unfamiliar with McDougal that he once identified him by consolidating all his quarterbacks' names. He called him Clint McHawkins.

Even in this, his senior year, McDougal was scheduled for backup duties. Freshman Ron Powlus so bedazzled Notre Dame coaches in preseason practice that he was almost sure to start, until he was lost for up to three months with a cracked collarbone in the team's final scrimmage. After Powlus's injury, McDougal was still only tabbed to share time with junior Paul Failla. "It gets frustrating at times," McDougal said last week.

He had been less than spectacular against Northwestern, which the Irish beat 27-12. And Holtz's enthusiasm for the passing game was revealed when he permitted McDougal and Failla to team up for 11 passes against the Wildcats. When asked about his offense, Holtz said, "Yeah, it looks scary right now." You had the feeling that Holtz wanted to watch McDougal the same way McDougal's mother does. "She comes to games," McDougal says, "but closes her eyes."

If Holtz wasn't reading Tarnished Dome, he apparently was reading other discouraging material. News of Michigan's new Fab Five, a collection of speedy receivers who were going to make quarterback Todd Collins famous, was positively dispiriting. Holtz did not regard Collins, by the way, as a desperate replacement for Elvis Grbac. Collins may have been an upgrade. And Tyrone Wheatley? With 117 yards rushing in Michigan's opening win over Washington State, he topped 2,000 for his career, and he's only a junior. "That's a big-play football team," Holtz said of the Wolverines.

His own team might eventually have as good a running game as the Irish had three years ago, he said. But Michigan.... "We may not be good enough to beat Michigan. Maybe nobody is."

Wolverine coach Gary Moeller was unimpressed by Holtz's blather. In the three years since Bo Schembechler left, Moeller has endured three wild and often unsatisfying games with the Irish. "It's always something," Moeller said, recounting one strange finish after another in their 1-1-1 series. "And you never know, their team could come together this week."

Because of...? "You know, the distractions."

Who knows what motivated Notre Dame? Holtz allowed as how he had a little meeting with his seniors on Thursday morning, but he wouldn't say regarding what. Perhaps Gipp, on his deathbed, had told Holtz, "Lou, someday when the boys are down...." Who knows? Linebacker Pete Bercich said it was "more of a manor-mouse type of thing."

But there was some uplift to go along with the challenge. "A tears-in-the-eye type of thing, too," said Bercich. "I was as fired up as I've ever been. I can't say I was angry as much as—well, angry, I guess."

Underdog, beleaguered and, yes, angry with a tear in the eye, the Irish were awesome to behold. Unmindful of the 106,851 fans in Michigan Stadium, another NCAA record, Notre Dame stormed for a score on its first possession. On the final two plays of the drive, McDougal floated a seven-yard pass to tailback Lee Becton, then ran the option 43 yards for the touchdown. Neither McDougal nor Failla—who was kept out of the game because of a hand injury—has "a feel for the option," according to Holtz. Powlus certainly did. Yet there was McDougal skittering down the sideline.

On Notre Dame's next possession, McDougal lofted a 43-yard pass deep to Johnson, the onetime quarterback and now wideout, to set up a first-quarter field goal. A one-minute drill by McDougal pushed the Irish to a 24-10 lead at half-time, by which point he had passed for 137 yards and run for 69. After that, Holtz admitted later, he "buttoned up" the offense prematurely, but by then the Irish had buttoned up Michigan's entirely.

Michigan was not helpless, but it will need to regroup before it can think national championship again. Wheatley was fabulous (146 yards on 25 carries), simply running away from everybody. "He just plays quick," Moeller likes to say of Wheatley. But only one of the Fab Five had more yardage on passes from Collins than Irish safety Jeff Burris, who had 61 yards on two interceptions. "Hopes for the national championship are gone," Collins said.

There was surprising humility all around. Many of the Wolverines have Notre Dame complexes, having been overlooked in recruiting or in postseason honors. Shonte Peoples, Michigan's decorated safety, was still boiling over Notre Dame's decision to stop recruiting him after he had gotten a low score on an admission test. (If true, Peoples's accusation would help refute one point in the distracting book.) "I feel that I'm the best safety in the country," Peoples said before the game. "Whoever Holtz has [Burris], he's not as good as me."

Peoples, who admitted he blew the coverage on McDougal's 43-yard pass to Johnson, ate his words with gusto after the game. "In the first half I didn't measure up," he said.

As you have to say when you say anything about Notre Dame these days, it was one for the book. Somebody's book. Maybe a book Holtz will read. So far, it seems, the only book he has been riffling through besides Krause's is Gray's Anatomy. Holtz has had occasion to read up on clavicles (Powlus), knee injuries (he lost his fastest linebacker, Anthony Peterson, against Northwestern), even symptoms for heart attacks. The week of the Northwestern game he felt chest pains and checked into the hospital. Stress, the doctor said. Probably too many distractions.

But better days are ahead. Notre Dame has shrewdly referred all comments on the book—any book—to a school vice-president, and Holtz's team has stayed beyond the fray. Nightline has come and gone. A time will come, after enough wins like the one over Michigan, when Holtz will not have to repeat his 1993 mantra: "I have not read the book...."

Anyway, there's the new movie Rudy (page 78), the story of Daniel (Rudy) Ruettiger, who fulfilled a dream of playing for the Irish by appearing in a 1975 game for 28 seconds. The movie, shot at Notre Dame, is a tear-in-the-eye-type thing, possibly even a man-or-mouse-type thing. Holtz wanted to take his players to a screening before they faced Michigan but was prevented by NCAA rules. But there was no law against his taking his family, and he was—briefly—effusive. "The scenery," Holtz said, finally allowed to address the arts, "was great."

As far as he's concerned, the dome, last gilded in 1988, still shines.



Michael Miller's 56-yard punt return for a TD put the Irish up 17-3 in the second quarter.



McDougal, who ran for two touchdowns, had the Wolverines grasping at air all day long.



The Notre Dame defense kept the pressure on Collins, intercepting three of his throws.