The weathered words GOD, COUNTRY, NOTRE DAME are inscribed above a doorway of that school's 99-year-old Sacred Heart Church. They are words that bring to mind faded newsreels of America's young, marching unflinchingly off to war. But change is in the air even at Notre Dame, its handiwork evident from the northern shore of St. Joseph's Lake, which somebody recently discovered is polluted, to the southernmost reaches of the 18-hole Notre Dame golf course, where women were allowed to play this year for the first time. God and country? Nearly a seventh of last June's Notre Dame graduates answered the call to arms by claiming to be conscientious objectors.
If some Fighting Irish are unwilling to fight, a good number of others are anything but Irish. Drawn from every imaginable background, the sons of Notre Dame still walk the shaved campus beneath the familiar statue of the Virgin Mary high atop the Golden Dome, the landmark that crowns the old main building. The Dome dazzles as always, thanks to a $50,000 regilding job in 1961 as well as to the good graces of several black students, who met secretly not long ago to determine whether to sneak to the top and paint it black. They decided against it, which should dispel the myth, one of many that persist about the place, that Notre Dame men are reluctant to think for themselves. As one conspirator put it, "We were afraid of falling off the Dome and breaking our necks."
Another myth has it that this most famous of the nation's Catholic universities, this seat of higher learning with the quaintly official name of the University of Notre Dame du Lac, is some sort of football factory. Yet it is at least symbolic that Notre Dame's old football practice field, ground hallowed by an almost inexhaustible supply of Bertellis, Lujacks and Hornungs, has been given over for seven years now to one of the world's largest university libraries, a 14-story tower that rises from the northern Indiana plain in lofty assertion of the school's latter-day claim to academic respectability.
Once known as the "Catholic West Point," an image that suggested esprit, obedience and (at the time) football prowess, Notre Dame has more recently chosen to think of itself as nothing less than the "Catholic Harvard." Football? If Notre Dame's farflung followers continue to clamor for victory it is probably out of deepest habit, nothing more. And if their heroes go to great lengths not to disappoint, as demonstrated most recently by the 9-1 record run up by this year's Cotton Bowl-bound team, perhaps it is only because Notre Dame happens to be, beneath those world-beating ways, a most obliging sort of place.
December 14, 1970
Under the proper coaxing, even the most rabid of Notre Dame's campus partisans will allow that football is incidental, that their university's greatest battle is being waged not in any jammed stadium on an autumn Saturday, not even against Texas on New Year's Day. The showdown that matters is acted out daily on campus, between the traditional and the modern, the secular and the Catholic, the far-out and the straight. One onlooker who hopes to see it all settled with minimum disruption—a 7-6 squeaker either way might suit him fine—is Frank O'Malley, class of '32, longtime English professor, no hidebound conservative yet a man who once protested the rumored razing of a campus building by arguing, in words that surely had the ring of Harvard, "There's blood in the bricks."
Today O'Malley contemplates a loss far deeper than a single building. "The unique thing about Notre Dame is what I like to call its terrible humanity," he says. "It's a humanity that acknowledges the existence of other people in all their frailty, it's a sense of being part of a community, of being in a place. But now I wonder if we're going to destroy that atmosphere. I wonder if we're going to wind up like any other institution."
Hungry for change but anxious to preserve its own identity, Notre Dame seems suspended at times between the turbulent present and the placid 1950s. Many of its students, like those elsewhere, boycotted classes last May to protest the events of Cambodia and Kent State, yet they did so only a few days after 1,000 of them, chanting "Here come the Irish," had marched off to St. Mary's College, the women's school a mile distant, for a panty raid. It is revealing, too, that marijuana is smoked more or less openly in Notre Dame's residence halls at the same time that campus police, patroling the quads outside, busily shoo students off (are you ready?) the grass. Leaf through an old student yearbook, and there is Notre Dame's now-defunct chapter of the militant Students for a Democratic Society happily posing, like so many Young Republicans, for a group photo. Or roam the campus and listen to the youths in boots and bell-bottoms play their guitars. Not angry protest songs, mind you, or even folk ballads. Listen again:
What though the odds be great or small,
Old Notre Dame will win over all....
