VARSITY TEAMS: 25
INTRAMURAL SPORTS: 22
FAMOUS ALUMNI: PAUL HORNUNG, JOE MONTANA, KNUTE ROCKNE
EXTRA CREDIT FOR: INTRAMURAL BOXING AND TACKLE FOOTBALL
In 1995 the College Football Hall of Fame relocated from King's Island, Ohio, to South Bend, Ind., the home of Notre Dame. Were it not for the university's Catholic affiliation, you might say this was a case of the mountain coming to Mohammed.
Since its inception in 1887 Notre Dame football has produced a (feel free to say "an alltime leading" before each item) .759 winning percentage, 77 consensus All-Americas, 11 national championships, seven Heisman Trophy winners and millions of ardent advocates and antagonists. Renown? The Fighting Irish have given the sport its most famous coach (Knute Rockne); pep talk (Rockne's "Win one for the Gipper" speech); fight song ("Cheer, cheer for old Notre Dame..."); and even newspaper lead (Grantland Rice's "Outlined against a blue, gray October sky...").
In 1924, shortly after Rockne's charges had won their first national title, the Reverend John O'Hara, the school's prefect of religion, wrote, "Notre Dame football is a new crusade: It kills prejudice and it stimulates faith." Actually the legacy of Rockne is a campus on which religion, sports and academics are interwoven. The football team, which before each game attends mass en masse, even though a majority of the players these days aren't Catholics, has had a 98.5% graduation rate since 1962. The school's president, the Reverend Edward Malloy, played basketball for the Irish.
What's the recipe for creating a campus crawling with jocks, a school once described in these pages as "even in the calmest of times...resembling an Olympic training village"? Build a national reputation through an intercollegiate sport (see above) so that more than 75% of the students you admit are high school letter winners. Require freshmen to live on campus in single-sex dorms where curfews, called parietals, are strictly enforced. "The act of cavorting with women in an ND dorm room," says Kevin Coyne, who spent a year at Notre Dame and profiled it in his 1995 book, Domers, "is so fraught with dire consequences that, frankly, it's safer to go outside and play tackle football."
That's what the male students do. Interhall football, which Rockne helped create in the late 1920s, bills itself as the only seasonlong, full-contact intramural football found outside the three service academies. The title game is played in 80,000-seat Notre Dame Stadium, which Rockne also designed and which offers a view of perhaps the most famous image in college sports: Touchdown Jesus (so dubbed by students), the 132-foot-high mosaic of Christ on the wall of the Hesburgh Library.
Football aside, the devotion to sports here is as close to catholic as you will find anywhere. This year an estimated 90% of the 7,857 undergraduates will have participated in a club, intramural, recreational or varsity program. The most popular event is Bookstore basketball (page 84), but the most unusual one is a boxing competition. Bengal Bouts, so named because the proceeds ($12,000 to $20,000 annually from ticket sales, donations and fight-program ads) are sent to missions in Bangladesh, draws as many as 125 fighters, who train for six weeks before entering the ring.
In many sports higher powers often seem to be at work on behalf of the Fighting Irish. "God doesn't care whether Notre Dame wins or loses," former football coach Lou Holtz was fond of saying, "but His mother does." In 1974 the men's basketball team ended UCLA's NCAA-record winning streak at 88 games, prompting then coach Digger Phelps to coin the slogan "Nobody leaves Notre Dame Number 1." In 1994 the women's soccer team performed an upset of similar magnitude by defeating North Carolina for the NCAA title. The Tar Heels had won the championship for nine straight years before falling 1-0 to the Irish.
Such high drama may be what inspires so many Domers to find careers in sports media. Alumni include esteemed sportswriter Red Smith, who briefly ran track in 1924 for a coach named Rockne; former NBC Sports executive producer (and current president, NBC West Coast) Don Ohlmeyer and broadcasters Don Criqui, Hannah Storm and Mary Ann Grabavoy, who—now it can be told—was the real-life coed for whom would-be gridiron legend Rudy Ruettiger pined in his eponymous film.
Rudy, like all Notre Dame students except ROTC members, had to take a year of phys-ed classes to receive his degree. He also had to pass the school's mandatory 100-yard swimming test. That's right: Earning a degree from Notre Dame is literally a sink-or-swim proposition.