Ismail chose this collection of relative unknowns over a myriad of full-service "name" agents who had clamored to represent him. Bob Woolf had made the trip from Boston to the Ismails' house in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. Marvin Demoff, Leigh Steinberg and Steve Zucker also offered their services. Robert Elias, a Wilkes-Barre lawyer who employs Raghib's mother, Fatma, as a legal secretary, fielded calls every day for a month. Dr. Malcolm Conway, a Wilkes-Barre chiropractor with whom the Ismails are close, received as many as 20 calls a day. Conway's callers included three different people from ProServ, the Arlington, Va.-based agency that represents Michael Jordan.
"Morcom Enterprises?" asked one rival agent when Rocket finally made his decision. "How did those guys get Ismail? Who are those guys?"
Let us answer these questions in order.
Before anyone could "get" Ismail, the Irish star had to first renege on a vow he had made and repeated throughout the 1990 season, that he would return to Notre Dame for his senior year. "Once you're out of college, you're fair game for anyone," Ismail said in late October. "You're going to have to have lawyers and all that stuff, and that sounds like a big headache."
Four days after the Irish beat Southern Cal to end their regular season—a game in which ABC analyst Bob Griese continually referred to Ismail as "ISH-may-el"—the Rocket was presented with the Walter Camp Football Foundation's Player of the Year award. After rendering the winner's name "Ra-HEEB ISH-may-el," foundation president Kevin O'Brien discussed the history of the trophy. The assembled media listened respectfully for roughly 90 seconds, then got down to brass tacks. "Rocket," someone asked, "will you be back next year?"
"My plans are definitely to stay," Ismail said. "I won't be leaving early, not unless my mom passes away or something."
That offhand response proved to be somewhat prophetic, though the Ismails would not themselves be touched by tragedy. On Jan. 2, the day after Notre Dame's one-point loss to Colorado in the Orange Bowl, Irish noseguard Chris Zorich returned home to Chicago to find his mother, Zora, dead on the floor of her apartment. On Jan. 24, Ismail announced that he would declare himself eligible for the draft after all, and he cited as the reason for his decision the death of Zora Zorich. "I want to be able to do something for my family," said Ismail. "[Zora's death] was just a reminder to me that no matter how carefully you plan, nothing is going to happen the way you expect it to."
But was that the sole reason for his change of heart? Here Ismail wavers. "The whole decision was a big ordeal," he says. "It wasn't any one thing that happened overnight."
Other factors in The Decision:
•Life in a Fishbowl. Private and exceedingly modest, Ismail had only grudgingly accepted his role as South Bend's latest legend-in-residence. Even his Grace Hall dorm room did not provide sanctuary from the alumni, autograph seekers, friends of friends, and other admirers who came knocking—and still come knocking—at all hours. Ismail and roommate Rusty Setzer often pretend they are not in. To keep down the interruptions, they removed their room number from Grace Hall's alphabetized directory.