Part of Notre Dame's split personality is derived from its unhurried, almost cloistered, atmosphere, one reminiscent of the French boarding schools that Father Edward Sorin, a priest in the French-based Congregation of the Holy Cross, had in mind when he trudged across the snow to found the university in 1842. Notre Dame's 6,400 undergraduates and 1,700 law and graduate students, an enrollment smaller than that of any Big Ten school, share their bountiful campus with squirrels, chipmunks and occasional deer that infiltrate from the nearby woods. So spread out are the yellow-brick Gothic buildings that it takes long strides to get between classes in time, which perhaps is one reason why few of the good Holy Cross fathers bother anymore to wear their ankle-length cassocks.
Yet Notre Dame is situated not in a wheat field somewhere, but along busy U.S. 31 on the northern outskirts of South Bend, a gray Midwestern industrial city. South Bend's 123,000 citizens, many of them clustered in working-class Polish and Hungarian neighborhoods, mow their lawns, rake their leaves, and, during winter's long siege, shovel snow and more snow from their driveways. South Bend knows crime and racial tension, and its trust in the best of all possible worlds was shaken by the closing in 1963 of the local Studebaker facility, once its biggest employer. But in its dealings with Notre Dame it is the most considerate of neighbors. Double feature at the Granada? A beer at Nickie's? South Bend stands ready to assist, but it takes care never to intrude.
While Notre Dame lies apart from the urban bustle of the big Jesuit-founded schools like New York's Fordham and Washington's Georgetown, it has nevertheless plunged into the mainstream of American education. Its propelling force is the Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, who at a time when college presidents cannot be sure of outlasting this year's freshmen has headed Notre Dame for 18 years. The public-spirited Hesburgh is also, among his other extracurricular activities, chairman of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. A dark-eyed, compact man of 53, his immense energies are undiminished by a nagging case of tendinitis, which he combats with priestly faith and a copper bracelet.
It is with precisely this mixture of the spiritual and the temporal that Hesburgh has sought to refute George Bernard Shaw's dictum that "a Catholic university is a contradiction in terms." Committed to the ideal of free inquiry well before Vatican II breathed new purpose into Catholic education, Hesburgh's Notre Dame has beefed up its long-weak social sciences, expanded graduate studies and research and filled a gaping void by starting a psychology department from scratch. If it would come as a surprise to anybody that Notre Dame is free of direct papal control, it might come as a far bigger shock that the school in recent years has provided safe haven for teachers who were fired for unpopular views by at least two state universities.
As part of its academic awakening, Notre Dame has increased faculty salaries by 70% over the last decade and put up a dozen major buildings, financed by a remarkable $100 million it has raised during that period. But because of all that spending, its endowment has grown to only $60 million, meager compared to Harvard's billion-plus, a fact that leaves Notre Dame eager to please the alumni and foundations that are the chief sources of any university's money and approval. Something that Notre Dame officials take particular pride in is their open speaker policy under which students last spring listened peacefully to William Kunstler, the Chicago Seven lawyer who at the time was banned by the University of Illinois as too inflammatory. But education is a tricky business. When Vatican-baiting James Kavanaugh, appearing under that same policy three years ago, used the occasion to announce his resignation from the priesthood, Notre Dame was sufficiently unsettled to place an ad in The New York Times disclaiming any association with the renegade priest.
Other universities are at pains to protect their good names, too, and Notre Dame, coping with so much change, can probably be excused if it sometimes seems overly vigilant. The most far-reaching change involved nothing less than ownership of the university. In 1967 Notre Dame's Holy Cross community, while continuing to provide administrators from Hesburgh on down, relinquished formal control to a lay-dominated board of trustees. But the development most visible to the casual visitor is the presence on campus of so many women. Although Notre Dame remains officially coed only on the graduate level, an arrangement with St. Mary's now allows students of the two schools to shuttle across U.S. 31 to attend classes together, and plans are in the works for a coed residence hall.
