1 NOTRE DAME
Notre Dame football rises up out of the featureless flat sand and scrub surrounding South Bend like a sort of Colossus of Rhodes. For sheer mass, power and over-lordship of the landscape, the Fighting Irish somewhat resemble the panorama of refineries and steel mills which springs up suddenly from the dunes at one of the next turns in the Indiana Turnpike, a melodramatic 1930s mural that writes its own title—"The Sinews of a Nation," or something like that. But Notre Dame is more than the sinews of college football; it is the biceps, or maybe the gut. If the fate of the United States somehow depended on a single football game, the President or the Joint Chiefs of Staff or whoever was recruiting the team would arrive at South Bend, hats in hand, invoking the hallowed names of Rockne, Leahy, Dorais, the Four Horsemen and Touchdown Jesus. Congress would pass a special subsidy and the CIA would inquire about stunts, ties and fake injuries.
The Yankees and Packers fell and have had the modesty to stay fallen, but glory days are back with a vengeance at Notre Dame. Pro football men, whose fate does depend on winning games, were more numerous than ever at spring practice. Jim Trimble, personnel director of the New York Giants, walked away one afternoon shaking his head in disbelief.
"A nice team," he said drily.
"Yes, there are some who can play," his companion answered.
"Some," Trimble said. "I'll trade Ara even up."
Another NFL scout's comment was yet more impressive for its lack of hyperbole, its sincere specificity. "I'd trade my front four for theirs right now," he said.
Look at that long metallic line of gold helmets: 16 of 22 starters return from last season's Cotton Bowl winners, including Tom Gatewood, 210 pounds of the best wide receiver in the country, who caught 79 passes for 1,166 yards; Ed Gulyas, who ran for 558 yards last year; Walt Patulski, now 6'6" and 260 pounds, left end on a defensive line that averages around 240 pounds, who 17 times nailed opponents for long losses; and Clarence Ellis, an All-America deep back last year who started out by feeling he did not belong on the Notre Dame first team. Ellis is now better than ever and a bit more confident.
"Other schools worry about winning their conference," says Dave Kempton, only in his second year as assistant sports publicity man and still learning how they think at Notre Dame. "Down here they talk about winning the national championship. Not cocky, but sort of casual, like you and I would talk about going out and having a beer."
Last year's beer was a bit bitter, alkalized by the memory of a 38-28 loss to Southern California which not only ruined a perfect season but cost the Irish a national championship. "That meant," Patulski says, "that we almost had success, that we had a degree of success." He is a tall, hawknosed, unusually amiable giant who smiles easily, but his tone left no doubt how the Irish feel about relative success. When he talked about a 10-1 season, a Cotton Bowl victory and a No. 2 national ranking, his voice was grim.