Last week SPORTS
ILLUSTRATED analyzed the results of a Notre Dame poll of ex-football stars that
apparently exploded the popular notion that stardom on the gridiron is followed
by failure in life. As a check on these conclusions, the editors interviewed
several ex-players who had not responded to the Notre Dame questionnaire, as
well as graduates of several other schools. Herewith the findings.
There once was a
poor but honest lad called Bill Wightkin. He was a Catholic boy of Lithuanian
descent and lived in Detroit, where his father had a bicycle repair shop. He
loved sports, especially football, and when he grew at last to be a big boy and
a star lineman on his high school football team, the doors to higher education
sprang open for him, poor as he was.
"Some of the
offers were pretty good," he remembers. " Michigan State offered to help
my father in business. It was hard for him to get materials for his shop—the
war was on. They said they would help Dad get scarce items. Don't ask me where,
I don't know."
But Michigan State
didn't appeal to Bill. He was thinking of college almost wholly in terms of
athletics, and decided that the team he would most like to play on was
Purdue's. He took Purdue's offer—a job that would pay for his board, room and
old Irish priest [Father James E. Martin O.S.B., former athletic director at
Detroit Catholic Central] told me that I would do all right at Purdue. Play all
four years, probably 60 minutes a game, and be a hero. But he said that all
that wouldn't equal one minute in a Notre Dame game. One minute as a Notre Dame
player would be more thrilling and would mean more, he told me. I got to
thinking, and I went to Notre Dame." There he received a standard Notre
Dame athletic B-R-T—board, room and tuition—working scholarship. His job was as
a dormitory prefect.
Bill won his
monogram on the Notre Dame line in '47, '48 and '49. He was not a great star:
the only "All—" team he ever made was the Lithuanian All-America. He
broke a foot once and an elbow another time but had no "serious"
injuries. These were minor penalties, he felt—he loved the game.
Soon after coming
to Notre Dame, the serious purpose of the university was borne in on him in all
sorts of ways: in the semimonasticism of the campus life, the pointed lack
among the faculty of any favoritism toward athletes and, not least, the
reminders from Coach Frank Leahy that class work came first. Bill graduated
from the College of Engineering in 1950 with a respectable 84.7 average and got
a good job as a sales engineer.
However, his name
had been drawn by the Chicago Bears in the annual draft of graduating college
players. The Bears wanted him, the pay was good, so Bill made arrangements with
his employer to go on a part-time schedule during the football months. This
worked out well, and last month Bill started his seventh season with the Bears.
With the two salaries, his yearly income runs into five figures.
Bill was married
soon after college. He and his wife, daughter and son live in a nice house in a
pleasant suburb of Chicago. Bill is a member of the Knights of Columbus, a
faithful churchgoer and has done his share, as a Little League official and
member of the city recreation commission, in community affairs. He is a
responsible, prosperous, happy and grateful man, and all his gratitude flows
back to Notre Dame. He lapses into a tone of reverence when he speaks of the
school: "I appreciate the opportunity I had.... It was a good education....
It opened doors for me.... It gave me business opportunities...." And does
he want his son to go there and play football? You bet he does.
Last week SPORTS
ILLUSTRATED reported on a survey that Notre Dame had made of the postcollege
careers of its football players. According to those findings they had done
exceptionally well: their income level was above that of college graduates in
general, their jobs were mostly in the professional, managerial and owner
categories, domestic tranquillity and civic virtue were rife, and nostalgia and
loyalty toward Notre Dame overflowed on all sides. These conclusions, however,
had been based on questionnaires sent to all living football monogram winners,
of whom only about half replied. What about the other half? What were they
hiding? SPORTS ILLUSTRATED's reporters set out to find them, and did find and
interview 122 of them, or 56%, certainly a broad sample.