Hesburgh pronounces himself generally satisfied with the university's direction, and that goes for football, too. "I rather like the proportion football is in now," he says. "I think we've proved it's possible to play competent, effective football and have a good university, too. We're very relaxed about football at Notre Dame."
It has not always been that way, of course. When Hesburgh, then only 35, became Notre Dame's president in 1952 he held a series of press conferences on the West Coast and was appalled that the only reporters who bothered to show up were sportswriters. He was defensive thereafter about Notre Dame athletics. "Why, we've got the lousiest gym in the country," he often said, the reference being to the drafty field house where Notre Dame played its home basketball games. That argument was blunted two years ago when the field house was replaced by an $8.6-million Athletic and Convocation Center, a white, double-domed building that the more irreverent students immediately acclaimed "the world's biggest bra."
If Hesburgh was embarrassed by football's long shadow, he was no less so when Notre Dame, the school of Knute Rockne and Frank Leahy, suffered its version of the great potato famine. Who would have dreamed it could happen here? Certainly not Rockne, the Norwegian-born chemistry teacher who compiled a 105-12-5 record from 1918 until his death in a plane crash in 1931, a loss so staggering that some grief-stricken alumni called for his interment on the 50-yard line of Notre Dame's new stadium. And not Leahy, either, the coolly brilliant taskmaster who seemed to associate victory with virtue, if not salvation, and ran up an 87-11-9 record in the '40s and early '50s.
And yet it happened. When illness forced Leahy to quit in 1954 Hesburgh quickly installed as coach 25-year-old Terry Brennan, an ex-Irish halfback whose youthful, low-keyed image promised welcome relief from the high-octane Leahy years. If Brennan turned out to be a mistake, it remains a question whether the mistake was in hiring or firing him. There were morale problems under the inexperienced Brennan, and although he suffered only one losing season before he was sacked in 1958, Notre Dame played without its accustomed authority even when winning. The team fared worse under Joe Kuharich and Hugh Devore, its restoration awaiting the arrival in 1964 of Ara Parseghian, a French-Armenian Presbyterian out of Northwestern.
Notre Dame men now accept as one of life's more pleasant verities that Parseghian was born for the job, a sound coach in the Leahy mold and one, moreover, with a flair for public relations. A few complain that he "blows the big ones," but these are usually the fans who tend to consider every Notre Dame game a big one. It is true enough, though, that Parseghian's 57-10-4 record will always be blemished by the 1966 showdown with Michigan State, another of those "games of the century" that come along every few years. It ended with Notre Dame, supposedly that year's national champion, sitting ingloriously on a 10-10 tie rather than going for victory. Parseghian also came up a loser in Notre Dame's first postseason game in 45 years, against Texas in the 1970 Cotton Bowl, and has now twice managed to take undefeated teams to Southern California for season finales, only to lose both times.
Notre Dame officials have always denied any suggestion that alumni brought any undue pressure to bear because of the football recession of the 1950s. Yet if the Brennan-Kuharich-Devore experience proved anything at all it is that even a 6-4 record has no place at Notre Dame. Students and old grads showed they could live with defeat if necessary, and the Subway Alumni—those factory workers, nuns and taxi drivers who make Notre Dame their adopted alma mater—demonstrated the same thing. But where is it taught in ROTC Leadership Lab 211L, or even in Existentialism 245, that defeat is necessary?
It was football, after all, that put Notre Dame on the map, producing in the process the one truly national following in all sports, college or professional. Today Notre Dame games are carried over 380 radio stations and shown on delayed videotape in 140 cities. Despite its relatively small student body, and even its $7.50 ticket price (highest in college football), the 59,000-capacity stadium has not had an empty seat in six years. With Notre Dame's overall budget grown to $50 million a year, football receipts no longer take on the vital importance they once did. Still, the 10 regular-season football games annually produce $1.7 million or so, which, together with the roughly $300,000 generated by Austin Carr and the rest of the Notre Dame basketball team, is enough to underwrite other varsity sports plus one of the most lavish intramural programs anywhere—and leave $250,000 in profit for good measure.
