The autumn winds blow now, the winds that once brought chills at the mention of Rockne and Leahy, the Gipper and the Four Horsemen.

Now, they bring chills of challenge to Gerry Faust, the man with the loose shirt tail and the voice that is fourth-quarter hoarse, the man who now is only the second coach in the 95 years of Notre Dame football with a losing record.

"A year ago, I was just too nice a guy to the players. Now, I'll still do things for them," said Faust, a rookie coach no more, "but they better produce."

This is Faust's requiem for 1981 when Notre Dame was 5-6, its first losing season since 1963. It was the kind of year that tortured tradition.

It also was the kind of year that makes junior quarterback Blair Kiel recall, "The low point of last season was last season."

Saturday, tradition again gets broken. Michigan (1-0) will be here at 9 p.m. EDT (WJLA-TV-7 in Washington) for the first night game in Notre Dame Stadium. The six portable lights needed for national television will make the stadium glow for this Irish season opener.

"First, a few years ago, they let women go to school here," said Notre Dame senior safety Dave Duerson, with a nod and a smile. "Now, lights."

These are critical times for Notre Dame football. For the first time in memory, the Irish are fighting for more than victory. They are fighting for their football lives.

The tale begins with Faust. He took over Dan Devine's 9-2-1 Sugar Bowl team last year, coming in from Moeller High School in Cincinnati. In 18 years there, his record was 174-17-2 and his reputation was Rockne-like. "Around the city, he was a god," said Notre Dame junior linebacker Rick Naylor, who played three years for Faust at Moeller.

Then, in 1981, Faust got the opportunity to play Rockne at the place where Rockne played Rockne. "Notre Dame is the place I always wanted to be," he said then and now.

After a season-opening 27-9 victory over LSU, however, Faust found that the Greater Cincinnati League was a little easier to deal with than Greater America. There is a difference, he found, between Roger Bacon High and USC, a difference between Cincinnati Elder and Penn State.

"When you go through what I went through last year," said Faust, 47, "you question yourself. 'Am I right? Are my philosophies and approaches right? Are my plays right?' "

Like Faust, Duerson relishes the upkeep of tradition. "Royal blood trickles down through the generations," said Duerson.

Last year, Faust gave blood in defeat to Michigan (25-7), Purdue (15-14), Florida State (19-13), USC (14-7), Penn State (24-21) and Miami of Florida (37-15).

"You can tell he feels pressure," said Kiel, the starter who is no longer threatened by the two-quarterback system of last year. "Sometimes, he tries to hide it. But you can read his face: 'I want to do well.' "

Some players feel that another losing season may get Faust fired. Faust says, "No, I'm not under pressure. At least, not from the right people."

Senior tight end Tony Hunter said, "If we don't win, some changes will be made."

Once again, the Notre Dame schedule reads like a chain gang roll call, each name more dangerous than the previous: after Michigan come threats like Purdue, Miami of Florida, Pittsburgh, Penn State and the finale at USC. "It is murderous," said tight end Hunter.

So Faust sits in his office and says, "I can't worry about people who only look at records. Any coach who does that will die. You will never satisfy everybody. Even at Moeller, I had people question me."

With this in mind, Faust combats doubt in his second season by getting as tough as Rockne or, as he said, "At least, as tough as I was at Moeller."

"If anybody broke a rule last year," said Hunter, "Coach Faust would say, 'You have a timed lap.' Then, when the time came to run it, he would either forget or just let it go. Now, he makes us run."

"Last year he thought Notre Dame was America's team," said Naylor, one of six former Moeller players on the '82 team. "He gave us the impression we had to win for the United States. When we started losing, he said play for yourself and that's what we will do this year."

Yet some things remain unchanged. Faust still throws his arms around guests or playfully punches their shoulder. He treats both alumni and what Hunter calls "the subway alumni" with uncompromised friendliness.

"And he still runs up and down the sideline," said Hunter, "telling all the players to say their Hail Marys."

"I'm still the same person I was at Moeller," Faust said, record books aside.

Asked if any radical offseason changes in game plans have been made, Faust smiled and said, "Only in execution."