"It was tough for me," Jon says of being James's brother. "He was a 4.0 student, and I was about a 2.0. People thought something was wrong with me. Teachers would ask, and my brother thought something was wrong with me too. But I just wanted to be an athlete. Then my younger brother comes up, and he's twice the athlete I am. So I had some issues to deal with."
After his father was hired by Devine at Notre Dame in 1978, Jon worked out with the Irish players and made himself into a solid quarterback at South Bend Clay High. Unlike his valedictorian older brother, Jon is remembered in town as feisty—he bloodied his fists on one fan who badmouthed the Notre Dame coaching staff—ultra-competitive and lacking nearly every physical tool needed to land a major-college scholarship. In his junior year he took his SATs with no preparation, "and I think he got a better score than I did," says James, who is today the director of cardiothoracic imaging at Emory's medical school and an adjunct professor of biomedical engineering at Georgia Tech. "Suddenly I'm thinking, Oh, my God, this guy is not stupid."
But Kathy and Jim knew that while James would thrive at any college, Jon had to have football. So they insisted that James take the free tuition (as a coach's child) at Notre Dame, and they paid for Jon to go to tiny Muskingum College in Ohio because he'd have a chance to play there. With that motivation, they knew, Jon would stay in school. "Thank God football exists," James says, "because otherwise he'd be in real trouble."
After a year, Jon transferred to Dayton, where he didn't see much action beyond mop-up and holding for kicks. "The most disappointing thing in my whole life," he says, "is not being able to be anything but a ham-and-egger."
Lord knows, he tried. His mom always told him to find his passion and embrace it, and at Dayton no one squeezed harder than Jon. He threw spirals endlessly with those too-small hands, he lifted weights in the off-season, he ran—sure that he could make himself into a player. The summer of 1983, after his first year at Dayton, he was in the best shape of his life, and he would come home from a workout in Tampa sweating and glancing at himself in the mirror. Jay, about to enter his junior year of high school, hadn't yet blossomed as a player, and he spent the hot days watching TV and munching microwave popcorn. Jon couldn't help himself. "Get off the couch, Zit Butt," he'd say to Jay. "Hey, Dog Boy. Hey, Pig. I just threw 400 TD passes. I just ran five miles. Why don't you get up and do something?"
After weeks of this, Jay finally cocked an eyebrow and said, "You want to race me?"
They agreed on two miles, and they were neck and neck until the last two-tenths of a mile. Then Jay opened it up and left Jon behind and realizing at last that he'd never be a real player. "Talk about getting humiliated: Hey, loser" he says. "That's when I knew."
The following summer, things only got worse between them. Jon kept sniping—about a pillow, the TV clicker, anything—and suddenly he and Jay were out in the yard, punching the hell out of each other while trying to stick to the family rule against hitting in the face. For 15 minutes the battle went on, both boys getting shots in but the quicker, taller Jay pounding his older brother on the shoulders, arms and, eventually, the face. At last Jon walked away. "I couldn't throw the ball for a week," he says. "He beat me in a race, and he beat me up. Now you see why I got into coaching."
Say this for Jon: He let it all go. Jay went on to break passing records at Louisville, playing Division I-A football for a renowned coach, Howard Schnellenberger. Jon began his career as a coaching grunt but kept tabs on Jay from afar. Each Saturday, no matter where Jon was, he would climb to a high spot and search the dial on a tiny transistor radio for the Louisville game. Sometimes he'd stand alone on a hill or a roof for hours, radio pressed to his ear, playing each play with Jay, listening to the scratchy crowd noise, the announcers, the sound of Dog Boy doing something big.
For a long time he was certain it was killing him. Why can't I sleep? What's wrong with me? Gruden went from doctor to doctor, and they had no answers. He tried sleeping pills. Still, there he'd be, three or four hours into a deep snooze, and then-bang!—eyes open, staring at the ceiling. He convinced himself that he was tired, because that's what everyone said. You can't keep going like this, Jon, you'll burn out. He heard it so many times that he almost believed it. He must be exhausted.