SOUTH BEND, IND., AUG. 25 -- After spending most of the week pinned down in his office by a barrage of allegations concerning Coach Lou Holtz and the football program, Notre Dame sports information director John Heisler finally was doing something other than issuing statements, orchestrating news conferences and answering phone calls. But his escape of watching the Fighting Irish practice football in the pleasant gloaming of a late summer Friday was interrupted when Holtz came zooming along in his golf cart. Catching sight of Heisler, Holtz pulled up in mock horror and joked, "Every time I see you, I get nervous."

Tuesday there were charges by a former Notre Dame player of widespread steroid-use and insensitivity to injured players. Thursday there were reports that Holtz, with Notre Dame officials present, had told NCAA investigators he committed rules violations while he was head coach at Minnesota and that Holtz had given indications he might be unhappy with Notre Dame and interested in an NFL head coaching job.

Holtz faced so many charges during the week that he began the statement he released Thursday by jabbing: "Regarding today's crisis . . . ."

"Most of the things that have been done to us have been totally unfair," Holtz said as he wheeled his golf cart through the darkness after Friday night's practice. "It's not our job to say that publicly, but that's how I feel in the bottom of my heart."

That's how Holtz feels about the week's allegations -- the first of which were leveled by former player Steve Huffman in a Sports Illustrated article -- and about the criticism that has been leveled at his program as he has led it back to a position of dominance on the field. Notre Dame has gone 24-1 in the past two seasons, but it also has been involved in pregame fights and had a number of its top players encounter academic or disciplinary problems that have resulted in suspensions or dismissals.

Holtz: "I don't see where what has happened at Notre Dame is any different than what happened 20 years ago at Notre Dame and what has been happening at Notre Dame for 40 years, except for one thing -- I feel that everybody takes everything and jumps and picks things out and are unfair. I think there have been instances where Notre Dame has been treated unfairly. I don't have any doubts about that.

"If I thought it {the allegations and criticism} was justified, it would really get to me. If I didn't have a strong faith in God, it would get to me. But that's one thing about the Notre Dame family -- they really rally around you when you face adversity."

Holtz and other university officials vehemently denied all of last week's allegations but, as the dust begins to settle, there is little denying the Notre Dame Myth has been debunked once and for all. If you didn't believe it before, Virginia, believe it now: The Fighting Irish are not perfect. The Golden Dome does shine, but there is tarnish. Touchdown Jesus occasionally signals a field goal.

Officials revealed Wednesday that five football players had tested positive for steroid use during the past three years. Assistant Athletic Director Brian Boulac, who has been involved with the department's anti-drug efforts since they began in 1983-84 as a student-athlete assistance program, estimated Friday that seven football players had tested positive for steroids during the three years before the current testing program's implementation in the latter part of 1987. Even with the increase in sophistication of its now-year-round testing program, Notre Dame's punishment for an initial positive test remains weaker than the one provided for in the NCAA's new testing program for Division I football teams.

The NCAA used to test for steroids only at bowl games. There was a 90-day suspension for a positive test, of which there were fewer than 1 percent even though a 1989 survey of 11 schools in all three divisions found 10 percent of football players reported they used steroids. Under a program adopted in January at the 1990 convention, the NCAA tests year-round and first-offenders lose a year of eligibility.

Notre Dame Athletic Director Dick Rosenthal said Wednesday that if a player tests positive for steroids in a test administered by the university, he "may be subject" to dismissal from the team, he will not be allowed to play while the muscle-enhancing drugs are in his system and he must participate in counseling. Both Notre Dame and the NCAA mandate dismissal from the team for a second offense.

Although some backers may not like hearing it, Rosenthal says Notre Dame is not perfect. But he views the university's manner of dealing with its imperfections as proof Notre Dame does not do things the way everybody else does.

"I think it is unfair to say that Notre Dame should be perfect, that it should never have a student go on academic probation or never have somebody have some type of disciplinary problem," Rosenthal said.

"We clearly would like to have all of our athletes be successful academically, but if one of them isn't, he will not be around the university. Is that a serious negative? Is it a failure? I don't know, maybe it is. But we never have told anybody that they will be passed along. . . . The university rules are for everybody at the university."

It is interesting that even as Rosenthal downplays Notre Dame's link with perfection, some of its football players take a different view.

Describing his view of the Fighting Irish image, B.J. Hawkins, a freshman quarterback from Potomac High School in Woodbridge, Va., who is working with the second team, said: "A champion's the way it's supposed to be. The way Dallas {Cowboys} was back in its day -- America's Team. From being polite to blocking assignments, we want to do things in a perfect manner. . . .

"To err is human, but even with that little fact of life, it doesn't matter what angle you look at it from, we are above everyone else. If perfection can be reached, we'll reach it first."

He added that public expectations for the Fighting Irish are "outrageous, yet they live up to it every year."

Said Andre Jones, a senior linebacker from DeMatha High School: "Notre Dame is above the fray. Notre Dame is different from everybody else."

Jones said the criticism the Fighting Irish are taking is simply a product of their success. "When people were pushing us around, everything was fine. Holtz came in and changed that. Now everyone wants to say things about us."

And what about the 53-year-old Holtz and his methods? Does he fit the portrayal Huffman provided in the Aug. 27 issue of Sports Illustrated that set off the week's firestorm? Is he an uncompassionate ogre who cares only about winning?

"My job is to teach," Holtz said. "There are some mistakes that are small. There are some mistakes that are major. I try to emphasize which are major. But you are not going to win, you are not going to keep people in your program if you aren't positive with them. I've averaged probably one player quitting a year since I've been a head coach.

"I think there are times when I'm very, very loose. I think there are times out there when I had them laughing. And there are other times when you get on them. And when you have a freshman here, my job is to prepare him to be in that stadium in front of 60,000 people and know exactly what he's doing and what he can do and what he cannot do."

He says what bothers him is "when we're put in a bad light. The only consolation is there are very few things that I would do differently than the way we have done them. Sure, there are some things. But not many of them."