"If football didn't pay for itself, I don't think we'd have it at Notre Dame," says the Rev. Edmund Joyce, who serves, not incompatibly, as both the university's overlord of athletics and chief financial officer. "It's all those schools that are losing money on football you have to wonder about. Why are they subsidizing football? Aren't they forced to take money from somewhere, from more important things?" Father Joyce states a cogent case for making football pay, which in turn, of course, is a very potent argument for winning.
But logic alone can never be a reason to win at football, and at Notre Dame there is added inspiration everywhere. One can search in vain for the Four Horsemen's stable, but the old campus statue of "Fair Catch Corby," showing an early Notre Dame president with a hand in the air, still stands, and there is also that huge mural adorning the library of "Touchdown Jesus," whose upraised arms are on a direct sight line with the goalposts in the nearby stadium. Tired jokes and old Ronald Reagan movies aside, are there possibly any Notre Dame men who would not, if given the chance, go out and gladly win one more for the Gipper?
Yes, there are. Before this year's Purdue game somebody ran an ad in The Observer, the student paper, noting: IT HAS BEEN FOUR YEARS SINCE NOTRE DAME HAS BEATEN A BOILERMAKER TEAM. Next day another ad, this one placed by two upperclassmen calling themselves Students for Reordered Priorities, asked: SO WHAT? And here and there a harsher note is heard. "It would be the greatest thing in the world if Notre Dame had six 0-and-10 seasons in a row," says Dan Hyde, a junior from LaCrosse, Wis. "The way everybody lives and dies for football around here is absurd." Hyde is active in student government—he is the campus ombudsman, a sort of official problem-solver—but his distaste for the football fever that infects Notre Dame produces in him a sense of isolation. "Maybe I just don't belong here," he concludes.
It makes sense that Notre Dame's football tradition should attract students who love the game. How else explain the fact that more than a quarter of the present freshman class lettered in high school football? How else account for Notre Dame's intramural football program—not the collection of straggly touch players you find on other campuses, but 650 men happily banging heads as members of 18 fully equipped teams? It used to be said that Dillon Hall could whip Kansas State, but Parseghian, whose recruiting is keyed to convincing prospects they can play at Notre Dame, discourages any talk that the campus abounds in surplus talent.
The fashion on many campuses today is to knock competitive sport, but at Notre Dame even the critics of big-time football usually add quickly, "But don't get me wrong—I love football." Their enthusiasm spills over to other sports. Notre Dame men think nothing of jogging through heavy snows, taking batting practice in the corridors of their residence halls or—this is Indiana, remember—playing pickup basketball at all hours. Significantly, Notre Dame is one of the few universities that still has intramural boxing, the finals of which, the Bengal Bouts, drew a total of 5,000 spectators last spring.
For all the outward expressions of masculinity, Notre Dame until recently went further in sheltering its students than many Catholic women's colleges, to say nothing of Vassar and Radcliffe. There were morning Mass checks and evening curfews, and lights were turned off in all rooms at 11 p.m. by a master switch. Students who tried to beat the system ran afoul of the Rev. Charles McCarragher, also known as Black Mac, the dreaded prefect of discipline. The story was told of earlier prefects, too, but a generation of Notre Dame men came of age believing that Black Mac wore one street shoe and one sneaker, this so he could run through the halls and have it sound as though he were walking.
Now the director of student aid, McCarragher seems an unlikely candidate to evoke undergraduate terror, a peppery little man who says: "Discipline is a word nobody seems to buy anymore." Just as Catholics have questioned the authority of their church, so Notre Dame men have dared to challenge the padre-knows-best tradition of campus life. Notre Dame no longer has either curfews or lights out, while cars, once forbidden, are now permitted for juniors and seniors. Most dramatic of all, students may drink and receive women in their rooms. There are still a few restrictions—the girls, for example, are supposed to be out by 2 a.m. on weekends—but students often find such rules convenient to ignore.
