Notre Dame Linebacker Michael Stonebreaker is quiet and painfully shy, and that makes him a satisfying target for pranks and gags. In late September, his teammate Frank Stams answered a phone in the Notre Dame athletic office and informed the caller that the upcoming game against Stanford had been canceled. Stams explained that both teams had decided to devote the weekend to studying.
"Who is this?" the indignant caller inquired.
"Michael Stonebreaker," replied Stams.
Then there was the time Stams sneaked into the office of defensive tackles coach John Palermo and wolfed down some hoagies he found in a bag on the desk. He left a thank-you note written on a napkin and signed it with Stonebreaker's name.
Stonebreaker does not always turn the other cheek. When reprimanded for the hoagie incident, he turned Stams in. And recently he presented Stams with an early Christmas present: a gift-wrapped fetal pig from the biology lab.
With Notre Dame's Fiesta Bowl showdown against West Virginia for the national championship approaching, Stams and his fun-loving sidekick, linebacker Wes Pritchett, recently decided to let up on Stonebreaker. Knowing how tongue-tied Stoney gets during interviews, they chose to do him a favor by telling the country everything there is to know about their friend.
"Not too many people know about this, but Stoney likes to play badminton," Stams revealed. "He stands in front of his dorm and goes through a whole box of birds in an afternoon. He doesn't even use a net. Sometimes I feel sorry for him and hit the birds back."
Pritchett picked up the thread. "Stoney really loves Jarts, you know, those big darts you play with out in the yard," he said. "He often plays in his dorm room, using a special Velcro set. He saves his tournament set, which he acquired from a Japanese Jart player, for his travels to competitions around the country."
When Stonebreaker hears these tales, he shakes his head and rolls his eyes. Stams and Pritchett? Who needs friends like these?
Although he is a man of few words, Stonebreaker, a 6'1", 226-pound junior from River Ridge, La., can really be a presence. A consensus All-America, he finished third in this year's voting for the Dick Butkus Award (behind Derrick Thomas of Alabama and Broderick Thomas of Nebraska), which is given annually to the nation's top college linebacker. He led the Irish in solo tackles with 71, broke up five passes and returned an interception 39 yards for a touchdown against Michigan State on Sept. 17.