I thought of the problems my brother Mike had had with Holtz at Arkansas. Mike had told me that at the very first team meeting he attended under Holtz, the coach told his players, "Anybody who is injured is on my shit list." This was bad news for Mike, who was injured at the time and wouldn't play again at Arkansas. He had hurt his knee playing football his freshman year under Frank Broyles badly enough that he had to use a cane for a few years after he left Arkansas.
Mike and Holtz eventually had a big blowup. Mike has since told me that Holtz often tried to move injured players out of the athletic dorm for fear that they would demoralize the other players. In his own case, Mike felt that Holtz was trying to run him off the team, so they could give his scholarship to somebody else. My father and Holtz even got into a screaming match on the phone about Mike's scholarship. Still, I was determined not to let Mike's experience with Holtz cloud my vision. I was, and am, my own man. And I wanted to play football at Notre Dame.
That fall I got beaten up pretty good. At the start of practice I was knocked around a lot, but gradually I regained some of my strength, and I even played in a couple of games, against Air Force and Navy. Two days after the Navy game, Holtz called me in and with no warning told me I was off the team. I was having trouble with a math course, and Holtz said it was obvious to him that I couldn't handle schoolwork and football at the same time. I dropped the math course and got my other studies more under control—in fact, I ended the semester with a 2.5 GPA—and after missing practice as well as the SMU and Penn State games, I went back to Holtz. To my shock, he wouldn't reinstate me. For one of the few times in my life, I actually groveled. But Holtz didn't care. "Your future here doesn't look too bright," he said. "We don't see you playing football at Notre Dame anymore." Then he asked me, "What are your plans for next spring? Are you thinking about going to school back in Texas?" Transfer schools? The thought had never entered my mind.
O.K., I was causing more than my share of problems for Holtz. Injuries. Mono. Academic difficulties. But quit, no. Holtz's refusal to let me come back made me feel that he was trying to run me off the team, that he and the other coaches would be happy if I transferred to another school so they could get my scholarship back. In other words, they were quitting on me.
My first reaction, though, was that somehow I had let the coaches down. They'd made it clear to me that they thought I should have been bench-pressing at least 400 pounds, 100 more than I was doing. Which brings up the subject of steroids. To me the coaches were ambivalent about whether or not players should use them. On separate occasions two assistant coaches told me they wanted me to get stronger and suggested that taking steroids might help do the job. After the '86 season, we were all told to report to watch a slide show about the dangers of steroids. Holtz was there, and I had to wonder why this man who always had something to say about everything was so quiet during this presentation. I'm told that other players say that Holtz directly warned them not to use steroids, but I never heard it. All I ever heard him say was, "Be careful with steroids." Whenever I was around, that's all he ever said.
Guys on the team did use steroids, and Holtz had to have known. When a player goes away for the summer and comes back in the fall 40 pounds heavier, and his bench press has increased by 70 pounds, a coach should know. In fact, Holtz says this in his own book. On page 161 he writes: "If you're observant, you often can recognize an individual using steroids. You may see a sudden weight gain. When you see someone come out of nowhere to bench press 550 pounds, you have to wonder." I would say that almost half the lettermen at Notre Dame used steroids at some time. The percentage was highest among the linemen—and not just the first-stringers. I know this because I saw it. Winstrol was the big one for the linemen. But some guys used Anavar, and there was Dianabol, too, and other brands like Deca-Durabolin. The whole gamut. I knew the players who were dealing the steroids. Some guys would go home and get a supply and come back from Chicago or wherever, and it was like a Mary Kay distributorship. One of my friends lived with a supplier, and guys would go to his room and get what they needed.
Notre Dame officials will deny all this, of course, but I saw what was going on. I saw the boxes of 40 or 50 bottles in guys' rooms. Bottles of pills, bottles of injectables. I've seen the bottles in their rooms, and I've seen needles in their trash cans. Everybody on the team knows.
I bring this up not to embarrass my former teammates but because people always say how Notre Dame players are smarter and how they graduate and are such good citizens. And some of that perception is true—Notre Dame players do study, and the ones who stay there do graduate—but in many ways the players are no different from the guys at all the other big football schools. They know they're playing a high-revenue game, and they do what they think they need to do to succeed. A lot of them are also easily manipulated, and they get the benefit of the Notre Dame mystique, the Notre Dame fantasy world that says everything is sublime all the time.
Because of that mystique, there may be even more pressure on players to perform well at Notre Dame than at other schools. But I didn't want to take steroids. It didn't seem ethically right, and I was worried about dying of some side effect at age 40. So I didn't take them. Was this another mark against me with the coaches? I don't know, but the thought certainly entered my mind.
When I was flying back to Notre Dame for spring semester 1987, I ran into Holtz at O'Hare Airport in Chicago. I turned a corner in the main terminal, and there he was. In spite of everything, I was happy to see him. We shook hands, and he said, "We have a team meeting next week. If you want, you're welcome to attend." I was very happy, to say the least. I was back on the team!