VARSITY TEAMS: 25 INTRAMURAL SPORTS: 22
FAMOUS ALUMNI: PAUL HORNUNG, JOE MONTANA, KNUTE ROCKNE
EXTRA CREDIT FOR: INTRAMURAL BOXING AND TACKLE FOOTBALL
This is an article from the April 28, 1997 issue
In 1995 the College Football Hall of Fame relocated from King's
Island, Ohio, to South Bend, Ind., the home of Notre Dame. Were
it not for the university's Catholic affiliation, you might say
this was a case of the mountain coming to Mohammed.
Since its inception in 1887 Notre Dame football has produced a
(feel free to say "an alltime leading" before each item) .759
winning percentage, 77 consensus All-Americas, 11 national
championships, seven Heisman Trophy winners and millions of
ardent advocates and antagonists. Renown? The Fighting Irish
have given the sport its most famous coach (Knute Rockne); pep
talk (Rockne's "Win one for the Gipper" speech); fight song
("Cheer, cheer for old Notre Dame..."); and even newspaper lead
(Grantland Rice's "Outlined against a blue, gray October sky...").
In 1924, shortly after Rockne's charges had won their first
national title, the Reverend John O'Hara, the school's prefect
of religion, wrote, "Notre Dame football is a new crusade: It
kills prejudice and it stimulates faith." Actually the legacy of
Rockne is a campus on which religion, sports and academics are
interwoven. The football team, which before each game attends
mass en masse, even though a majority of the players these days
aren't Catholics, has had a 98.5% graduation rate since 1962.
The school's president, the Reverend Edward Malloy, played
basketball for the Irish.
What's the recipe for creating a campus crawling with jocks, a
school once described in these pages as "even in the calmest of
times...resembling an Olympic training village"? Build a
national reputation through an intercollegiate sport (see above)
so that more than 75% of the students you admit are high school
letter winners. Require freshmen to live on campus in single-sex
dorms where curfews, called parietals, are strictly enforced.
"The act of cavorting with women in an ND dorm room," says Kevin
Coyne, who spent a year at Notre Dame and profiled it in his
1995 book, Domers, "is so fraught with dire consequences that,
frankly, it's safer to go outside and play tackle football."
That's what the male students do. Interhall football, which
Rockne helped create in the late 1920s, bills itself as the only
seasonlong, full-contact intramural football found outside the
three service academies. The title game is played in 80,000-seat
Notre Dame Stadium, which Rockne also designed and which offers
a view of perhaps the most famous image in college sports:
Touchdown Jesus (so dubbed by students), the 132-foot-high
mosaic of Christ on the wall of the Hesburgh Library.
Football aside, the devotion to sports here is as close to
catholic as you will find anywhere. This year an estimated 90%
of the 7,857 undergraduates will have participated in a club,
intramural, recreational or varsity program. The most popular
event is Bookstore basketball (page 84), but the most unusual
one is a boxing competition. Bengal Bouts, so named because the
proceeds ($12,000 to $20,000 annually from ticket sales,
donations and fight-program ads) are sent to missions in
Bangladesh, draws as many as 125 fighters, who train for six
weeks before entering the ring.
In many sports higher powers often seem to be at work on behalf
of the Fighting Irish. "God doesn't care whether Notre Dame wins
or loses," former football coach Lou Holtz was fond of saying,
"but His mother does." In 1974 the men's basketball team ended
UCLA's NCAA-record winning streak at 88 games, prompting then
coach Digger Phelps to coin the slogan "Nobody leaves Notre Dame
Number 1." In 1994 the women's soccer team performed an upset of
similar magnitude by defeating North Carolina for the NCAA
title. The Tar Heels had won the championship for nine straight
years before falling 1-0 to the Irish.
Such high drama may be what inspires so many Domers to find
careers in sports media. Alumni include esteemed sportswriter
Red Smith, who briefly ran track in 1924 for a coach named
Rockne; former NBC Sports executive producer (and current
president, NBC West Coast) Don Ohlmeyer and broadcasters Don
Criqui, Hannah Storm and Mary Ann Grabavoy, who--now it can be
told--was the real-life coed for whom would-be gridiron legend
Rudy Ruettiger pined in his eponymous film.
Rudy, like all Notre Dame students except ROTC members, had to
take a year of phys-ed classes to receive his degree. He also
had to pass the school's mandatory 100-yard swimming test.
That's right: Earning a degree from Notre Dame is literally a