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Unbeatable: Notre Dame's 1988 Championship and the Last Great College Football Season Hardcover – August 13, 2013

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Barca begins his vibrant look into Notre Dame's 1988 season with Lou Holtz, who took over after the Fighting Irish after suffering four inglorious years under Gerry Faust. Everyone was hungering for a return to glory, including Holtz, a winner who preached repetition and toughness: I'm here to win football games for the University of Notre Dame, Holtz told his players at one point. Not some of our games and not most of our games; I'm here to win all of our games. In season three, everything came together—a process that veteran sports journalist Barca (a 1999 Notre Dame graduate) covers with gusto. In talking to the key figures of that championship team—including Holtz, defensive coordinator Barry Alvarez, and many players—Barca reveals the players' emotional mind-set and the lure of Notre Dame (the latter sometimes gets lost in the football program's powerhouse trappings). In short, Barca celebrates the fun of college, while stripping Notre Dame football of its rah-rah mysticism. 16-page color photograph insert. Agent: Scott Gould, RLR Literary. (Aug.)

From Booklist

The Notre Dame football program has an unparalleled history, except lately. But the school’s gridiron success in 2012 resuscitated Fighting Irish Nation. Given the renewed national interest, what better time to relive the exploits of the last Notre Dame team to win a national title, the 1988 Irish under Lou Holtz? Journalist Barca conducted dozens of first-person interviews with players, coaches, and administrators involved with the 1988 season, including 11 with star quarterback Tony Rice. Naturally, there are profiles of key players and coaches, and miniportraits of lesser characters in the drama. The game accounts are dramatic and detailed, and delivered with a sense of urgency. College sports, though, are dominated by the coaches, and the 1988 Irish were no exception. Holtz had taken over a program in disarray in 1986. By the time he resigned in 1996, he had the 1988 championship, as well as narrow misses in ’89 and ’93. He was a motivator and disciplinarian, but in person he was slight and spoke with a slight lisp—the antithesis of the blustery egomaniacs who rule college football. The resurgent interest in Notre Dame football should spur demand. --Wes Lukowsky
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press (August 13, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1250024838
  • ISBN-13: 978-1250024831
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.1 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #421,413 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Jerry Barca is the author of Unbeatable: Notre Dame's 1988 Championship and the Last Great College Football Season. His writing has also appeared on SI.com and in The New York Times, Star-Ledger, Asbury Park Press, Home News Tribune, and the Herald News. He can be heard talking sports as a frequent guest on Sirius/XM's Ron and Fez Show. He is also a producer of the documentary film Plimpton! Starring George Plimpton as Himself. He lives in New Jersey.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Dickey on September 13, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
An in depth look at what it takes for a team to go from bad to good to great to perfect in just three years. It's the characters, the strategies, the struggles and the good luck that make the journey compelling and almost hard to believe.

It's a must-read for any Notre Dame fan!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Vic on August 15, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Jerry Barca has crafted a timeless sports novel. Jerry is a regular on the Ron and Fez radio program (their producer purchased an a/c on amazon). He's an alumni of Notre Dame and his passion for the football team is unmatched. While reading this novel you feel like you are at the South Bend campus back in '88. The whole season is well documented, from the Catholics vs. Convicts game all the way to the championship. Jerry conducted interviews with all the major players and coaches and they provide terrific insight into their mindsets of that season. His personal feelings about Fez and Paul-O aside, Jerry's a terrific author and this is a highly enjoyable book. He should definitely be banking it up after this one, as he is on point. If you're a fan of football then you need to give this a read.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Bookreporter on September 24, 2013
Format: Hardcover
It is difficult to separate Notre Dame football from the religious foundations of the university. Appropriately, the up-and-down sagas of the Fighting Irish are often measured by the word resurrection. Notre Dame has been the subject of several football resurrections during the course of its fabled college football history. They were a powerhouse through the Knute Rockne and Frank Leahy eras but fell on hard times in the 1950s. In 1964, they turned to Ara Parseghian, who returned them to their glory days on the gridiron. That story was chronicled by Jim Dent in RESURRECTION and reviewed on the pages of Bookreporter.com in 2011.

In 1980, Notre Dame hired Gerry Faust, the successful coach of Moeller High School in Cincinnati, to lead their football fortunes. He led them to disaster. Faust was a devout Catholic and a coach with high ethics but was not up to coaching at the college level. During his tenure at Notre Dame, he won 30 games and lost 26, not nearly enough to meet the demands of the true alumni as well as the "subway" supporters. When his team was humiliated by Miami of Florida in a 58-7 drubbing, it was time for him to go.

The second resurrection of Notre Dame football was placed in the hands of Lou Holtz, then the coach at Minnesota. UNBEATABLE by Jerry Barca is the story of Notre Dame's return to football glory and their national championship team of 1988. As the Irish celebrate the 25th anniversary of the last undefeated national championship team at Notre Dame, Barca looks at the 1988 season through the eyes of the players and coaches who led the Irish to a Fiesta Bowl victory over West Virginia in a battle between undefeated teams. There was no BCS National Championship game on January 2, 1989, when Notre Dame defeated the Mountaineers 34-21.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Rita Beth on September 9, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Unbeatable was an interesting and enjoyable read about the mystique of the Notre Dame football program, and, college football in general.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Call me D on October 9, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is a MUST for any ND fan and a great story of a great team.

While most historiographies(?) are merely a run-through of the bullet points of a story; highlighting the obvious characters with facts and figures taken from cursory searches of box scores and Wikipedia pages, UNBEATABLE is an original telling of Notre Dame football and this 1988 team like no other ND book or article I have ever read.

It's clear that Barca started telling this story from scratch by interviewing all the relevant parties recently to get their opinions "now" about what happened "then". I loved the stories that Tony Rice, Tim Ryan, and Pat Terrell tell about their recruitment, the detail in which other members such as Frank Stams and Reggie Ho talk about their mindsets as student athletes. And he stays away from hyperbole by just telling the story as it happens. It was a fresh perspective that is rare in modern-day sports reporting.

The book reminded me a lot of Bill Simmons's "The Book of Basketball" in that Barca clearly went back and re-watched the games and his love of the subject matter was ever-present thus creating an awesome read. Highly recommended. If you have a Notre Dame fan in your family, will make for an awesome gift.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Joseph McGarry on April 23, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I lived this book. I was a 3rd year law student in the fall of 1988. I'm what's called a Double Domer. I got my undergraduate degree in 1986. I was there throught the Gerry Faust years, which weren't all that great. Then Lou Holtz came in, and turned everything around. That's what this book documents. I was familiar with the story, but it was nice to hear the retelling. The book describes the down years, and then the comeback. I always wonder, if overtime had been around in 1988, would Miami have just tried for the extra point and taken their chances in overtime? Who knows? And yes, I was there for the Miami game when Pat Terrell batted down the 2 point try at the end of the Miami game, which helped propel Notre Dame to the national championship in 1988. This book goes through all the games, and describes some of them in detail, including Michigan, Miami, and USC. Sadly, this was Notre Dame's last national championship. We came close in 2012, but we can be back soon. Great book for any Irish fan, as well as anyone who wants to know about the last great college football season. Go Irish!
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