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There were some things that did not produce chuckles. Media people would not let up on the five black players who had been reinstated after a mass suspension for violating dormitory visiting rules last summer. An ABC reporter tried to interview the five for national television before the Boston College game and Valdiserri, on Devine's behalf, went through the roof. Then there was Fullback Art Best, whose scholarship was terminated after an alleged marijuana bust. Safety-man Tim Simon, while fencing with bamboo sticks, had one break off in his eye. Tight End Robin Weber had to quit football because of a chronic nerve injury. On the first week of spring practice, Quarterback-elect Frank Allocco separated his shoulder so badly he is still throwing flutter balls.
Enter Richard C. (Rick) Slager of Columbus, Ohio, the new (but ever-so-slightly-used) and remarkably different Notre Dame quarterback, successor in the line that brought you Lujack, Hornung, Hanratty, Theismann and Clements. By Beano Cook's scale of weights and measures, his (Slager's) would be the fourth toughest job in the world. Here is Slager and two of his buddies from the offense, Center Steve Quehl and Halfback Mark McLane, having pepperoni pizza at Nicola's Restaurant in South Bend. Except for guys like Quehl and McLane, hardly anybody knows Slager yet—it always seems to work that way, Cook says, because nobody ever believes the current hero-quarterback will ever be replaced. Slager is a senior. He has a square chin under an uninflated blond head, and though he is listed as 5'11" he appears shorter.
"That's because he's chunky," says McLane.
"Fat," says Quehl.
Slager is a couple of things most big-time college quarterbacks are not. He is a pre-med student, he doesn't want to play pro football, and one of the reasons he came to Notre Dame in the first place was because he wanted the chance to try tennis. He has played more tennis for Notre Dame (as No. 1 in varsity singles) than he has football (18 minutes total before this season). No other starting quarterback in Notre Dame history can make that statement.
"I watched Tom Clements pretty closely last year," says Slager, dipping into the pizza. The others are telling how bad the training table food is, and how the girls at St. Mary's don't look so bad after you've seen the girls at Notre Dame. "I watched how cool Clements was. I made up my mind I was going to be relaxed and cool for the opening game. It worked great. I slept good. I wasn't a bit nervous. I was so cool for Boston College I didn't get up for the thing. I was like in a trance the entire first half."
"The first half was unreal," says Quehl. "So many of us were new, even though we were upperclassmen."
"But it brought us together," says Slager.
"You could feel it," says McLane. "You could feel the whole team come together. Rick got so excited he was actually screaming the signals."
"I really got into it," says Slager. "If everybody in the stadium had shut up, I'd have sounded like an idiot. I was yelling and holding up my fingers for the count—I couldn't believe how excited I got."