If you’re a fan of college football you won’t want to miss this. West Orange native Jerry Barca will be promoting his first book, Unbeatable: Notre Dame’s 1988 Championship and the Last Great College Football Season, at Watchung Booksellers in Montclair tomorrow, August 13 at 7:00 pm. Joining Barca will be Notre Dame’s championship quarterback from the 1988 season, Tony Rice.
Last week Barca spoke with Baristanet about what prompted him to write this book, his memories from the 1988 season, and some of the more intriguing things he learned while interviewing coaches and players
Barca said, “It’s very special to me that I get to do my first book signing near my native hometown in Essex County. I’m proud of being from the area. My mom now lives in Montclair and I went to Seton Hall Prep.” The book hits the shelves tomorrow.
Baristanet: How did the book idea first come to you?
Barca: While working on a George Plimpton Documentary, I ended up talking to a literary agent, and I mentioned that no one had revisited Notre Dame’s 1988 championship season and it was coming on 25 years. The agent was interested, so the next day I called Notre Dame’s athletic department and they said they would allow me to use their archives for research and they would let the former players know about the project. That was in October 2011. I did a book proposal right away, signed a contract in April 2012 and turned in the manuscript in October 2012.
Baristanet: You work fast!
Barca: I did work pretty quickly and unhealthily; I put on 20 pounds! I’d go through a whole box of Little Debbie Nutty Bars during the day when I did the outlining, researching, interviewing and rough drafts. Then at 11 at night I’d get a large Dunkin Donuts Coffee and a 20 ounce Coke and write until 4 AM. I’d sleep for a couple of hours, get up, do some stuff with my kids, then work and maybe take a 90 minute nap during the day. I have four kids, so to have quiet time to write in the house, I needed to work from 11 to 4 AM. I’m almost back to my pre-book weight now.
Baristanet: What was your biggest obstacle writing the book?
Barca: Getting the interviews. Without being able to talk to the key people it would’ve been impossible. Getting such perspective, that was critical to make it a book that even the most diehard Notre Dame fans would learn new stuff, but also interesting for the more casual college football fan.
One of the things I did have to manage though; I was a graduate of Notre Dame and a fan. However, I know people are not interested in my fandom, but in the story. So the guiding principle for me was to do the story justice, get out of the way, and to bring honor to the achievement.
Baristanet: While researching for the book, which interview was most helpful?
Barca: If they’re talking to me, it’s helpful! I did about 100 interviews – players, coaches, admins, etc. I didn’t do short interviews; mine averaged 40 minutes. I spent two and a half hours with Lou Holtz, the head coach of Notre Dame. I interviewed Tony Rice 11 different times. They all provided perspective.
Who I enjoyed the most? Hard to pick, I think Wes Prichett. He was a very colorful character. Another player said he saw Wes doing curls in front of a mirror with his pants at his ankles while reciting Shakespeare. So I asked Wes and he said, “yes,” that’s one of the things he did. Then he started quoting Shakespeare right there in the interview.
Baristanet: How did you meet Tony Rice and get him so involved?
Barca: I kept dialing until I got a yes. I’m so grateful to him. I was in South Bend doing research and he said to meet up with him in this bar/restaurant. I didn’t bring a notebook or recorder, it was just to be social. We ended up playing video bowling for about 4 hours. At the end he hugged me when he said goodbye and said, “We’ll take care of the interview starting tomorrow. We’ll take care of you, you’re a Domer (nickname for a Notre Dame guy) We take care of Domers”. The quarterback is obviously going to be the marquee guy on a championship team. Everything he went through as a quarterback was very interesting and will be enjoyable for people who read the book.
Baristanet: What game do you remember most from the ’88 season?
Barca: Oct. 15 1988, against the number one ranked Miami Hurricanes, who had won 36 regular season games in a row coming in to Notre Dame Stadium. I was 11 years old and I flew alone on Piedmont Airlines, making a connection in Pittsburgh. I sat in the 59th row of what was then a 60 row stadium. There I was in the student section because my brother went to school there. This was one of the all time great football games. Notre Dame won 31-30 and Miami, at the time, was the measuring stick in college football.
The games with Miami made for a culturally galvanizing series. You loved or hated Notre Dame and you loved or hated Miami; you wanted to see one team or the other win or lose. In the course of the game obviously, players didn’t like each other, but after the game was over, and down the road those players grew together. When I talked to the Notre Dame guys, they said when they were in the NFL, if they had a Miami Hurricane guy in the locker room, they knew they had a good teammate, there was a respect.
Baristanet: What do you remember most from the National Championship game?
Barca: I was at my sister’s house, and Notre Dame was cruising to victory by halftime. They had the game in hand. Now, I’ve watched the video over and over while doing research for the book. West Virginia’s quarterback was injured early. Major Harris hurt his shoulder, and it was interesting to talk to West Virginia’s coach Don Nehlen about that. Nehlen, he had an interesting anecdote about that injury, which I included in the book.
Baristanet: Can you draw some parallels between the 1988 team and the 2012 Notre Dame team that made it to, but didn’t win the National Championship?
Barca: There are a lot of similarities. To start, both had an African American quarterback from South Carolina, a head coach in his 3rd year, a noted and young defensive coordinator, charismatic nose tackles, among other things. The backbone of the team was a great defense with leadership from the linebacker positions. So those are definitely some parallels.
Photos: Tony Rice – Michael and Susan Bennett, Lighthouse Imaging; Jerry Barca headshot – Jason Towlen