Football: ‘I kept my mouth shut and worked’

South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — Not many former Notre Dame football players can say they started on the offensive line as a freshman and were deposed in a court case against their head coach as a senior.

In between, he wouldn’t trade the memories he made for anything.

Mike Rosenthal had quite a remarkable career with the Irish.

The 36-year-old, 6-foot-7 Penn High and Notre Dame grad, who carved out a nine-year NFL career, was back in town Friday looking as sleek as ever — 75 pounds below his playing weight of a few biscuits over 3-bills — while being inducted into the Indiana Football Hall of Fame.

“It was good and bad,” Rosenthal said of his time under the Dome. “I look back (on my Notre Dame career) with all my teammates, all the things we went through ... Obviously, I would have liked to have played for (offensive line coach) Joe Moore for four years. I made no secret of that. He’s one of the reasons I went there. He’s one of the main reasons I went there.

“I look back on it fondly. I met a lot of great people. I played a lot of great games there. We had a lot of memorable times. I met my wife (Lindsay) there. I’ll always be proud of Notre Dame; what we did there, and what the team did there.”

Rosenthal was one of the prominent players whose deposition was pivotal in Moore’s favor in the assistant coach’s age discrimination trial against head coach Bob Davie and the university in the summer of 1998, Rosenthal’s senior year. The captain struggled with the loyalty factor.

“The coaching transition (from Lou Holtz to Davie after the 1996 season) was difficult,” said Rosenthal. “It was a very different time when coach Holtz left and coach Davie took over. Even then, we had a good group of guys who stuck together. We were 7-6 the next year (1997, a season that ended ... gulp ... in Shreveport). It wasn’t a great year, but we still fought back and won a lot of games.”

Notre Dame teams compiled a 33-15 mark during Rosenthal’s career.

Now, as athletic director and head football coach at Austin (Texas) High, Rosenthal uses lessons from those difficult times to prepare his players.

“I tell (my current players), coach Holtz used to say it: ‘There are going to be three things that happen this season that you don’t know — whether it’s injury, adversity, whatever happens — you don’t know when they’re going to happen,’” Rosenthal said. “‘But, how you react to those situations will determine how successful you’re going to be.’

“What I tell my football team is, ‘Just roll with it. Whatever happens, happens. Keep playing; keep looking forward.’ That’s what I’ve always done with my life.”

“He’s always been very quiet, very unassuming,” said Chuck Wegner, Rosenthal’s line coach at Penn. “He always seemed to handle everything that came at him. He didn’t say much about anything.”

That’s a big reason Rosenthal was able to thrive as a freshman in a world of much bigger, stronger and angrier defensive veterans.

“He was physically talented; size, strength,” said Wegner, who retired after the 2001 season and lives in Gig Harbor, Wash., near Seattle. “That’s an element that was there.

“The way he approached learning the game. The way he approached practicing it. Just plain and simple, he wanted to be good.”

“I didn’t think (playing freshman year) was tough,” Rosenthal said. “At that point, when we walked on campus, we were second team. We were playing (defensive standouts) Renaldo Wynn, we were playing Bert Berry in practice.

“When you went out there Saturday (in a game), it wasn’t much harder than going against those guys.

“I had great leadership: Ryan Leahy, Dusty Zeigler. Every stop I’ve made, I’ve been very lucky to have great mentors. Even all the way back to Penn with coach Wegner and (head) coach (Chris) Geesman.

“(Penn offensive lineman) Adam Kane, and the guys who came in front of me ... I got to New York (with the Giants in the NFL) and Brian Williams. I’ve always been fortunate to have a good group of guys who taught me to do the right things.

“Every level: I kept my mouth shut and worked. You move up the depth chart when you do that.”

More than the depth chart, Rosenthal relished the relationships forged through work and preparation for a common goal. Sixteen years later, those are the memories that remain.

“Going into my senior year, we did offseason workouts in the stadium,” Rosenthal said. “We got up at 6 a.m. and ran stairs. There was snow on the stairs. We had everybody out there. Those were the bonding moments for me.

“Winter conditioning, which nobody likes ... Getting up at 5:45, riding your bike across campus, working out, then going in and eating breakfast together.

“Those are the things I remember. The games kinda meld together. You’re not really sure what happened. The wins and the losses ... the scores kinda go away. But the offseason memories, and the memories in the locker room, those are what I will always remember.”

Even after such a memorable beginning and end.


Former Penn and Notre Dame standout Mike Rosenthal socializes before an induction ceremony for the Indiana Football Hall of Fame on Friday at St. Hedwig’s Memorial Hall in South Bend. (SBT Photo/JAMES BROSHER)