Besides greater freedom over their personal lives, Notre Dame men have won a louder voice in university policy, usually through student government but sometimes not. A case in point is the old field house, the local answer to Berkeley's People's Park. The university planned to raze the building two years ago, but art students, claiming squatters rights and supported by a big "Save the Field House" rally, took it over as studio space. The administration gave in, and no bayonets were seen. The field house still stands, used by the likes of dark-eyed Lida Petruniak, a graduate art student and herself well-sculpted testimony to the school's liberated atmosphere. Lida's presence on campus might have touched off a near riot as recently as five years ago, but today she can say of Notre Dame men that they are "perfect gentlemen."
But nobody, not yet anyway, would contend that manhood is quite dead. Notre Dame men outnumber St. Mary's women 5 to 1, and most agree that coeducation has not gone nearly far enough. Louis Rappelli, who runs an off-campus pizza restaurant called Louie's, says, "The way these students talk, there's a girl in every room. Well, I've got news for you. There ain't that many girls."
"The more girls we get into the system, the more chances for healthy development," agrees Sheridan McCabe, the university counseling psychologist, a job created four years ago after the first student suicide in campus history added to a growing feeling that perhaps the confessional was not always enough to answer all the inner needs of students. "It's a different world," he says. "These students need to deal with ambiguity, to be frustrated as hell and yet live with it, even thrive on it. That's a kind of discipline, too."
The Holy Cross fathers, their ranks thinning in recent years, have seen their influence wane both in the classroom, where they now make up only a small fraction of the faculty, and in the residence halls. Although many of them still serve as hall rectors, others are moving out. "I felt like a glorified janitor," explains the Rev. Edmund Murray, who recently quit after 16 years as a rector. The clerical split over the university's recent course was only too evident at last summer's chapter meeting of the local Holy Cross province, when a motion praising the leadership of Hesburgh and other Notre Dame officials ran into opposition and was quietly tabled.
As this suggests, Hesburgh is not immune to the political hazards of heading a university. Although he has gone along with some campus reforms—women's visiting hours, for one—only with deepest reluctance, the more conservative Holy Cross fathers, along with a good many alumni, accuse him of capitulating to students. And while he is a practicing liberal who shares youth's concern about Vietnam and racism, it is tempting for some students to regard him as one of the pillars holding up the Establishment.
To his own discomfort, part of the headline-reading public seems to regard Hesburgh in almost Agnewesque terms, as a hard-liner with students. The reason is his now-famous statement, issued in February 1969 following disorderly demonstrations on his campus. It warned that anybody engaging in unlawful demonstrations in the future would be given "15 minutes of meditation to cease and desist"—or face on-the-spot suspension.
The statement, as Hesburgh has been busily explaining ever since, also contained a defense of peaceful dissent and a warning that political interference in campus affairs could lead to "a rebirth of fascism." But all that was obscured by his 15-minute-or-else edict, which President Nixon eagerly endorsed in a letter that began, "Dear Ted...."
Most Notre Dame students resent the overpopular image of themselves as choirboys out of harmony with the times, and one can derive a sense of being fashionably with-it from the fact that the campus does have its full-blaze dissidents. Still, nearly everybody agrees that their numbers are minuscule, and the student body as a whole remains slow to get riled up politically. One sign of this is that Notre Dame is one of the few schools with ROTC programs in all three military services. Total ROTC participation has dropped, however, from a fourth of the student body in 1967 to 10% today.
And while most students have come around to opposing the Vietnam war—witness the number of conscientious objectors—Notre Dame is scarcely in the vanguard of antiwar activity. As recently as 1967 the senior class still gave a Patriot of the Year award, the recipient that year being General William Westmoreland, a symbol of something other than approbation on most other U.S. campuses.
