After a crushing 24-0 loss to Miami to end the 1987 regular
season, Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz handed out T-shirts that read
FROM THE ASHES NOTRE DAME WILL RISE AGAIN. The words were an
epiphany for sophomore quarterback Tony Rice, who had been
thrust into the starter's role in the fourth game of the season
because of an injury to Terry Andrysiak. "For me it clicked
right there," says Rice. "I said to myself, From the ashes, Tony
Rice will rise again."
As the first Proposition 48 athlete admitted to Notre Dame, Rice
had many more downs than ups during his first two seasons in
South Bend. In his freshman year he saw what he was up against
when, at a pep rally, a Notre Dame fan steered his son away from
a conversation with Rice, telling the youngster, "He's Prop 48.
He's stupid." Editorials in the school paper that year opined
that Rice didn't belong on campus. That attitude was almost as
difficult for Rice to handle as Notre Dame's rigorous academic
demands. "People thought I would fail and just go home," he says.
Rice, however, not only survived but thrived at Notre Dame. In
1988, running a punishing option, he led the Irish to a 12-0
record--including a highly charged 31-30 upset of then
top-ranked Miami in October--and their 11th national title. He
followed that up in 1989 with a 12-1 mark and a No. 2 ranking.
Rice's biggest victory, though, came in the spring of '90, when
he earned his bachelor's degree in psychology.
Undrafted by the NFL, Rice eventually played one season for the
Saskatchewan Rough Riders of the CFL and two seasons for the
Barcelona Dragons in the World League of American Football.
Today Rice, 31, works as a salesman for ESC Medical Systems, an
Israeli company that makes lasers, and is a partner in a real
estate brokerage. "In sales you can control how good you can
be," he says. "It's like in football, where I always wanted my
hands on the ball." He lives in Mishawaka, Ind., just a short
pitch from South Bend, with his wife, Felicia, and their five
children, Alex, 8, Madeline, 6, Anthony, 4, Michael, 2, and
Jasmine, eight months. "I have a starting five," says Tony.
Rice frequently gives talks to Pop Warner teams and is active in
the D.A.R.E. program, fighting to keep kids off drugs. Though he
lives and works so close to the scene of his heroics, he doesn't
dwell on the glory days. "My time at Notre Dame was great," Rice
says, "but I've got my hands full with other things now."
COLOR PHOTO: BILL SMITH [Cover of October 24, 1988 issue of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED magazine featuring Tony Rice]
COLOR PHOTO: DAVID WALBERG [Tony Rice]
Says the Irish's first Prop 48 athlete, "People thought I would
just fail and go home."