Coach's Corner

by Andy "Coach" Cotton

"Outlined against a blue-gray October sky, the Four Horsemen rode again."

- Grantland Rice

Thursday, 10:35pm, Nashville: Southwest Airline flight #242 is

three hours late. The 12 UT students aboard are, by now, quite drunk. Two hours ago, when they first sang "Texas Fight" it was... well, not cute but at least tolerable. The aircraft pitches and yaws wildly, struggling to gain altitude - keeping me alive - in another thunderstorm. We've been battling nasty weather since leaving Austin five hours earlier. The travelers are tired, edgy, and cranky. When an airplane really starts tossing, things get kinda quiet. We are, after all, about to die. It's time to reflect and make deals with God. This was the scene, except for the Texas 12. They're drunk. They sing. The gentleman sitting next to me spoke for the first time in hours. "This," he said with eyes closed, hands gripping the armrest, "is the sort of thing that could make a guy root for Notre Dame."

Friday, 2:30pm, The Stadium, South Bend, Indiana: Rest assured - I entered the empty, windblown stadium with absolutely no nostalgia for Touchdown Jesus, the Gipper, or anything Irish. I just love stadiums. The dirty red brick structure, it looks much smaller in real life, is not impressive, not in the "Wow, look at that!" sense, anyway. Entering a time warp, there's nothing to indicate it's 1995. Were this 1930, the scene would look the same. From the tattered sheet-metal press box, to the thin, worn benches - no seats - that ring the stadium, to the vanilla scoreboards, to the windblown peanut wrappers and empty paper cups. No advertisement for Coke or Cellular One or even Notre Dame. The field is green and pristine. No logos at midfield, no paintings in the end zone. The 50-yard line has a purple-and-white stripe. The 20 sports purple, white, and yellow. That's it for glitz. Rockne walked here. It's odd, the most overhyped football program on the planet is, physically anyway, so restrained. In a world where Jerry Jones will, for the right price, pitch lubricated condoms on the 50, this reverse hype is most moving.

4:30pm, South Quad: The quad is a bucolic, quintessentially Midwestern place. Basically, a giant rectangle, it's about a half-mile in length. Each side is lined with dorms and classrooms, the sidewalks splashed with still, lush oak and elm trees. The interior of the quad, covered with cool, green grass, is busy with students playing football or jogging, and parents sightseeing.

A few words about the Notre Dame student body. It's a small group, about 8,000 undergrads, but from what I can see it's a mighty healthy group of kids. The Notre Dame men are clad, every one, in some sort of ND athletic clothing: blue-and-gold sweatshirts, headbands, shorts, many styles of ND hats. They're all sweating, whippet-thin, and engaged in or just finishing some kind of healthy activity. Not to be outdone, the women of ND, although somewhat more beefy and red-faced than their male counterparts, are dressed to the nines in ND attire. The only difference? Gray tights and the omnipresent Walkman. The student body is very, very white.

I'm pondering a notice posted on the Alumni chapel. It says, "Saturday football vigil: one half hour after the game." I'm wondering if any other place in the world has notices like this when, without warning, I'm engulfed in a parade. There's a lot of tangential noise out here; churchbells clanging, students shouting, little brothers whining. I mention this because, after all, how can an observant journalist be startled by a band numbering 300 members? Be this as it may, I was engulfed in a maelstrom. The fully uniformed band is parading four abreast, smack down the center of the quad, playing - surprise, surprise! - "Cheer, cheer for old Notre Dame. Wake up, the echo's cheering her name...." I would hear this tune many times in the next 24 hours. I felt like an extra in The Music Man, as everyone from eight to 80 gleefully followed the band. I spun off from the parade at my car. I needed to find the...

