This week I had a chance to sit down with fellow Notre Dame author, Jerry Barca. His current book “Unbeatable,” which details the 1988 National Title winning team, is being released on paperback on August 5th. Here are Jerry’s thoughts on field turf, the ’88 championship team and what makes Notre Dame such a special place.
How did you first become a Notre Dame fan?
Jerry Barca: I was born Irish-Italian and Catholic in New Jersey. I don’t think there was much choice about it. It was just life, sort of like a grass-is-green, sky-is-blue thing. You said Hail Marys at night, fidgeted through Mass on Sunday, and followed Notre Dame.
What was your best childhood Notre Dame memory?
JB: I’m the youngest of five kids and one of my older brothers went to Notre Dame, so that provided the opportunity for some pretty good childhood memories of the school. Going to the 31-30, Catholics vs. Convicts game in ’88 stands out, as does meeting and hanging out with Roger Valdiserri and Laphonso Ellis that weekend.
My first visit to the campus was pretty cool. It was 1985. I was 8 years old, and Allen Pinkett and Co. were taking on Army. Dressed from head to toe in freshly purchased ND gear and armed with a little yellow Notre Dame megaphone, I stood on a table helping Fisher Hall sell concessions on game day. We were set up right outside the old Bookstore location. I was shouting for people to get their “Gipper brauts, Rockne burgers, and Four Horseman soda.” Fisher Hall ended up being able to get a microwave for the dorm based on the sales that day, which in 1985 meant there were a lot of sales. Then 10 years later, when I was applying to Notre Dame I watched the admissions video. There — in the midst of some awkward dorm dance footage — was a clip of me doing this huckster shouting. And of course I mentioned this in the application process. I used everything I could. I needed to. I was wait-listed and I’m pretty sure that I was the last one accepted to the incoming class.
Did you play sports as a kid?
JB: Yes. Didn’t everybody? I’m thinking I should say more here. I played quarterback for the West Orange Mustangs Pee-Wee football team. I was sacked 46 times in a nine-game season. We weren’t very good as a team, but we did have a member of Providence College’s 1996 Elite Eight basketball team, a movie and TV actor, and a Broadway lead.
What made you decide to attend Notre Dame?
JB: It was always my dream since I was 8 years old and first visited the campus to see my older brother. I loved sports and I loved the friendships I saw my brother developing with his classmates. I mean even the grownups seemed like good, approachable people – Fr. (Richard) Warner and coach (Brian) Boulac come to mind. For me, I saw it as a special place since I was kid and I wanted to be part of that.
What was your best Notre Dame memory?
JB: There are a bunch. I don’t think I can single out just one. I really think it is the friends you make. I graduated 15 years ago. I can rattle off some great classes and experiences – Bookstore Basketball; doing the ring announcing for Bengal Bouts; getting up too early on Saturday mornings to stuff football programs in the press box; writing a 25-page paper on how Bruce Springsteen’s “Born In the U.S.A.” album changed material culture in America. But the core of all that is the friendships, the people who I was alongside to share these experiences.
How did you decide to write the book Unbeatable?
JB: I was surprised no one had gone back and revisited that era of Notre Dame football. Each year I’d see new Notre Dame football books come out, but nothing taking a deeper look at the Holtz-era, which was a formative football watching period for a lot of Notre Dame fans. I thought it was an important story to tell on the timeline of Notre Dame football history. And, as long I could get access to the players and the coaches, I thought it would be a great story to tell.
What was the biggest challenge in writing the book?
JB: The timeline. I wrote a sample chapter and put together the book proposal in late 2011/early 2012. I signed a contract with St. Martin’s Press in April 2012 and turned in the 84,000-word manuscript on October 1, six months later. I’ve said this before in other places – I gained 17 pounds, drank about 30-ounces of coffee during the day, chugged a Red Bull in the afternoon, got a large Dunkin Donuts coffee at 11 p.m. to stay up to do the rewrites until about 4 a.m. All this, plus devouring a box of Little Debbie nutty bars in less than 24 hours each time said box entered the house.
What surprised you the most in writing the book?
JB: A lot of things come to mind. Even though I thought I knew a lot about the Miami-Notre Dame game, there was so much more behind the scenes between the fans of both schools, and in the Fighting Irish’s preparation to face the ‘Canes. The multiple storylines leading up to the No. 1 versus No. 2 regular season finale at USC are some of my favorite passages in the book — the details of Ricky Watters and Tony Brooks being suspended; how a measles side effect impacted the game; and the strategy behind Notre Dame’s big plays.
Will you write another Notre Dame book?
JB: Maybe. Someday. But at the moment I have no plans to write another Notre Dame book. But since you asked, now I’m wondering if Mike Brey might let me embed with the program for a year. Hmm?
So … what are your thoughts on the new FieldTurf?
JB: I wrote about this last week (http://jerrybarca.com/unbeatable/on-fieldturf-grass-and-tradition). Look, I love the grass at Notre Dame Stadium and like any super-duper bizarro fan I have a long, strangely personal, relationship with that grass. But I’m good with the FieldTurf. Times change, and so do playing surfaces.
What are your 2014 Notre Dame Football predictions?
JB: They will play home games on FieldTurf, and they will definitely play 12 games between the end of August and the end of November.
Sorry for the smartassery, but I believe the people who know best how the team will do are Brian Kelly, his staff, and the players. Those guys and Notre Dame’s opponents. They all have a far better position to make predictions than me.
Any new projects we should know about?
JB: I have begun work on another football book. I am grateful St. Martin’s Press will once again be the publisher, and I’ll have more specific details on that in the future.
Thanks so much for having me. This has been great.
Cheers & Go Irish!