You can buy both of those statements, and you can buy a sauna franchise in Death Valley if you want. Holtz is a driven man who seldom seems to eat or sleep. His career record is now 141-75-5, and 25-10 in three seasons at Notre Dame. As Irish athletic director Dick Rosenthal says, "If somebody had to mold a Rockne and a Leahy, they couldn't have come up with a better man than Lou Holtz. He is Notre Dame." Old newsreels reveal that, at the very least, Holtz is as handsome as Rockne.
For the 11-0 Mountaineers and their coach, Don Nehlen, the pregame questions were quite different. Mostly, they were obliged to defend their state and their right to share the field with Notre Dame. What with Holtz's constant praise for West Virginia's success and the media's one-liners about the alleged backwardness of the state, Nehlen became a little testy. "I'm real confused," he said at midweek. "Half of America thinks we shouldn't be here. And Lou talks like we're the best team since the invention of the jelly bean."
A columnist for The Arizona Republic printed an entertainment guide for the thousands of West Virginia fans descending on the Southwest, advising vacationing hillbillies to avoid desert mirages and French-Mex restaurants. The clumsy gibes finally got to the West Virginia players and coaches.
"I wear shoes," said an exasperated Renaldo Turnbull, the Mountaineers' All-East linebacker. "People in West Virginia wear shoes. We don't have wooden teeth." In fact, Turnbull is from the Virgin Islands and is just one of 97 out-of-state athletes among the Mountaineers. Nehlen has shrewdly looked south—to the Miami area mostly—to find "speed" and "skill position" players. Read: black athletes. There were 18 players from Florida on the West Virginia squad, including four starters.
The Mountaineers' offensive line, comprised of beefy (average size: 6'3", 271 pounds) fifth-year seniors, was rounded up closer to home, in Pennsylvania, Ohio and even West Virginia. "If we do have an advantage over Notre Dame—if there be such a thing—it's our offensive linemen," said Nehlen cautiously. All five, led by Koken and tackle Rick Phillips, made at least one all-star team this season.
Still, the main pregame concern for Notre Dame, as it had been for all of the Mountaineers' opponents this season, was Harris, who has the speed and agility to scramble for big gains and the arm to hit receivers short and deep. "Football is simple," said Holtz. "Play in rhythm on offense, disrupt it on defense. Nobody has disrupted their offense yet. That worries me."
The Irish disrupted Harris early in the game, however, nearly knocking him out of action with an injured left shoulder on the Mountaineers' first offensive series. Bravely, the righthanded Harris kept playing, but the Mountaineers' option attack suffered because of Harris's inability to extend his left arm to pitch out.
Meanwhile, Rice, who would be named the Fiesta Bowl's offensive MVP, was demonstrating how much he had improved since the beginning of the season. He made correct decisions on his option pitches, hit receivers when he had to and generally looked nothing like the wild and skittish youngster he was back in September. When West Virginia closed to within 26-13 late in the third quarter and then intercepted a Rice pass, returning it to the Notre Dame 26-yard line, it looked like just the time for Rice to become rattled. But after the Irish defense held the Mountaineers on downs, Rice calmly returned to the field and guided Notre Dame on a seven-play, 80-yard drive, which he capped with a three-yard touchdown pass to tight end Frank Jacobs. Rice ran for the two-point conversion, and the Irish had an insurmountable 34-13 lead.
It's no longer enough simply to play for the national title in college football; with the state of big-time athletics being what it is, teams must undergo ethical scrutiny as well. Does scandal, cheating or probation lurk on the horizon? Are the players good citizens as well as good hitters? Notre Dame had a good enough football squad, and so, indeed, did West Virginia. But did they pass muster morally? Until game time, yes, certainly.
Nehlen, for his part, was named the winner of the 13th annual Bobby Dodd Award, presented by several large corporations to a coach who holds "a belief that the game of football should be kept in perspective with college life in general." If that's possible.