Nanni blanched and got off the phone. White, the athletic director, called George moments later to verify.
"I'm sorry," George kept saying, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry."
White was reefing. He had to speak to the university president, Father Edward Malloy. He'd call back in a few minutes, he said.
George waited. Forty minutes of forever passed. The phone rang. A trust had been broken, said White. False academic credentials at Notre Dame were a death knell. He accepted George's resignation.
George hung up. That was it. He was done. Just a couple of little matches...and everything was up in flames. Sure, he might've had to resign from any other university, but the fact that it had happened at Notre Dame, that was the wind turning this into a conflagration, sending it burning from page 4C in the newspapers to page 1A.
His hand began to work across his face. It was just after midnight. All the consequences, one horror and humiliation after the next, began to spread through him. The joke, the sick joke, was on him. Notre Dame hadn't cared whether he had a master's degree or whether he'd lettered in college football. The lies had been wasted. George O'Leary, the chipmunk trying to pass for a squirrel, when everyone saw him as a lion.
His mind reeled: to the assistants he'd brought from Tech to Notre Dame, suddenly jobless. To the lives of his entire staff at Tech, thrown asunder for nothing. To himself, unemployed, unemployable, holding the bag for the $1.5 million buyout that Notre Dame wouldn't pay now. To his family name-ruined. Oh, Jesus, his mother, his mother....
He stared out the second-floor window. He considered the distance. Eighth floor, maybe, he thought. But not from here. He stood. He had to get out of there, leave, go somewhere, now. No. Not allowed. Aviation regulations. Mandatory rest time. Notre Dame's private pilots couldn't fly till 4 a.m. For four hours he sat there, holding on through the dark, trying to survive.
He flew to South Bend, grabbed a few belongings, hurried back to the plane to return to Georgia in the sickly light of dawn. He got into his car at a private airport near Atlanta and began the hour-and-a-half drive to his lake house. Tears began streaming down his cheeks.
The phone was ringing as he entered the empty house. Oh, God. Mom. Eighty years old. "George...what happened?" she cried. She heard him struggling not to break down.