Notre Dame has always preferred its alums to keep their wallets open and their mouths closed, and Wednesday was just another reason why. Allen Pinkett, who graduated in 1986 as the school’s all-time leading rusher, suggested on a radio show in Chicago that the Fighting Irish need more hoodlums to be successful.
“I’ve always felt like, to have a successful team, you gotta have a few bad citizens on the team”, said Pinkett, who is also the radio analyst for all Notre Dame football broadcasts. “I mean, that’s how Ohio State used to win all the time. They would have two or three guys that were criminals.”
Jack Swarbrick, the school’s athletic director, swiftly denounced Pinkett’s comments as “nonsense” and added that Notre Dame does not need “bad guys” (just bad red-zone quarterbacks?). Anyway, before you dismiss Swarbrick as a stuffed shirt, you should know that he started on a high school football team that never lost a game in his four years. And that he is, of course, a Notre Dame alumnus.
Now, though, go ahead and dismiss Swarbrick’s retort. Pinkett is correct, of course, at least to a degree. Football is a sport for aggressive and often unhinged characters, and those traits often result in criminal behavior.
George Gipp broke lots of rules. So did Knute Rockne, who played semi-pro football on Sundays while he was an assistant coach. Ross Browner and Willie Fry were both suspended for an entire year in 1974, and while charges were never pressed, the suspension had nothing to do with academic issues. Michael Stonebreaker was lost for a year after being involved in a serious auto accident in1989, an accident in which he tested above the legal alcohol limit. Michael Floyd was busted twice for DUI while a student.
What do all of those names have in common? All were All-Americans.
Football, like Notre Dame, accepts both saints and sinners. But nobody extols football players, especially those on defense, for coloring within the lines. It’s a dangerous game, after all, often played best by dangerous men.
Before Brian Kelly coached his first game at Notre Dame in 2010, former NFL coach and player Herm Edwards took him aside and offered some blunt advice.
“What you need,” Edwards, now an NFL analyst for ESPN told Kelly, “is a few kids who grew up without mailboxes.”
Edwards was not specifically advising Kelly to recruit hoodlums and criminals, but to at least recruit kids who had to race past or fight through them to get home from school. Guys like Chris Zorich. Or Floyd. Or Rockne.
No one is suggesting that Notre Dame rebrand itself the Mean Machine, although perhaps Rick Reilly will. Still, the 1988 national championship team had a few players in its front seven, All-Americans such as Michael Stonebreaker and Chris Zorich who, frankly, were a little unhinged.
Barry Alvarez, who was then the defensive coordinator at Notre Dame, has called those two and their cohorts, guys like Frank Stams and Wes Pritchett and Ned Bolcar, “a little bit crazy.”
It’s not unlike a film from that era, a Vietnam war movie that won Best Picture in 1987, Platoon. Sure, it’s wonderful to have a leader with a messiah complex in your unit like Sgt. Elias. But it may be that Sgt. “the only rule is survival” Barnes is the guy with whom you want to be in the trenches.
After all, as Sgt. Barnes -- or was it Allen Pinkett? –said, “I am reality.
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