Nothing has changed; everything is new. Here is Ara Parseghian, having coffee as usual at Milt's Grill on Jefferson Boulevard in downtown South Bend at 6:30 in the morning, which is when he can find a good parking place. It is the eve of Notre Dame's second victory of the week, this one by 17-0 over old rival Purdue. The first game was played five days earlier, the Irish overcoming a sputtering start to beat Boston College 17-3 after managing only a field goal and a 3-3 tie at halftime. A raucous New England crowd of 61,501, as well as a national television audience, had seen the game. It has been a long time since even Notre Dame won two games in one week. Ara is scratching O's and inverted V's (coaches do not use X's anymore, where have you been?) on the fronts and backs of Milt's paper napkins to clear up a point. His gritty alto voice rises to the occasion. A waitress with a steaming pot of coffee hovers by his cup, which is an eye-catching model with the Notre Dame seal on it. "It's the only one in the place and it's his," says the waitress, "so don't ask. You get yours in one of our old small ones."
Ara is explaining how the Notre Dame defense—talented, tried and true—can raise lumps and cause bad feelings ("I didn't know this until the other day, but we had the best defensive record in the nation the past 10 years"), and how the Notre Dame offense, if it continues to get the time the good defense is providing by pitching near shutouts, will ripen with the season and become respectable, too, even by Notre Dame's uptown standards. Ara is smartly dressed in a sand-colored suit; his face is nut brown. The unmistakable lineaments of age—he is 52, imagine that—do not seem to stand out as much as they did. His shiny black eyes do not sink into his skull anymore. He says he misses the players and the preparation and the scheming and the anticipation. He says he does not miss the Saturday morning stomach ache. He says he watched the Boston College game on television at home with his family, "and still got nervous."
Here is Dan Devine (see cover). Irish and Catholic to Parseghian's Armenian and Presbyterian. Ara lives near the center of South Bend; Devine bought 10 secluded acres 15 miles out. Notre Dame watchers find significance in this. Dan is sitting in Ara's (former) leather chair in Ara's (former) smallish office at Notre Dame. He says things have happened so fast he hasn't had time to redecorate, so his wife and daughters came in and they installed some mementos—Missouri footballs from bowl victories, Green Bay Packer footballs from various upsets, etc. "I've got to get some Notre Dame stuff in here," he says. He is wearing a tie with Green Bay helmets on it and a stylish leisure suit, and complains that his hair "is longer than it's ever been. But when you get to be 50 you listen to what your teen-age daughter suggests because you've got to recruit 18-year-old boys."
Unlike Parseghian's, Devine's is a soft and deliberate rhetoric. If the former might give you insomnia, the latter could put you to sleep. Fullback Tom Parise does impressions of the two for his Irish teammates. When he does Parseghian, Parise cocks his head to one side, squints his eyes almost shut and shouts, "What the hell, Parise! What the hell! How'd you ever get into Notre Dame, anyway?" Parise, an honor student, says he taped his S.A.T. scores on his helmet the first time Ara said that. When he does Devine, Parise jabs the air with his right hand and uses a lot of unfinished sentences.
September 28, 1975
At his (formerly Ara's) desk, Devine is allowing himself to be self-pleased. "When a man gets to be 50," he says, "he learns to parcel himself around. I still can't eat on Saturdays, but now I can on Fridays." His shiny black eyes appear to be sinking, but those who know him say that is partly the hangover from his Green Bay experience. "You should have seen how he looked then," they say. Devine's success at Missouri was followed by some successful moments at Green Bay before the loyalists found out he wasn't Vince Lombardi and ran amok. One of Devine's six daughters was spat upon when she was riding in a school bus. His dog was shot. "It still hurts," says Devine.
Upon escaping the Green Bay frying pan, Devine headed straight for the Notre Dame fire. With a five-year contract. Beano Cook, the itinerant publicist now with Mutual, which broadcasts Notre Dame games, is fond of saying that the three toughest jobs in the world are the presidency of the United States, the mayorship of New York and the head coaching job at Notre Dame. Notre Dame head coaches are Father Edmund P. Joyce's—if not God's—chosen people. "They have to have a feeling for the job, and understanding of the school," says Moose Krause, the athletic director. There are, however, no guarantees. Terry Brennan, in the recent past, barely stuck his ear up to catch the rumblings when he was tossed out on it; Joe Kuharich didn't win enough, either, and was harassed and dumped. Parseghian, a taut man with high blood pressure, agonized even in victory. It is no secret in South Bend that he was concerned about his health. Toward the end of last year he wanted to know about Frank Leahy, who grew dangerously ill in the job. Close friends now believe Ara is out of football for good, though they do not bet on it.
