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THOU SHALT NOT LOSE
Leigh Montville
November 13, 1989
AT JERRY FALWELL'S LIBERTY U, EVERYONE IS PRAYING FOR THE FOOTBALL TEAM, WHICH, UNDER ITS BIG-NAME COACH, SAM RUTIGLIANO, PLAYS FOR THE GLORY OF GOD AND, SOMEDAY, A SHOT AT NOTRE DAME
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November 13, 1989

Thou Shalt Not Lose

AT JERRY FALWELL'S LIBERTY U, EVERYONE IS PRAYING FOR THE FOOTBALL TEAM, WHICH, UNDER ITS BIG-NAME COACH, SAM RUTIGLIANO, PLAYS FOR THE GLORY OF GOD AND, SOMEDAY, A SHOT AT NOTRE DAME

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"Probably cuss words," senior quarterback Paul Johnson said. "I don't know."

At Liberty, men live in men's dorms, women in women's dorms. The curfew is midnight, when all overhead lights must be turned off. A 4½-foot-high white marble monument off to the side of R.C. Worley Chapel is inscribed: IN MEMORY OF THE MILLIONS OF ABORTED BABIES THAT HAVE DIED IN AMERICA SINCE JANUARY 22, 1973 (the date of the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade). The Liberty Way, the school guidebook, lays out strict rules about dating. There are strict rules about virtually all human activity. Players on other teams sometimes call the Liberty players "Jerry's kids."

"It's not a school for everybody," Rutigliano says. "If you don't want to live this way, you shouldn't come here. We have a player who chose between here and Princeton and decided to come here. How do you decide on a college if you're an athlete? You use three criteria: academics, athletics, social situation. O.K., academics: You have to say Princeton; it's an old and famous school. Athletics: A toss-up, maybe. Social situation: If you're a Christian and want to live a Christian life, you pick here. Because here you're not different. At Princeton, you'd be different. Here, you're with people like you. Everyone's a Christian."

The recruiting list for next year supposedly contains more than 800 names. It's different from the recruiting list of any other school. Ministers send in names. Born-agains send in names. The scope is nationwide. Love Jesus? Love football? Doors might not be open at other schools, but they're open at Liberty. The black Christian so far has been as recruitable as the white Christian. Have you been saved? What is your time in the 40-yard dash? What do you bench-press? Come. All that is required is a C average, a high-school diploma and a belief in Christ.

The Eastern Michigan behemoths were unbeaten at 5-0-1. Liberty also was unbeaten, 4-0, but it was a Division I-AA team meeting a I-A opponent for the first time in its history. The crowd of 14,127 at Rynearson Stadium in Ypsilanti, Mich., on Oct. 14 was the largest ever to watch Liberty play. This was also Band Night. Thirty-eight bands played nonstop secular music, a seemingly perpetual rendition of Louie Louie.

The odds were stacked against Liberty. Johnson, the starting quarterback for three years, was out with a knee injury. He was replaced by Robbie Justino, a nervous freshman.

The Flames also were not allowed to wear their towels.

"Why is that?" asked Liberty senior guard Barry Rice.

"NCAA rules," someone explained. "No messages on towels except the name of the school."

Half of Liberty's players had towels hanging from their pants during warm-ups, each towel inscribed with a favorite scripture or religious message. Rice's was a full bath towel on which he had written JESUS IS LORD with a felt-tip pen. Defensive back Brian Woolfolk had a cross shaved on the back of his head. The towels went. There was nothing the NCAA could do about Woolfolk's head.

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