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"I didn't know of any others—if there were any," he says. "I was the odd guy. I was alone. Who was doing this? Me and some missionaries in foreign countries. I was even thrown off a couple of teams for being a Christian. A manager with the Giants, I remember, once told me not to bring my religion onto the field. I told him I bring my religion everywhere."
By 1973, Worthington had retired and was the pitching coach of the Minnesota Twins. He heard Falwell speak about his school on the radio. It was enough to change Worthington's life again. He called Falwell and located him in a hotel room in Portland, Ore. Worthington said a new Christian college should have a good Christian baseball coach. He wanted the job. Money was not a problem.
At the end of the season, Worthington left the big leagues and arrived in Lynchburg to coach a baseball team that had no field and not many baseballs. "If I'd known that, maybe I wouldn't have come so fast," he says. "I wound up with all the equipment in the trunk of my car. We practiced at this little Colt League park in town. The field was so bad, I rigged up this broom to drag from the back of my car just to smooth out the infield. We had no facilities. None."
Worthington is now Liberty's athletic director. He has a corner office in a building with a weight room in the basement that's big enough to keep four dozen Schwarzeneggers happy at the same time. The school has grown to 55 buildings and 6,500 conservatively dressed students (shirts and ties for men and skirts or dresses for women before 4:30 in the afternoon; after that they may wear jeans, T-shirts and sneakers). There's a tidy little baseball stadium named Worthington Field. The baseball coach is Bobby Richardson, the Yankee second baseman of the 1950s and '60s. A hole in the ground marks the start of a 10,000-seat field house that will be completed next year. Liberty competes on the highest NCAA level in every sport except football, which it plays in Division I-AA. And in football it's on the rise.
Liberty is checking off the NCAA requirements for I-A football certification, one after another, starting with its new $2 million Willard May Stadium, donated by an Amarillo, Texas, millionaire. "It's amazing, sure," Worthington says, "but nothing will amaze me as much as when the road was paved right through the middle of this campus. I was here when it was dirt."
Falwell, 56, attends most home football games and many on the road. He's a frequent visitor to practice, too, driving onto the sidelines in his GMC Suburban. His political drive has waned. Liberty football has become the push. This is where the cameras are. Haifa dozen big-city newspapers already have sent correspondents down the backroads to this largest city in America (pop. 70,000) that's not located next to an interstate. Falwell wants more.
"I recruit for our teams, sure I do," he says. "I'm the last voice on the telephone. 'Hello? This is Reverend Jerry Falwell calling. I understand your son, Billy, is a good Christian and wondering where to go to school....' I recruit on television. I'll have Bobby Richardson as a guest on my show and say, 'Bobby, if God could grant you one wish, wouldn't He send you a 6'4" lefthanded pitcher who can throw the ball 100 miles per hour and know where it's going?' "
"What if Bobby Richardson asked for something else?" Falwell is asked. "Like world peace?"
"Well, I guess that would be all right, too," Falwell says. "Either that or the pitcher."
The signing of Rutigliano was Liberty's biggest football accomplishment. NFL coach goes to coach at small school? The headlines came easily. Rutigliano is a dynamic, well-spoken man, last seen on the sidelines of Cleveland Municipal Stadium and in the broadcast booth wearing an NBC blazer. He is 57, and in 33 years of coaching he has moved 19 times, bought 10 homes and sent his kids to 23 different schools. This is his last stop.