Notre Dame men seem at times to draw their political inspiration from the labor movement, their preoccupation with bread-and-butter campus matters taking precedence over world and national affairs. But events can sometimes jolt the rank and file into the broader arena, as the week of rallies, diversions and protest marches over Cambodia and Kent State showed. In boycotting classes, many of the student body ignored a plea from Hesburgh (management, of course) to remain in class. But Hesburgh maintained control of the situation and helped shape the direction of the protests by calling at a campus rally for U.S. withdrawal at "the earliest moment," a statement that students promptly took door to door in South Bend, collecting 23,000 signatures.
Hesburgh's handling of the campus protests was a big success, meaning that he did not fully satisfy any of his critics. One of these was Dave Krashna, a senior from Pittsburgh and the first black ever elected president of Notre Dame's student body. Krashna, a leader of the boycott, applauds Hesburgh's antiwar stance, but remains righteously cynical when he says, "The father never acts, he just reacts." Another critic is Glen Corso, editor of The Observer and a political conservative who supported the Cambodian operation. "Hesburgh really psyched up the students with that speech of his," Corso complains.
Significantly, however, both Krashna and Corso express grudging admiration for the Notre Dame president. Corso concedes: "He's adroit. He can go to the alumni and say, 'Well, you may not like the way things are going, but compared to Harvard or Berkeley we're a sea of sanity.' " Although 23,000 signatures didn't exactly win Hesburgh another "Dear Ted" letter from the White House, and while a boycott of classes was hardly anyone's idea of conservatism, the fact remains that the university did get through one of the nation's most violent weeks without major disruption.
Amid all the criticism leveled at him, the one area where Hesburgh continues to get high marks from nearly everybody is in personal dealings with students. Sometimes criticized for being away too much on other business, Hesburgh makes amends by habitually working late into the night while on campus, and stories of students walking unannounced into his high-ceilinged office—the walls of which are hung with photographs of himself in the company of popes and presidents—at 2 or even 3 a.m. take on the collective weight of legend.
There is no fraternity system at Notre Dame, which is no great loss, considering that Hesburgh and even the most cynical of students seem to think of the place as one big fraternity. It is a Catholic fraternity, of course, but Notre Dame, ecumenical from its earliest days, also harbors a small but growing number of Protestants, a smattering of Jews (one member of the class of '70 plans to become a rabbi) and, almost inevitably, an occasional young man recently drawn to the way of Zen. Notre Dame officials speak with pride of their school's growing diversity, even while they admit that regular Mass attendance and other traditional forms of worship are in sharp decline among the 95% of the students who remain at least nominally Catholic.
The contrast with the piety of former days is dramatic. "We students felt we had all the answers," says John Houck, a 1954 Notre Dame graduate and now professor of business management. "We knew what mortal sin was, we knew what grace was, we knew what confession was. The institutional church gave us a wall to bounce our questions off. Now that wall is gone." Like Catholics everywhere, Notre Dame students are caught up in a search for relevance—that catchword of our times—one result being that while many of them shun Sunday morning Mass, informal folk Masses are flourishing. One of the best-attended religious observances in years was held during the October 1969 Moratorium when 2,500 students, joined by Father Hesburgh, laid down their antiwar placards to celebrate a "resistance Mass"—at which several youths tore up their draft cards.
It would be too easy to conclude from all this that Notre Dame is necessarily any less a Catholic university than before. It may be significant that the alumnus whose memory seems most alive on campus, other than Rockne, is the late Tom Dooley, the jungle doctor who graduated in 1948. His glass-framed letter to Hesburgh, written as he lay ill of cancer in a Hong Kong hospital in 1960, is displayed on campus before the flickering candles of the Grotto, a replica of the shrine at Lourdes. "The Grotto is the rock to which my life is anchored," he wrote, and he concluded: "I must return to the States very soon, and I hope to sneak into the Grotto before the snow has melted." He died a month later.
