Ned Bolcar was never one to do anything at less than full speed. The spirited inside linebacker who captained the 1988-89 Notre Dame squads - which won 24 out of 25 games - always jumped in with both feet.
So when the Fighting Irish returned to national prominence in 2012, he was right there in front of the television -- or in the stands -- as he was for the home victory over Michigan and the national championship tilt with Alabama in Miami.
“I follow it as closely as you possibly can without doing your job or without being on the coaching staff,” said Bolcar, 46, who has spent the last 19 years as an equity sales trader on Wall Street.
“I love Notre Dame in general and in sports, specifically football. I’ve enjoyed the few good years we’ve had and a lot of tough years. But last year was a lot of fun.”
Bolcar played for legendary Irish head coach Lou Holtz, and while sharing the job with Michael Stonebreaker in 1988 was challenging, he responded by pacing the ’89 squad in tackles with 109 and helping extend Notre Dame’s winning streak to 23 games.
Bolcar sees similarities between Notre Dame’s 1988-89 run and Brian Kelly’s current regime.
“They have the intestinal fortitude and they’ve put so much good work in from Day One when Brian Kelly came in,” Bolcar said. “I got a chance to talk to Coach (Harry) Hiestand when I was out there for the spring game, and I saw Chuck Martin. I met a couple of players - Matthias Farley and Tony Springmann and Carlo Calabrese - and a few other guys. I told them that the best thing as an ex-player and a fan is that every game last year, I knew we were going to be in the game with a great chance to win.
“That’s a good feeling. When it’s 3rd-and-1 and we have to get a tough yard, we now know we can. Same thing defensively on the goal line. We proved the last few games of the year - from Stanford to USC - that our defense can rise to the occasion in spectacular fashion.
“That wasn’t the case for many years before that.”
Bolcar said the upgrade in talent on the defensive side of the football - coupled with quality coaching - has brought Notre Dame back to the brink of a national title.
“You need the coaching and you need the talent, and Notre Dame has a lot of both right now,” Bolcar said. “They’ve upgraded the talent. The coaching staff gets the most out of the players.
“They’re disciplined, they’re focused…no program is perfect. But they do a lot of things right so that they’re lucky when they need to be lucky. They withstood the challenges and that’s how you end up 12-0 with a chance to play for a national championship.
“I love the quote that Lou always used: Luck is when opportunity meets preparation, and that was evident (in 2012). You don’t win 12 games at that level unless you’re very good and you’re lucky, and it shows you how great Alabama’s program is now. The fact they’ve done it three of the last four years, that’s crazy.”
The year after the Irish went 12-0 and claimed the 1988 national championship, they held the No. 1 spot in the polls for 11 weeks before falling to Miami, 27-10. Notre Dame then bounced back with a 21-6 victory over Colorado in the Orange Bowl.
Bolcar thinks the 2012 season could have a carry-over effect this season, much as the momentum of the 1988 campaign led to another national title run.
“We were so lucky in ’88 - and good - to win a national championship,” said Bolcar, who lives in Warren, N.J., with his wife, Carolyn, and their 11-month-old son, Cash Edward Bolcar.
“Our team in ’89 was probably a better team, but we couldn’t get past Miami,” said Bolcar, who did his part that night with a late-first half interception return for a score. “The breaks went against us and we ran into a buzz saw.”
Bolcar sees Kelly’s vision coming together through a very well-crafted recruiting approach.
“I like the way Brian Kelly recruits,” Bolcar said. “Specific body types, talent types, and then when he fills a need, he looks for the best athlete possible who can play multiple positions. He’s stockpiling linemen.
“If you look at the great college teams, it starts on the front seven on both sides. Nowadays, they’re throwing the football more than ever, so you’ve got to be able to put pressure on the quarterback and get the big bodies up front who can stuff the run. You get some very good linebackers that can fly to the ball and make plays and cover the pass, and I think Notre Dame has elements of that throughout the team.”
Bolcar’s eyes gravitate to the men in the middle of the defense. He believes that even without a great player like Manti Te’o, the Irish linebacker corps will remain stout.
“I like our linebackers, and I think they’ll be deeper this year,” Bolcar said. “Manti is gone and he was a great player. Playing that position myself, I watched him the last four years, and you could see coming right out of high school that he could play football. For a linebacker, it’s can they get to the ball, will they hit somebody, are they instinctual? Manti has all those traits, and when he hits somebody, they’re going down or backwards.”
Bolcar saw qualities in the 2012 team that should serve them well as they move forward.
“You’d watch last year’s team and you’d say, ‘There’s something special about this team,’” Bolcar said. “You don’t make those plays, you don’t make those goal-line stands, you don’t get the tough yardage, you don’t get the breaks to go your way unless from Day One, you have a good foundation.
“Mentally and physically, the players have prepared every day for these moments.”
Just as Bolcar did during Notre Dame’s historic run in 1988-89.