When Special Contributor Rick Telander arrived in South Bend, Ind. to cover Notre Dame's two-week bookstore basketball tournament (page 38), he planned to keep a low profile. In fact, it was suggested to him by a member of the Notre Dame Sports Information Office that he join a team and not interview players openly. "This is kind of a sports-mad school," Telander was told. "If the students knew the tournament was being covered by SPORTS ILLUSTRATED they might go a little nuts."
The aim of the bookstore tournament is to help students release energy and have fun during the annual spring campus festivities. But it wouldn't take much, it was implied, for the students to forget sportsmanship and laughs for the vainer rewards of glory. After a quick look around, Telander agreed.
"I've never seen a campus where sports are more important," he says. "Or another where every single man and woman looked like a jock.
"I saw people playing baseball, softball, stickball and soccer. I saw human-pyramid building and mud chariot racing...the list is endless. My favorite was two guys going off to drive golf, balls across Lake Saint Mary's, with another guy wearing a baseball glove to field them on the other side."
It should not be inferred, Telander is quick to point out, that all Notre Dame students are brainless mesomorphs. Merely to be considered for admission to Notre Dame, a student must rank in the top 10% of his high school class and have a combined SAT score of 1,200. In any event, Telander's plan did not require him to be a scholastic ringer. An all-Big Ten defensive back at Northwestern in 1971 and an eighth-round draft pick of the Kansas City Chiefs, he admits to a severe weakness for games of any sort and was ready to jock it up: basketball, golf, jogging, football throwing, Frisbee—he was ready. He did join a basketball team, which won its first three games in the bookstore tournament. At this point Telander began to worry that his illegal presence might well cost the team the championship if it should progress that far, so he bowed out. But then his adopted team lost two men to injuries. "The guys needed a body for their next game, so they asked me back," he says. "I was wearing street clothes, I'd just come from eating knockwurst, sauerkraut and cherry pie at the cafeteria, and Jeff Carpenter, the quickest man on the Notre Dame varsity, was guarding me. Nausea was instantaneous."
Thus humbled, Telander sat down to write his story. He had earlier admitted to a long-standing dislike of Notre Dame ("How can you really like a school that has 300-pound linemen and God on its side?"), but he found himself warming to the university after his stay.
"I liked just about everybody I met there," he says. "And, most important, I never once heard a player in the bookstore tournament say, 'Let's win this one for the Gipper.' "