Even those who despair most about the state of Catholicism at Notre Dame take heart that many students, animated by conscience rather than authority, seem to share Dooley's interest in good works. It is a matter of pride around campus that 600 Notre Dame and St. Mary's students regularly tutor ghetto children in South Bend, and a source of wonder among many that an equal number gave up their tickets for last month's Georgia Tech game to disadvantaged youngsters. Such actions are seen by the Rev. James Burtchaell, Notre Dame's newly appointed provost, as evidence that many students, far from losing their faith, are finally finding it. "These kids aren't really Catholic to begin with," Burtchaell says. "Ritual must be confirmed by service, and our kids haven't served anybody before they get here."
Amid rumors that Hesburgh may soon step down as president, Burtchaell, at 36, is widely thought to be in line for the job. Attentive and tough-minded, the iconoclastic young priest stirred up a to-do in 1968 by assailing Pope Paul's birth-control encyclical as "grossly inadequate and largely fallacious." Interviewed recently by the Chicago Tribune, he shocked traditionalists by posing before the Golden Dome in a sport coat and tie—like a growing number of Holy Cross fathers, he sometimes wears clerical garb and sometimes not—at the same time that he angered students by saying, "We have to remember, they're just kids." Asked later whether that remark might not have sounded condescending, Burtchaell replied brightly: "I meant it to sound condescending"
Burtchaell made his reputation at Notre Dame by overhauling the theology department, which he headed for two years. Curiously, Notre Dame long was strongest in physical sciences, weakest in those studies—philosophy as well as theology—that are the foundation of Catholic higher education. Students were required to take theology courses that tended to rehash what they already knew from their catechism books or that spoon-fed them heaping servings of Thomism. The course requirement has recently been cut in half, and everybody is officially encouraged to question everything. In this vein the Rev. John Dunne, a popular theology professor, is apt to warn in midlecture: "My background and bias are showing." Adds Burtchaell: "We're striving not for faith but understanding. Ironically, we feel this will result in a faith feedback."
One area of campus life less intertwined with religion, this to the relief of many, is football. The old Religious Bulletin, a weekly newsletter that exhorted Notre Dame men to pray for victory, has ceased to publish, and the last time the student body marched to the Grotto to thank the Blessed Virgin for football success was the day Notre Dame snapped Oklahoma's 47-game winning streak in 1957. The team still attends Mass together on game mornings, but only to promote "a sense of unity," in the words of the Protestant Parseghian, and not to pray for victory. Even without help from On High, Notre Dame's altitude toward football seems, well, divine. When Pat O'Brien agreed to do his well-worn Rockne impersonation a couple of years ago at a Friday-night pep rally, Dick Conklin, who is now Notre Dame's publicity director, was afraid of a possible scene. "They're going to laugh the poor guy out of there," he protested. "Can't we stop it?" But when O'Brien stepped before the crowd a reverent hush fell over the field house, and some Notre Dame men could be seen flicking on portable tape recorders.
With the musty, barnlike old field house pressed into the service of the arts, the rally is held these days at less suitable quarters around campus. But excited students still build their human pyramids, and they still fill the air with cries of obeisance when some greater or lesser assistant coach pleads, "Men, we'll be listening for you tomorrow!" And when tomorrow arrives, football Saturday, they oblige in full, leather-lunged measure, urged on by a corps of cheerleaders that now includes several belles of St. Mary's. It is an emotional throng, its spirit undiminished by the graduation last spring (in cap and gown, presumably) of the Stripper, a fellow who partially disrobed at a given moment in every game, even, marveled one usher, "when it was colder than all billy heck."
Not until Notre Dame safely puts the game out of reach—the earlier the better—does the frenzy subside. Then everybody relaxes and waits for the postgame rites: students for the Saturday-night Sergio Mendes or Bob Hope appearance; old grads for a stroll to the campus bookstore to load up on Notre Dame sweat shirts and baby bibs; the Subway Alumni for a last noisy sweep through Sweeney's, where green-vested bartenders pour the beer to a blast from the jukebox of Tim Finnegan's Wake.
