There is no mystique surrounding Notre Dame football Coach Dan Devine.
He's just "ordinary folks," said one of his players, Bob Golic. "You hear stories about Woody Hayes and Bear Bryant and you have to wonder if they are really human. Coach Devine is no god and he doesn't act like one. He's a coach down on our level. We don't have to make appointments through assistant coaches here to talk to him."
So "ordinary folks" and his troupe of extraordinary athletes are set to defend their national championship beginning today against Missouri at Notre Dame Stadium.
The Irish have come a long way in this, the fourth year of the Devine era, and through that growth, Devine has established himself as one of America's premier college football coaches.
He had to put with a lot his first three seasons here because Notre Dame followers demanded a national championship. When Devine couldn't deliver immediately, the "Dump Devine" talk started.
His players and family never doubted him, however, and finally, last season, everything fit together. The Irish, after losing to Mississippi in the second game of the season, won 10 straight, including a 38-10 thrashing of Texas in the Cotton Bowl, to win the national championship.
The latest bumper stickers don't say, "Dump Devine." They say, "Pope Daniel John (Devine's first names)I."
In a recent People magazine article, Devine's wife, Jo, said, "I've been a coach's wife 30 years, and I've never been anyplace where they thought we been anyplace where they thought we were perfect, even when we were."
Devine, 53, coached in college at Arizona State and Missouri before coming to Notre Dame, and in the National Football League with the Green Bay Packers.
In those 23 seasons, he has had only four losing campaigns and three of them were in the four years he spent with the Packers. He is 58-5 at Notre Dame.
Much of Devine's success at Notre Dame is attributable to the fact that he molded all of the tradition of Knute Rookne, the Four Horsemen and the Gipper into a modern-day football program that is a thing of beauty.
Notre Dame is a football factory. How else could a Catholic college with an enrollment of only 8,870 students produce so many good football teams year after year? Where else could a coach be under so much constant pressure to produce a national championship?
"The tradition is no crap," said quarterback Joe Montana. "It has a lot to do with getting us going. It gets pretty crazy around here when it gets close to game time."
Oklahoma won back-to-back national titles in 1974 and '75 and Nebraska turned the trick in 1970 and '71. The Irish feel they have a chance to repeat this year.
"Everybody wants to beat Notre Dame just because it's Notre Dame, and now they'll want to do it even more because we're the national champions," Montana said. "In that respect, there will be more pressure on us this year than last, but we're back and until someone takes the title from us on the field, we're No. 1."
Devine agreed. "I'm not expecting miracles from our guys. Just almost miracles," Devine said. "We're going to have to scratch and claw and bite to stay where we are, but someone has to take that championship from us on the field.
"We have a good, healthy attitude. We aren't overconfident or cocky, but we expect to defend out title well."
The defense carried the Irish a year ago. This year, it will most likely be the offense.
Montana is a proven performer at quarterback, and in Jerome Heavens, Vagas Ferguson and Jim Stone, the Irish have three expceptional runners.
Dave Huffmann, at 6-foot-5, 245, an All-America candidate at center, and the rest of the interior line is big, strong and talented.
The question mark on offense is with the receivers. All-America tight end Ken MacAfee is now a San Francisco 49er and last year's starting flanker, Dave Waymer, is now a starting cornerback for the Irish.
Devine moved Waymer to cornerback to help the defense and because he had Tom Domin to play flanker. Domin injured his knee in practice, however, and is out for the year. Waymer has proven too valuable to move back to offense so the Irish are stuck with an untried player in sophomore Pete Holohan at the position.
The tight end was to be senior Kevin Hart, MacAfee's backup last year, but Hart has a had bad knee and will not play today. That elevates sophomore Nick Vehr to a starting position and he, too, is untried.
"Montana's arm is strong and he should have his best year," Devine said, "but he will be throwing to some people he isn't all that familiar with."
There are a lot more people other than Devine who are high on Big Sky Montana. Gil Brandt, vice president for personnel for the Dallas Cowboys, said that, "Statistically, Montana doesn't look that impressive. I suppose you'd have to be inside Notre Dame's huddle when he calls a play. His teammates just know he's going to make it work. He has a quality that reminds me of Roger Staubach. He finds a way to win," Brandt said in this month's issue of Sport magazine in picking Montana as All-America quarterback.
Defensively, Willie Fry, Ross Browner and Luther Bradley, among others, are gone. But Golic is back, and with him in the middle of the defense, good things will happen to the Irish.
Devine moans that his new defensive ends, Jay Case and John Hankerd, are a converted linebacker and a former tackle and are untried at their positions. But this is Notre Dame, not Midtown U. Everyone here can play.
"We have so many people here who could be almost as good as Luther and Ross and those guys," said Montana, "but they never got a chance to show it before. They'll show it now.