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It was football, after all, that put Notre Dame on the map, producing in the process the one truly national following in all sports, college or professional. Today Notre Dame games are carried over 380 radio stations and shown on delayed videotape in 140 cities. Despite its relatively small student body, and even its $7.50 ticket price (highest in college football), the 59,000-capacity stadium has not had an empty seat in six years. With Notre Dame's overall budget grown to $50 million a year, football receipts no longer take on the vital importance they once did. Still, the 10 regular-season football games annually produce $1.7 million or so, which, together with the roughly $300,000 generated by Austin Carr and the rest of the Notre Dame basketball team, is enough to underwrite other varsity sports plus one of the most lavish intramural programs anywhere—and leave $250,000 in profit for good measure.
"If football didn't pay for itself, I don't think we'd have it at Notre Dame," says the Rev. Edmund Joyce, who serves, not incompatibly, as both the university's overlord of athletics and chief financial officer. "It's all those schools that are losing money on football you have to wonder about. Why are they subsidizing football? Aren't they forced to take money from somewhere, from more important things?" Father Joyce states a cogent case for making football pay, which in turn, of course, is a very potent argument for winning.
But logic alone can never be a reason to win at football, and at Notre Dame there is added inspiration everywhere. One can search in vain for the Four Horsemen's stable, but the old campus statue of "Fair Catch Corby," showing an early Notre Dame president with a hand in the air, still stands, and there is also that huge mural adorning the library of "Touchdown Jesus," whose upraised arms are on a direct sight line with the goalposts in the nearby stadium. Tired jokes and old Ronald Reagan movies aside, are there possibly any Notre Dame men who would not, if given the chance, go out and gladly win one more for the Gipper?
Yes, there are. Before this year's Purdue game somebody ran an ad in The Observer, the student paper, noting: IT HAS BEEN FOUR YEARS SINCE NOTRE DAME HAS BEATEN A BOILERMAKER TEAM. Next day another ad, this one placed by two upperclassmen calling themselves Students for Reordered Priorities, asked: SO WHAT? And here and there a harsher note is heard. "It would be the greatest thing in the world if Notre Dame had six 0-and-10 seasons in a row," says Dan Hyde, a junior from LaCrosse, Wis. "The way everybody lives and dies for football around here is absurd." Hyde is active in student government—he is the campus ombudsman, a sort of official problem-solver—but his distaste for the football fever that infects Notre Dame produces in him a sense of isolation. "Maybe I just don't belong here," he concludes.
It makes sense that Notre Dame's football tradition should attract students who love the game. How else explain the fact that more than a quarter of the present freshman class lettered in high school football? How else account for Notre Dame's intramural football program—not the collection of straggly touch players you find on other campuses, but 650 men happily banging heads as members of 18 fully equipped teams? It used to be said that Dillon Hall could whip Kansas State, but Parseghian, whose recruiting is keyed to convincing prospects they can play at Notre Dame, discourages any talk that the campus abounds in surplus talent.
The fashion on many campuses today is to knock competitive sport, but at Notre Dame even the critics of big-time football usually add quickly, "But don't get me wrong—I love football." Their enthusiasm spills over to other sports. Notre Dame men think nothing of jogging through heavy snows, taking batting practice in the corridors of their residence halls or—this is Indiana, remember—playing pickup basketball at all hours. Significantly, Notre Dame is one of the few universities that still has intramural boxing, the finals of which, the Bengal Bouts, drew a total of 5,000 spectators last spring.
For all the outward expressions of masculinity, Notre Dame until recently went further in sheltering its students than many Catholic women's colleges, to say nothing of Vassar and Radcliffe. There were morning Mass checks and evening curfews, and lights were turned off in all rooms at 11 p.m. by a master switch. Students who tried to beat the system ran afoul of the Rev. Charles McCarragher, also known as Black Mac, the dreaded prefect of discipline. The story was told of earlier prefects, too, but a generation of Notre Dame men came of age believing that Black Mac wore one street shoe and one sneaker, this so he could run through the halls and have it sound as though he were walking.
Now the director of student aid, McCarragher seems an unlikely candidate to evoke undergraduate terror, a peppery little man who says: "Discipline is a word nobody seems to buy anymore." Just as Catholics have questioned the authority of their church, so Notre Dame men have dared to challenge the padre-knows-best tradition of campus life. Notre Dame no longer has either curfews or lights out, while cars, once forbidden, are now permitted for juniors and seniors. Most dramatic of all, students may drink and receive women in their rooms. There are still a few restrictions—the girls, for example, are supposed to be out by 2 a.m. on weekends—but students often find such rules convenient to ignore.
Besides greater freedom over their personal lives, Notre Dame men have won a louder voice in university policy, usually through student government but sometimes not. A case in point is the old field house, the local answer to Berkeley's People's Park. The university planned to raze the building two years ago, but art students, claiming squatters rights and supported by a big "Save the Field House" rally, took it over as studio space. The administration gave in, and no bayonets were seen. The field house still stands, used by the likes of dark-eyed Lida Petruniak, a graduate art student and herself well-sculpted testimony to the school's liberated atmosphere. Lida's presence on campus might have touched off a near riot as recently as five years ago, but today she can say of Notre Dame men that they are "perfect gentlemen."
But nobody, not yet anyway, would contend that manhood is quite dead. Notre Dame men outnumber St. Mary's women 5 to 1, and most agree that coeducation has not gone nearly far enough. Louis Rappelli, who runs an off-campus pizza restaurant called Louie's, says, "The way these students talk, there's a girl in every room. Well, I've got news for you. There ain't that many girls."