It is thus that the legacy of Rockne, after whom Studebaker once named a car, has passed to Parseghian, who makes TV commercials for Ford. Parseghian, a brindle-haired man of 47 who is not above going around campus in Notre Dame's colors—gold slacks, blue-and-gold rep tie, blue blazer—is old-fashioned enough to believe that a football coach must still be boss ("a benevolent dictator, ideally") but progressive enough to have given a guarded go-ahead to several players who wanted to take part in a campus demonstration. The coach himself endorsed last month's successful reelection campaign of South Bend Congressman John Brademas, a liberal Democrat. "Why can't a football coach endorse somebody?" Parseghian demands. "If I sit on my hands, I'm also influencing the decision, right?"
Given the high visibility of Notre Dame football, Parseghian could hardly have remained untouched by the issues of the day even had he wished. Banners have been raised at home football games against the Vietnam war, while Krashna, the student-body president, has joined other blacks in protesting the "lily-white backfield." This Parseghian counters by noting that Notre Dame has half a dozen Negroes on the varsity—including standout Defensive Back Clarence Ellis and two reserve running backs, not to mention Tom Gatewood, Joe Theismann's All-America receiver. Indeed, there is more racial balance in Notre Dame's backfield than almost anywhere else on campus: only through the most strenuous efforts has Notre Dame succeeded in raising its total black population to 120.
An obstacle to attracting more Negro students is a shortage of scholarship funds, which is one reason why Notre Dame decided a year ago to reverse its 45-year-old policy against postseason play. Notre Dame is almost as expensive as the Ivy League—$2,100 for tuition against $2,400 at Harvard—and this makes recruitment of blacks, only 3.5% of whom are Catholic in the U.S., that much more difficult. The university grossed $340,000 in the Cotton Bowl, and it earmarked the entire $210,000 profit toward a new black-studies program and minority scholarships. But not everyone was satisfied. Student leaders wanted to know afterward how the school could possibly have run up $130,000 in bowl-related expenses.
Athletes may be practically pariahs on some campuses, but not at football-minded Notre Dame, where they are often drawn very much into the thick of things. The prime case at the moment is Co-Captain Larry DiNardo, a senior guard from New York, who last summer was one of four college football players sent by the NCAA to visit GIs in Vietnam. On his return, he wrote an article for one of the Notre Dame football programs calling the war "a total waste." Since then he has been flooded with requests to endorse candidates and to speak at political rallies, and the athletic department is quick to cite him as an example of the athlete who really cares. But DiNardo says, "I don't want to be a hero of the New Left. I mean, who's not against this war?"
Notre Dame takes pride in the fact that, unlike some major universities, virtually all of its athletes graduate. It has no athletic dormitory, does not redshirt football players and it takes care to channel football proceeds into the university kitty to prevent the athletic department from becoming a power unto itself. There are, to be sure, a few well-known "jock courses" that some athletes gravitate toward "to keep from being worn down," as one football player puts it, and in view of the heavy demand for scholarships, some critics deem it the worst kind of extravagance to award 33 free rides a year to football players who may or may not actually need the money. Father Joyce provides a characteristically direct answer: "It's not a case of either/or with scholarships. With football players there's a return that more than makes up for it."
Old stories persist that Notre Dame football stars tooled around during the 1950s in automobiles, a luxury then denied ordinary students, and it has been documented that some players in the 1920s took off after their Saturday games to play professional ball under assumed names on Sunday. And certainly the show-business atmosphere of Notre Dame's big-time, big-budget football program contrasted jarringly at times with the O'Simon-pure austerity that otherwise prevailed on campus. Yet almost the opposite contrast can be drawn today: at a time when the old values are under siege in other areas of Notre Dame life it is football that stands for discipline, teamwork and fair play.
Not that the great battle raging over those values is decided yet, far from it. "We spent all those years trying to catch up with Harvard, Columbia, Berkeley and the rest," says John Houck, "but they don't seem so sure of themselves anymore, and we're looking inward. Maybe we had something special here all along." With many of the glamour stocks of American education now in the high-risk category, loyalists like Houck must be forgiven if, in their affection for the place, they consider their institution as gilt-edged as the Golden Dome itself. And just maybe they are right. By no coincidence whatever, Notre Dame's football helmets are golden, too.