Sunday, December 18, 2016

Response to the Story, the Legend: Catholics vs. Convicts

When the legend becomes fact, print the legend. —The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
Please note the acid washed jeans

If you've watched You Don't Know Bo: The Legend of Bo Jackson you have seen those words. If you have made sense of this "30 for 30," you understand how they capture the athletic career of a man who many believe is the best athlete the world has ever seen. And if you see the latest in ESPN's series: Catholics vs. Convicts, you gain a sense of this quote's true meaning: story, sport, spirituality. However, this holy trinity offers more than a legend. It reveals an important lesson: Don't let the truth get in the way of a good story. When it comes to this 1988 contest between the number one and two football teams in the country, you don't have to.

Much has been written about this once storied rivalry. Once again, it has been told and retold—not because the story changes, but because we do. I would like this blog posting to be a reflection on some of my observations in the nearly 30 years since a game—billed as Unfinished Business—took place.

Kids today
We say it and hear it all the time. A gripe and complaint I'm guilty of uttering quite often. Kids today don't do x...In my day, I never would say....Young people are unwilling to give z. But Catholics vs. Convicts sheds an interesting light onto the Fightin' Irish football team in 1985; one that epitomizes our fears about today's generation.

Jerry Faust was the head coach at Notre Dame from 1980 until his resignation in 1985. During that era, players asked for shorter practices. The 1984 team voted three times whether or not to go to a bowl game because the outcome of the first two polls was in favor of not going. Three times!

Knowing that Notre Dame often draws crowds throughout the country, they are a much sought-after team for a bowl appearance. During some years, given an anemic record, I have wished that we did not play in one. As my dad assured me, this is a flawed mentality. The importance of playing a bowl game—whether its the Rose, Sugar or what not is that your team gets an additional month of practice. Furthermore, if you win that game, it builds momentum for the following season. 
proof that the momentum changed...
Knowing that this team wanted shorter practice, did not seek post-season practice confirms two things:
  1. the words of Miami defensive back were true— the fight was no longer in the Fightin' Irish
  2. before we think kids today are that much different, it's wise to reconsider...
That being said, it's important to note the Notre Dame team that faced Miami in 1988 was different. They sought perfection...and earned it: a 12-0 season

Three Questions: The Relationship between Coach and Athlete
Tony Rice and Sweet Lou. Perhaps ESPN should create a "30 for 30 short" about these two. The story of how Rice came to Notre Dame is a great one, but it is best understood through three questions.

My first weekend at Notre Dame, Coach Holtz addressed my entire freshman class and our parents at a convocation for the Class of 1996 in the JACC. He said that players had three implicit questions about a new coach—the same questions the coach has about players. He added that they are valuable in any meaningful relationship—professor to student, among roommates, etc. They are:
  1. Can I trust you?
  2. Are you committed?
  3. Do you care about me? 
The story of Catholics vs. Convicts is evidence that those three questions were not philosophical ones for either Holtz or for Rice. They were not heady or esoteric. They were grounded in that relationship between coach and his quarterback.

Tony Rice said, "The Lord is my shepherd but Lou is my coach." I have a strong suspicion—were he asked—that coach Holtz would have said, "The Lord is my shepherd but Tony is my QB." Love both you guys.
If you had asked me to identify the quarterback in a line-up of these so-called "Convicts" Steve Walsh is the LEAST likely face, name or persona you would ever imagine. One of several respondents, what I appreciated learning from this tall, athletic, tough and smart athlete from Minnesota of all places is what he described as the "emotionality" of the game. I had never heard that word before....but even watching this contest 28 years later, the emotionality is self-evident.

The raw, sheer emotionality of football is one of the many reasons I continue to love this game. I'm not sure there is a sport that reveals more of it than football. It prompts me to consider "What is the emotionality of baseball? Describe the emotionality of golf." Thanks, Steve.

Speaking of which, after the Irish lost to Texas A&M 35-10 in 1988, Coach Holtz noted that only one player was crying. He said, "it was a player who didn't even play in the game or all year (the 1987 season)." Who was it? Chris Zorich, a nose tackle who emerged as one of Notre Dame's greats, one of the toughest athletes I have ever seen. Period.

Holtz challenged his team by telling them, "this is the only type of player I want on my team. Those who care...who are seeking much more." The emotionality of both Zorich and Holtz is exactly what my colleague and friend John, who is also our head football coach responded to in this "30 for 30." He said "you can give me all the talent in the world, but when you coach kids who care? It's a totally different season."  No wonder Coach Holtz has Question #3. 