Linebacker Lounge, 5:45pm: Every campus has a place like the Linebacker Lounge. A tattered, wooden little bar, badly in need of many gallons of white paint. An inflated Budweiser can perches precariously on the roof. Standing outside, I'm awed by the din emanating from within. I assume this is an ND frat bar on a football Friday. The raucous patrons are not disturbed by the noticeable lack of, let's say, interior design coordination. The bar is framed by erratically lit old Christmas lights. Metal poles have green street signs welded on, indicating Notre Dame Boulevard or Rockne Street. The filthy, low roof is festooned with tiny beer flags, the floor more than a tad sticky. Men outnumber women at least 15-1. I think you get the picture.

I know KVET's Jeff Ward and Bill Schoening are doing their sports talk show from here... somewhere. Although the Linebacker Lounge is small, the crowd is so dense I can't immediately ascertain the whereabouts of these Austin celebrities. I speak with many fans, all highly inebriated, during my search. It turns out things

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Coach, from p.87

are not always what they seem. This is not a local crowd at all. It's the much-heralded subway alumni. In fact, absolutely no one I talk to goes to Notre Dame. Everyone is from somewhere else. No one has tickets to the game. Everyone is confident that tickets - this, after all, is a town where miracles are taken seriously - will somehow be procured.

Why do Texans stand out in even the most drunken of crowds? I followed the howls and high-pitched, heavily accented squawks of "Go, Texas!" to the rear of the Linebacker Lounge. In a tiny room, dominated by a pool table, reeking of stale beer and urine, I find Ward and Schoening. Their "remote studio" is a tiny table, hard against a rotting, wooden partition. Schoening's seat is inches from the squalid men's room. Ward is frequently forced to move to avoid being hit by the butt of a pool cue. He has a bemused, what-me-worry-I'm-gonna-die-anyway grin on his face, as one besotted Notre Dame fan after another shouts unspeakable obscenities into their open, live mikes. Schoening, ever the pro, sports a tight, nervous, twitching grin, like a parent whose child is having a fit in the check-out line at Randalls. It says, "Just wait 'til we get home."

Saturday, 10am, The Leprechaun: If you've ever seen ND play, you've seen The Leprechaun. Television cameras love the guy, and why not? He's a color TV dream. Sporting a canary yellow vest, sparkling white shirt, Kelly green knickers, emerald coat, and stove top hat, The Leprechaun is an excellent guide to adjust your hue to. He's short, stocky, has a gritty little beard, and looks like a leprechaun. I thought he was the same guy every year, but he's not. This year, he's Jamie Sottis. The Leprechaun, like his athlete brothers, must perform to stay The Leprechaun. He has to audition every year. No Leprechaun has ever lasted more than two years. He's a God among mascots because, unlike cows or toads or tar-heels, he gets real face-time on national TV every week. He's recognized in airports and apparently has a social life Eddie Van Halen can relate to.

11:45am, The Game: I'm disappointed at the fawning, obsequious coverage by the prestigious Chicago dailies and their star writers at The Tribune and Sun-Times. The most common adjective used in their stories is "rout." The most common noun is "Lou Holtz." It was sniveling, homer coverage, beneath the dignity of major metro newspapers. The game, which UT lost 55-27, was not a "rout." Holtz, himself something of an elderly leprechaun, had nothing to do with it.

I thought UT looked flat in pre-game drills. The way they straggled out on the field before kickoff did not dispel these concerns. I was wrong. This was a close game, not really decided until midway through the 4th quarter, when a deluge of UT turnovers created 21 Irish points. Notre Dame All-American receiver Derrick Mayes and Texas wide-out Mike Adams traded impossible catches. James Brown, not feelin' so good, was brilliant and terrible. Both defenses were porous. It was a game of big plays, big mistakes, long drives, and calls by the officials made and not made.

The key play of the game came with UT down by seven, mid-way through the 4th quarter. With the Irish facing an unlikely 3rd and 25 from midfield, UT cornerback Taje Allen was flagged for a questionable interference call. The Irish capitalized on the generosity of SWC refs and the game was over. It was a tight tiff between two slightly above- average teams. Next September, ND visits the fast, broiling turf in Austin. The results could easily be reversed. n

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