Home > Sports > Other Sports
  print button email button

Friday, July 24, 2009

Alums happy to suit up once again for Fighting Irish

Staff writer

The Notre Dame Legends team offense had just botched a play when someone kicked a football across the field.

News photo
Working off the rust: Tony Rice, quarterback of Notre Dame's 1988 national championship team, will lead Fighting Irish legends on Saturday against Team Japan at Tokyo Dome. KAZ NAGATSUKA PHOTO

It wasn't an errant punt from a kicker. Just Hall of Famer Lou Holtz getting back into the swing of things.

The fire and intensity that made former Notre Dame head coach Holtz a legend was out in full force on a rainy Tuesday afternoon at Nihon Daigaku as a group of Fighting Irish alums prepared for their upcoming game against the Japanese senior national team.

"He said a couple of words to me that I haven't heard in a long time," said quarterback Tony Rice, who helped lead the Irish to the a national title in 1988. "I just have to live with it and forget about what happened today and think about what's going to happen tomorrow."

Holtz is returning to the sidelines to lead the Notre Dame Legends in the Notre Dame Japan Bowl 2009, which will take place on Saturday at Tokyo Dome.

"Usually before you coach a game, you have maybe 50 practices," Holtz said. "This was our fifth and we'll only get a couple more. But the guys are working hard and we'll see what happens."

He's being joined by 60 former Fighting Irish players, many of whom haven't been on the field in years and in some cases decades.

"After 26 years it feels pretty good," former defensive back Joe Restic said of suiting up again. "I have learned that football is a young man's game though. My body's hanging in there but I don't know for how much longer."

Holtz himself, hasn't coached since 2004, when he stepped down has head coach of the South Carolina Gamecocks.

The 72-year-old looked as if he had never given up coaching, stalking the field with his signature gait, familiar navy blue hat, complete with golden interlocking "ND" emblazoned across the front, perched atop his head.

"It's absolutely remarkable," said assistant coach Chris Zorich, a former Notre Dame defensive tackle and College Football Hall of Famer. "I had an opportunity to be with him as a player and it was great kind of learning his philosophy. Having the chance to be around him as a coach is a lot different. Now I can see where he wound up getting a lot of his ideas and his philosophies as a whole."

In addition to his coaching prowess, the Hall of Fame coach was known for playing the underdog role better than anyone else, lamenting his team's chances no matter how weak the opponent.

The Irish alums will suit up against a Japan team that nearly upset a U.S. team in the final of the IFAF World Cup in 2007, losing 23-20 in overtime. After Tuesday's practice, the Irish legend was already adding up the reasons his squad will have a struggle on its hands.

"I saw the film of them and I'm very impressed," Holtz said. "The way they run, the way they throw. I was very impressed with their team last year. They should've beaten the USA. I don't have any doubt about it. We know that this will be a very, very strong opponent.

"We've lost some skill people," Holtz said. "(Quarterback) Gary Godsy hurt his groin, he's probably out of the game. Ray Zellers pulled his hamstring today, he's our best running back. So what we're going to have to do, we going to have to have some people play both ways. That isn't what you want to do, but whatever it takes, that's what we're going to try to do."

In addition to playing with Holtz, which not all of the Notre Dame players had the privilege of doing, many are just happy to be representing the famed program again.

"Any time you get a chance to put on the gold helmet again you're excited," Restic said. "When you graduated, you thought that was it. But to be able to have this opportunity to come out and play, and actually just to be around coach Holtz, is just a thrill."

Teammate Brandon Hoyte, who was busy testing out his Japanese language skills at every turn on Tuesday, echoed those sentiments.

"It's a tradition," Hoyte said. "There's a huge legacy behind it. For me it's cool because a lot of these guys I'm playing with, I looked up to. Now you're playing side-by-side with them and it's really like being a kid in a candy shop. At the same time you've got a legendary coach like Coach Holtz. It's a dream come true."

Back to Top

About us |  Work for us |  Contact us |  Privacy policy |  Link policy |  Registration FAQ
Advertise in japantimes.co.jp.
This site has been optimized for modern browsers. Please make sure that Javascript is enabled in your browser's preferences.
The Japan Times Ltd. All rights reserved.