Where, then, to start the story of the Notre dame football coach's flaming fall from grace? Upon George O'Leary's hotel bed that night, as his hand keeps rubbing his face and his lips whisper, "Oh, Jesus ... oh, Jesus ... what will my mother say?" Or at the Minnesota Vikings office of George's old high school quarterback, who quietly shuts the door so no one will hear him sob? No. They're both too close.
Perhaps on the laptop screen of the columnist in Chicago as the words "low-rent fraud" flash to life in his third sentence? Or on the sketch pad of The Orange County Register cartoonist as he draws George with a Pinocchio nose at a job interview, saying, "I can fly if I concentrate really hard."
No. They're both too far away.
How about in the kitchen of a white Cape Cod in Liverpool, N.Y.? Yes, that's it, the kitchen where an old Italian has just come to a halt, electrocuted by the radio news of the lies on George O'Leary's résumé and of his resignation on Dec. 14, five days after taking his dream job at Notre Dame. Luke LaPorta sags into a chair. His eyes close, and 23 years collapse: He's sitting in his office as athletic director at Liverpool High in the summer of 1978, asking his young Irish Catholic football coach a question so loaded, so personal, that he can barely squeeze it from his throat: "George...are there any inconsistencies in how you've represented yourself?"
Luke knows the answer. The school superintendent, Virgil Tompkins, has called him aside and informed him of inaccuracies in George's claims about his playing career and postgraduate credits, and now the heat's on Luke, who hired George over 84 other applicants the year before. But Luke still hopes against hope that it's all a misunderstanding, because if this man's a liar, then the world's flat and the moon's square and eagles are no better than cockroaches.
George flushes red. "A lot of people do that," he replies.
Maybe some other language has a word for what runs through Luke. It's something close to nausea and not far from deep, deep sorrow. "Yeah," Luca finally says. "I've got a long résumé, but... it all checks out." Luca—that's what his father, born in southern Italy, named him—comes from a Long Island neighborhood teeming with ethnic groups. So does George. Both know the dictionary of meanings contained in small gestures and flickers of eyes. George's shoulders shrug, his lips purse, and his eyes cut to one side. The look, Luca calls it. The look means:
That's all I'm going to say.
That's the way of the world.
You and I, we understand each other.