Guts AND Glory
A respondent to Catholics vs. Convicts: The Story Behind ESPN's Shirt of the Century, wrote: "
As much as I despised Jimmy back in the day, I always respected that he went for two and didn't settle for a tie." Being on the winning side of history, maybe it's easy to agree, but in the program, Johnson admits "we didn't come to South Bend to leave with a tie." Another player adds, "we were the number one team in the country, we needed to prove that." Most likely, today's game would offer another chapter, entitled "overtime." Instituted in 1996, overtime would determine—who knows?—another winner? Certainly a different score. Regardless, one of the key players who prevented Miami from winning, might not also be in today's game...

It's hard not to love many of the respondents, both blue and gold as well as orange and green in this 30 for 30. Heck, I even had a strange and newfound respect for Coach Johnson. #shocking. And the diversity in their personalities, insights and athletic abilities reveals another reason we love football—it has room for a spectrum of them. While Miami running back Cleveland Gary and Irish cornerback Todd Lyght win an award for "best looking today," the lynchpin...the difference maker in making this story a legend is Pat Terrell.
His imitation of Lou Holtz is priceless—primarily because he is at the expense of so many of his jabs. To see Holtz—a 5'8" 140 lb man in coke bottle glasses— control the destiny of Terrell who came to ND as a quarterback was moved to wide receiver and graduated as a free safety is nearly implausible. But he does...he did...hearing Holtz's lisp and all. I think about highly recruited athletes today. So many of them—too many of them—transfer if things don't go their way. I'm so grateful Terrell didn't.

It's not hard to get a sense of Terrell's great athletic ability. And yet, the beauty of his athleticism is that it was coached to do other things that he may have thought brought the Irish the glory (one interception AND the final play!).

Pat, I think you could go on a speaking tour. I'd be in the front row.

In Closing: For many years, I have had that famous "Catholics vs. Convicts" t-shirt hanging in my classroom. Just this past week, I took it down and brought it home. The "30 for 30" addresses the insensitivity of that title, our desire for more cultural sensitivity and a need to move beyond labels that is our America 2016. I know that I will tell that story...the legend a little less to my students, but if or should it come up, I'm happy to point them in the direction of the work of Pat Creadon, Pat Walsh, Joe Frederick and Mike Caponigro. Unfinished Business is replete
From the campus debut of the film: October 28. 2016. So happy I could tailgate with you Joe & 'Roll—creators of the shirt
Photo Credits
Tony Rice

Unfinished Business
Two Coaches
The Shirt


  1. I just watched this awe inspiring story on TV. just now. The credits are displayed on the screen as I write this. It totally sucks your name isn't on that Wall of Fame, what a blow that must've been. I'm sorry you worked so hard to make the team only to have it taken away days later, OUCH! But I seriously laughed my ass off when you busted out with those T-Shirts "CATHOLICS VS. CONVICTS! (& how someone else cashed-in on it by trademarking it! OUCH X2!) I was absolutely astounded that you went on to sell like 3,600 of them holy ship! Lol But WHY did you give the money from the sales of the shirt to the priest to put in his safe? In doing that, weren't you essentially ratting on yourself? Is that how the Dean found out you were selling them? Besides the buyers and the seller of that shirt, he seems to be the only person who knew you had sold them as far as faculty members go. I was always under the impression that what you tell a priest in confidence, he has an obligation to keep it confidential just between the two of you unless it would endanger someones life or put a person's safetly in jeopardy, or does that cardinal rule (pun intended) only apply to things you admit to him during "confession"? If the latter is true, then before you handed him that briefcase containing the $36,000 you should have uttered to him real quick, "Father, please forgive me for I have sinned, I must confess, this briefcase contains $36,000 cash which I received from selling T-shirts, please put it in your safe & don't breathe a word of this to another soul because copyright infringment is a serious offense that could land me in jail resulting in a criminal record and I'm a CATHOLIC not a CONVICT!! hahaha Then you should've made a T-shirt specifically for him that said "TEAM CATHOLIC" on the back & with the phrase "I took one for the Team!" on the front! (Un other words, he kept his mouth shut & didn't throw you under the bus haha) Then, (as if all that wasn't already enough..) Post Game T-shirts could've also be made that said "WINNER" on the front and "$INNER" on the back! (like where your last name goes on a football jersey & the number 66 below it with a third 6 on top & center over the "66" appearing more like a shadow or 3D effect! (Or just one number 6 with shadows of the "6" peering out on each side of the "6" to represent three 6's! hahaha (don't mind me, im just a very creative person with a lot of good and not so good ideas, but ALWAYS funny! Lol) and just for good measure... WAIT for it... number "31" on the front under the word "WINNER" LMFAO!!! Ha! If i knew you back then we'd both be rich today! Lol

    1. I'm sorry, the way your post is written, (in the first person) I thought you were the guy who made or sold the t-shirts! My bad, please forgive me!