October 24, 1988
After a crushing 24-0 loss to Miami to end the 1987 regular season, Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz handed out T-shirts that read FROM THE ASHES NOTRE DAME WILL RISE AGAIN. The words were an epiphany for sophomore quarterback Tony Rice, who had been thrust into the starter's role in the fourth game of the season because of an injury to Terry Andrysiak. "For me it clicked right there," says Rice. "I said to myself, From the ashes, Tony Rice will rise again."
As the first Proposition 48 athlete admitted to Notre Dame, Rice had many more downs than ups during his first two seasons in South Bend. In his freshman year he saw what he was up against when, at a pep rally, a Notre Dame fan steered his son away from a conversation with Rice, telling the youngster, "He's Prop 48. He's stupid." Editorials in the school paper that year opined that Rice didn't belong on campus. That attitude was almost as difficult for Rice to handle as Notre Dame's rigorous academic demands. "People thought I would fail and just go home," he says.
Rice, however, not only survived but thrived at Notre Dame. In 1988, running a punishing option, he led the Irish to a 12-0 record—including a highly charged 31-30 upset of then top-ranked Miami in October—and their 11th national tide. He followed that up in 1989 with a 12-1 mark and a No. 2 ranking. Rice's biggest victory, though, came in the spring of '90, when he earned his bachelor's degree in psychology.
Undrafted by the NFL, Rice eventually played one season for the Saskatchewan Rough Riders of the CFL and two seasons for the Barcelona Dragons in the World League of American Football. Today Rice, 31, works as a salesman for ESC Medical Systems, an Israeli company that makes lasers, and is a partner in a real estate brokerage. "In sales you can control how good you can be," he says. "It's like in football, where I always wanted my hands on the ball." He lives in Mishawaka, Ind., just a short pitch from South Bend, with his wife, Felicia, and their five children, Alex, 8, Madeline, 6, Anthony, 4, Michael, 2, and Jasmine, eight months. "I have a starting five," says Tony. "That's enough."
Rice frequently gives talks to Pop Warner teams and is active in the D.A.R.E. program, fighting to keep kids off drugs. Though he lives and works so close to the scene of his heroics, he doesn't dwell on the glory days. "My time at Notre Dame was great," Rice says, "but I've got my hands full with other things now."