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Lucas at Large: Alvarez back on familiar ground for HOF ceremony

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_MG_1118.JPGWhen UW athletic director Barry Alvarez returns to South Bend, Ind., this weekend for the College Football Hall of Fame enshrinement festival, he will reopen a chapter in his career and life.

That would be Chapter Five in his autobiography "Don't Flinch'' - "We're No. 1 and Irish Eyes Are Smilin'" - which covered his three seasons as a Notre Dame assistant and defensive coordinator.

"I will have a lot of flashbacks," Alvarez conceded.

None more vivid, perhaps, than how he described a Game Day in his book.

"Walking as a team to the stadium on Saturdays you could feel the electricity in the air," he wrote. "It gives me goose bumps just thinking about it.

"That's why Notre Dame is a totally different animal than any other place. And, boy, you learn that in a hurry."

During his tenure, Alvarez experienced the ultimate thrill as the Irish won the 1988 national championship by capping an unbeaten season with a win over West Virginia in the Fiesta Bowl.
Many of those players will be in South Bend to celebrate his Hall of Fame enshrinement.

"Todd Lyght called and said that he would be there," Alvarez noted, "and he was going to try and round up the entire starting secondary. Chris Zorich lives in town. So does Tony Rice."

Lyght was a two-time All-American and a No. 1 pick of the Los Angeles Rams in the 1991 draft. He was also someone that Alvarez used as a measuring stick for others.

Shortly after Alvarez took over a floundering UW football program, he had a one-on-one meeting with one of the better players that he was inheriting: cornerback Troy Vincent.

"Troy, I just finished coaching a kid by the name of Todd Lyght," Alvarez said. "Many regard him to be one of the top defensive backs in the last decade or so and you're better than Todd Lyght."

"Yeah, right," Vincent replied.

"Let me tell you something young man," Alvarez went on. "If you just stick to the plan that I have for you, I guarantee that you will be playing on Sundays."

Vincent wound up being taken in the first round of the 1992 draft and went on to play 16 seasons in the National Football League with the Dolphins, Eagles, Bills and Redskins.

"Playing in the NFL never crossed my mind until Coach Alvarez arrived (at Wisconsin)," Vincent said. "Until then, I didn't know how to believe in myself."

Alvarez had that type of impact on many - one of the reasons why he's going into the Hall of Fame. The enshrinement dinner will be held Saturday night at the Century Center Convention Center.

Earlier in the day, there will be a parade followed by a pep rally during which the Hall of Famers will be formally introduced and presented with their official blazers at the HOF Gridiron Plaza.

Fox Sports color analyst Charles Davis and Jon Gruden will emcee the dinner that night.

Last weekend, Alvarez and Gruden were roommates. In fact, they shared a three-bedroom condo with Texas Tech coach Tommy Tuberville at the Manning Passing Academy in Thibodaux, La.

Alvarez was there with his grandson, while Gruden and Tuberville had their own kids in the four-day offensive skills camp hosted by Peyton, Eli and Cooper Manning on the Nicholls State campus.

Some of the nation's top college football quarterbacks were present, including Stanford's Andrew Luck and Michigan State's Kirk Cousins. They were joined by 1,000 high school prospects.

Alvarez had a blast. "I've known Archie Manning for a while," he said. "Everybody in that family is so grounded, they're really nice people. And they run a very organized camp."

What was it like rooming with Gruden and Tuberville?

"Terrific," Alvarez said. "After dinner one night, we just sat in the condo and shot the breeze for a couple of hours. And we had some time the following afternoon and we did the same thing again.

"Jon Gruden is very inquisitive. He's also animated, very animated. But he's a football guy. He really works at it. The first day he was on the field running a drill 15 minutes after we got there."

Alvarez' final victory came over Tuberville, who was then the Auburn coach. And he couldn't help but share a story with him leading up to their matchup in the 2006 Capital One Bowl.

"Cindy and I went to Orlando to hype the bowl at a press conference with the local media and afterward she said, 'You were a big hit with the media in Florida. They really like you. You may get your (bleep) beat, but they really like you.' She wasn't the only person who felt that way."
That being said, Alvarez inspired the Badgers to a 24-10 win over heavily-favored Auburn. It was one of his many triumphs in bowl games and one more reason why he's in South Bend this weekend.

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