Devine knew all that, together with the fact that he was following a hit that had run for 11 years. He would, of course, know better than to follow a living legend. Knowing better, he grabbed the job like it was money from home. He said he had had 11 years to think about it, having been neck and neck with Parseghian when Father Joyce narrowed his choice to two in 1964. Devine had spent a day on the campus under an assumed name then. He can't remember the name, just the impression the visit had made. Obviously, says Krause, it was mutual—this time Devine was the only choice. Before the Boston College game last week, he slung an arm around publicist Roger Valdiserri's neck in the Irish dressing room. "I've waited a long time for this," he said.
"I'm not an egotistical man," Devine says. "That in itself may sound egotistical, but I mean I don't set big-sounding goals for myself. I don't say, 'I came here to win the national championship.' Nobody wants to win a national championship more than me, nobody will work harder for it. But there's more to coaching at Notre Dame than that. The pressure doesn't scare me. I've been coaching 27 years, I know about pressure. This may sound foolish, but I'd like to be thought of as more than a football coach. Notre Dame gives me that opportunity. I'd want to coach here if there were no chance of a national championship."
In his haste to get to the mark, however, Devine didn't bother to look at what he was stepping into—not that it would have mattered. As a result, he now finds himself talking a lot about this or that freshman and this or that raw-edged 19-year-old who is expected not to act his age on the field this fall. What he had stepped into was an offense minus 10 of 11 starters. Prudently, he did not dabble with Parseghian's laboratory work; he made hardly a change in the playbook or the lineup. It was easy enough to let things be on defense, where he had outstanding players and had rehired four of Ara's coaches. The temptation was greater on offense, for which he brought in three new coaches. He did simplify the terminology, changing the nomenclature of plays from names to numbers, but that is all. "In my younger days," he says, "I would have felt compelled to make changes just to show I was in charge. I don't have to do that now."
There were other surprises. Devine discovered that Notre Dame football players go to class. A lot. One recent afternoon he looked up to find 11 of his charges leaving practice early to go to school, "and they were passing nine more who were coming in late from their classes. I had to chuckle. I doubt many coaches would believe that."
There were some things that did not produce chuckles. Media people would not let up on the five black players who had been reinstated after a mass suspension for violating dormitory visiting rules last summer. An ABC reporter tried to interview the five for national television before the Boston College game and Valdiserri, on Devine's behalf, went through the roof. Then there was Fullback Art Best, whose scholarship was terminated after an alleged marijuana bust. Safety-man Tim Simon, while fencing with bamboo sticks, had one break off in his eye. Tight End Robin Weber had to quit football because of a chronic nerve injury. On the first week of spring practice, Quarterback-elect Frank Allocco separated his shoulder so badly he is still throwing flutter balls.
Enter Richard C. (Rick) Slager of Columbus, Ohio, the new (but ever-so-slightly-used) and remarkably different Notre Dame quarterback, successor in the line that brought you Lujack, Hornung, Hanratty, Theismann and Clements. By Beano Cook's scale of weights and measures, his (Slager's) would be the fourth toughest job in the world. Here is Slager and two of his buddies from the offense, Center Steve Quehl and Halfback Mark McLane, having pepperoni pizza at Nicola's Restaurant in South Bend. Except for guys like Quehl and McLane, hardly anybody knows Slager yet—it always seems to work that way, Cook says, because nobody ever believes the current hero-quarterback will ever be replaced. Slager is a senior. He has a square chin under an uninflated blond head, and though he is listed as 5'11" he appears shorter.
"That's because he's chunky," says McLane.
"Fat," says Quehl.
Slager is a couple of things most big-time college quarterbacks are not. He is a pre-med student, he doesn't want to play pro football, and one of the reasons he came to Notre Dame in the first place was because he wanted the chance to try tennis. He has played more tennis for Notre Dame (as No. 1 in varsity singles) than he has football (18 minutes total before this season). No other starting quarterback in Notre Dame history can make that statement.
