He entered the basketball arena. The pep band burst into the fight song he used to play to send his high school troops to battle. The cheerleaders tumbled. The crowd, clad in BY GEORGE, IT'S O'LEARY! T-shirts, rose, and so did die hair on his neck.
He flew back home to Atlanta, packed up his life and his Irish regalia and returned to South Bend two days later. At dusk on his first day on the job, he was interrupted quietly, apologetically, by the Notre Dame sports information director, John Heisler. A call had just come from Jim Fennell, a reporter for the Manchester Union Leader in New Hampshire. He was tracking down men who'd had the honor of playing college football 33 years ago with Notre Dame's newest coach, but, funny, his old teammates said George had never played.
George blinked. Blindsided. Now he had to lie again. Well, he said, it was true, he hadn't really played, uh...there was that knee injury one year, and then the other year he was sick, mononucleosis. Somebody must've made a mistake in die bio. Heisler left. George looked down at his thick, chafed hands. He worked until 2 a.m.
The next day, figuring the worst was over, he left for Alexandria, Va., to recruit running back Tommy Clayton. George still didn't understand. Notre Dame, George. Notre Dame. A phone call came late that afternoon. It was Lou Nanni, the university's vice president of public affairs and communications. Fennell had called back, holding a 21-year-old document that Syracuse had faxed to him. The lie had been written by George. Could he explain?
No, George couldn't, he must've written it, but, but.... Lou, this is just a speed bump, right? No, said Nanni. Calls from media outlets everywhere were pouring into the university. Nanni was surprised at what happened next. George offered to resign.
Hold on, said Nanni. They would prepare a statement admitting George's weakness as a young coach. They'd take some terrible blows, but they'd weather them together. George left to meet the recruit's parents, his gut in a knot. Nanni called back, read the statement, then asked, "George, is there anything else in your bio that's not accurate?"
A pause. A lifetime hanging. The master's degree—should he lie?
"George, there's going to be incredible scrutiny on this by the media," said Nanni. "If we don't get this all clear now, it will come out anyway."
George's voice cracked, and words began to tumble from his lips—something about credits and a degree—that didn't quite make sense. "George," said Nanni, in a nightmare of his own. "If someone were to look hard at the records concerning the master's degree at NYU, would it be fair to say they're not going to find your name there?"
Another pause. For the first time it occurred to George: He'd wandered off his field. He could survive a lie inside a white-lined rectangle, but now he was playing in someone else's ivory tower. Yes, George finally said, his voice deathly quiet and far away. They wouldn't find it.