The South Florida Sun-Sentinel has a nice story about Lou Holtz's appearance at a regional ND club event. (Thanks to Hobbs on NDN for the heads-up).
The image is both comical and wonderful.The other night, there was a replay of something called ND Highlights '92 on ESPN Classic, and the segment started off with one of Lou's pep talks to the team in the locker room before a big game. I thought about transcribing it, but Josh Paluch beat me to the punch and actually captured it as a sound file. The rambling, the lisp, the talk of high ideals, and the love for ND...it all brings back a lot of memories.
It was classic Lou Holtz.
If you were a Notre Dame fan, it's why you loved the coach.
If you were a Hurricanes fan, it's why you despised him.
The image is nearly 17 years old, conjured from a story you were once told. It's the memory that comes racing back to you with news that the Notre Dame Club of Fort Lauderdale is preparing to honor the coach Friday night at its Legends of Honor dinner at the Marriott Harbor Beach Hotel.
Back in the fall of 1988 with the No. 1 Hurricanes taking their undefeated record and hopes for back-to-back national titles to South Bend, there was that terrific pre-game brawl in the tunnel. Emotions were raw with Holtz and UM coach Jimmy Johnson pushing their players back into the locker rooms before kickoff.
"We've got to keep our poise, men, and control our emotions, and do what we've prepared to do," Holtz told his players. "But don't worry, when it's all over, I'll take care of Jimmy Johnson on the 50-yard line."
Holtz's team howled with delight, according to former Notre Dame defensive back D'Juan Francisco, who relayed the story years later.
The idea of Holtz, a scrawny, wisp of a man, squaring off against Johnson, a more youthful figure built like a fire hydrant, was as inspiring as it was amusing to all those young men in blue and gold.
"We knew if he got into a fight with Jimmy Johnson we were going to have to help him out, but that didn't matter," Francisco said. "The way we felt about Coach Holtz, we would have followed him through a brick wall."
That was the quintessential Holtz, the little man with the giant spirit inspiring young men to believe there was no obstacle they couldn't overcome.
For UM fans, it was another Holtz tale to make them roll their eyes. For the Irish, it was gospel.
"He gave us so much confidence," Francisco said.
And maybe that was Holtz's greatest gift as a coach, his ability to get young men to believe there was greatness in them no matter what flaws they saw in the mirror in the morning.
Notre Dame upset the Hurricanes 31-30 in a game Miami fans will remember for a controversial Cleveland Gary fumble, but it should be noted that UM was favored on the road that weekend for good reason. Thirty-two Hurricanes on that roster went on to be selected in the NFL Draft.
The Irish went on to win the national championship, the school's last national title. It was Holtz's third season. He led the Irish back to the mountaintop earlier than pundits believed possible in the wake of the dismal Gerry Faust years.
Holtz, 68, is retired in Orlando now, staying busy speaking and writing since leaving the University of South Carolina as head coach last fall.
With first-year coach Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis trying to scale that mountain after another Irish tumble, Holtz is reminded of his arrival at South Bend in 1986.
With pundits saying Notre Dame's time has passed, that the school's rich traditions and values no longer connect as meaningfully with blue-chip recruits today, Holtz arrives with good news.
"They were saying the same things before I went there," Holtz said. "I remember recruiting our first year. First thing, a prospect brings out an article saying the academics are too hard at Notre Dame, the schedule's too tough, athletes have to live on campus ... They're always trying to bury Notre Dame, but Notre Dame will win again, I have no doubt about it. And I believe it will be under Charlie Weis."
Notre Dame fans can take heart in this, too. Weis is smart enough to draw upon Holtz's counsel. Weis called him two weeks ago to pick his brains.
Holtz will speak at a dinner open to the public Friday with cocktails beginning at 6:30 p.m Tickets can be purchased at $100 per head by calling Julie Heaney at 954-563-8111.
Though Holtz is the only coach in NCAA history to take six different teams to bowl games, leading four to Top 25 finishes, his 11 years at Notre Dame stand out.
"It's like one of our Notre Dame club members said, `We have always loved Lou Holtz and always will, and we'll just forget he ever went to South Carolina,"` said Tom Sclafani, president of Notre Dame's Fort Lauderdale Club.
Holtz will always be Notre Dame's coach.
"You gotta believe. This school was founded on faith, and on belief. I told you last week how when Notre Dame burnt down, Father Sorin said the mistake we made is that we didn't build it big enough. Everything here at Notre Dame has been done on faith, and on a commitment to excellence..."