"I watched Tom Clements pretty closely last year," says Slager, dipping into the pizza. The others are telling how bad the training table food is, and how the girls at St. Mary's don't look so bad after you've seen the girls at Notre Dame. "I watched how cool Clements was. I made up my mind I was going to be relaxed and cool for the opening game. It worked great. I slept good. I wasn't a bit nervous. I was so cool for Boston College I didn't get up for the thing. I was like in a trance the entire first half."
"The first half was unreal," says Quehl. "So many of us were new, even though we were upperclassmen."
"But it brought us together," says Slager.
"You could feel it," says McLane. "You could feel the whole team come together. Rick got so excited he was actually screaming the signals."
"I really got into it," says Slager. "If everybody in the stadium had shut up, I'd have sounded like an idiot. I was yelling and holding up my fingers for the count—I couldn't believe how excited I got."
"The thing is," says Quehl, "we're not an emotional team ordinarily. Somebody wrote that I said practices were different now because there's not as much screaming. This is still Ara's team. It's just that we're not emotional that way. I mean, I do all that clapping, too, because the coaches expect you to and you don't want to look like you're not interested. But we are. You should have heard us on the field Monday night. It was like a bowl game."
"I think the second half made us a team and we'll get better," says Slager. "Our defense is fantastic. Guys like Steve Niehaus and Ross Browner and Randy Harrison and Luther Bradley and Jim Stock—and that darn Doug Becker sticks anything that moves."
"Niehaus isn't a heavy breather," says Quehl. "He's just a great athlete. So quick and strong. You oughta have to block him. If the defense can hold 'em off a little longer, we'll be better than last year."
On Saturday at Ross-Ade Stadium in Lafayette, the scene of many famous Notre Dame crash landings in the past (Purdue's pride is that it has beaten the Irish more than any other team has), a record crowd—69,795—was on hand for the second straight game hoping, like the 61,501 in Foxboro, Mass., that Notre Dame was ripe. Everybody wants in on it when Notre Dame is the kill and, with only four days' rest, you had to think it possible. "I called Al Onofrio, the Missouri coach, after our Boston game," said Devine. "He'd played Alabama the previous Monday, and I wanted to find out if he thought he could be up for Purdue. He said, 'No way.' That wasn't very encouraging."
In the first half, the Irish offense performed in ragtime, committing enough boners to lose two games. Key Slager passes were dropped flagrantly, one by a receiver wide open in the end zone. On a missed signal, the whole Notre Dame team stood in place as Slager staggered backward under a cataract of black shirts for a nine-yard loss. Thank Ara, the defense was still awake. All-America Tackle Niehaus and a true heavy-breather, Ross Browner, whose brother Jim, a freshman, is the team's leading rusher, led a charge so suffocating that Purdue Coach Alex Agase went to his second quarterback before the first half was over.
And just when it appeared Purdue was on the verge of another surprise knockout, one more Irish defensive star took his cue. Leading not by the two touchdowns it should have, but by only 3-0, Notre Dame suddenly wavered under a frantic Purdue passing drive that carried the Boilermakers to a first down on the Irish four with 11 minutes to play. Niehaus and his bullies rose up there, so on third down Halfback Scott Dierking took a pitchout from Quarterback Craig Nagel, headed right, stopped, turned and passed back across field—or transcontinentally—to where Quarterback Nagel was speeding unnoticed toward the far side of the end zone. Well, sort of unnoticed. At the goal, Cornerback Bradley, who had picked up the play and adjusted, stepped in front of Nagel like a man cutting in for a dance, plucked the ball away and fled 99 unmolested yards to a touchdown. Bradley's second interception at the Purdue 23 moments later set up another Irish touchdown, this one by Al Hunter, who had also scored one against B.C. Devine played second teamers after that. He is a humanist who hates to run up the score on anybody.
It remains to be seen if he will have a hard time holding scores down. The Irish show signs of getting good enough offensively to score on everybody they play, which will assure victory in most cases, since the defense will flatten the ball on most teams. By the time the corn is all brown, and the usual slug-colored Indiana sky has set in for the winter, Notre Dame will be ready for the late-October invasion of USC. That is when Dan Devine will find out how good a team he really has.