My name is Steve Huffman. I'm 23 years old, 6'5", 270 pounds, and I'm a quitter.
That's what it says on pages 70 and 71 of The Fighting Spirit by Lou Holtz, which was published last year. That's not how I think of myself, as a quitter, but that's what it says in the book written by one of the most esteemed college football coaches.
You may remember the book—it's subtitled A Championship Season at Notre Dame, and it was a best-seller, read by a lot of Notre Dame fans, I guess, and by a lot of college football fans generally. In case you've never seen it, here's the excerpt, in which Holtz quotes himself talking to his football players before the 1988 season:
I want to talk a little bit about quitting. Last year we got through two-a-days, and Steve Huffman, our second-string center, came up and said, "I quit." I've never seen anyone put a football team in a bind like an individual does by quitting. Once you start something, you let everybody in this room down if you quit. I never said anything to Steve. I never said anything publicly. But I want to tell you, it's totally unfair to the group to quit on them. It almost seemed like he planned to put his teammates in checkmate....
All the work and effort that everybody put forth last year could have gone down the drain because...[Huffman]...quit in the middle of the battle. I'll tell you right now, if you want to quit, please do it tonight. If you're in this meeting room tomorrow, I don't care what your role on this team is, your attitude better be, "I'm gonna see this sucker through this year." Our attitude cannot be, "I'm gonna be with you only as long as everything goes well." Anyone who quits is quitting on himself, and that's a bad habit to start. We aren't going to have that situation anymore.
So there you have it—I'm a quitter. But I had my reasons for doing what I did, and you won't find them in Holtz's book. Those reasons have to do with the football system at Notre Dame, with the gap between what people think Notre Dame football is and what I saw: widespread use of steroids and a head coach who has little patience with injured players—and who, incidentally, has done a little quitting of his own over the years. Leaving William & Mary to go to North Carolina State. Bolting North Carolina State for the New York Jets. Bailing out on the Jets after less than one season. Resigning from Arkansas and going to Minnesota. Abandoning Minnesota for Notre Dame.
Even so, I wouldn't be going public with the way I feel about Holtz and his program if he hadn't gone public about me. Whoever reads that book, all they will know about me is that I'm a quitter. You want a job, Huffman? But, hey, aren't you the one who let your coach and teammates down back in South Bend? Yes, here he is, boys, take a good look. You've got your Notre Dame heroes—your Rocknes and Gippers and Parseghians and Montanas and Holtzes. And you've got your losers, your scum. You've got Steve Huffman.
I deserve my turn. I'm entitled to a rebuttal. I'll start at the beginning. If I'm the quitter, let's see just what it was I quit.
I come from a family of 10. I'm the baby; I have three older sisters and four older brothers, and all the boys are big. We average about 6'6" and 280 pounds. My oldest brother, Dave, 33, is an offensive lineman in his 11th season with the Minnesota Vikings, and Tim, 31, played offensive line for the Green Bay Packers from 1981 to '85. Richard, 26, bounced around in football at a couple of colleges, and Mike, 32, was at Arkansas—when Holtz was there, as a matter of fact. Mike is now a physician in New Hampshire.
Dave and Tim went to Notre Dame and played for Dan Devine. They liked the school and the football program, and as I got older, I dreamed that maybe one day I would follow in their footsteps. Our family isn't Catholic, but Notre Dame is a quality school, and for a lineman there can't be many better places to get recognition.