SOUTH BEND, Ind. — The night before had been unseasonably cold for late April, with a low near 20, but now the campus was basking in sunshine. Shirtless joggers bounded past pale co-eds stretched out on blankets, and leafless trees seemed to sprout green buds in a matter of hours, as in time-lapse photography.
In a dark and cramped basement room in venerable Sorin Hall, a restless freshman football player slipped on a pair of shorts and boat shoes. He was late for a meeting he didn't want to attend and as he left he shrugged off a friend who needed a term paper typed, then refused another pal who wanted to borrow some size-12 sneakers.
"Can't do it, man, you'll stretch 'em," Dan Quinn said, running up the steps and out into the spring sun.
Quinn hurried to keep his appointment, at which he was to be disciplined for a curfew violation. He had been caught in a woman's dorm room a few minutes after the rules allowed.
It wasn't his first brush with the rules of academia. He had been spotted with an open beer on campus last fall, and he also had been put on academic probation when his grades dipped precipitously.
Still, Quinn had a carefree air about him. His shirt was unbuttoned to the waist and he put on a pair of Jim McMahon-style sunglasses.
"Maybe you ought to light a cigarette, too," a bystander said as Quinn strolled into a modern building where his punishment would be meted out.
Fewer than 15 minutes later, he emerged, grinning, with no visible scars and only a trace of remorse. A $20 fine had been assessed, along with a word of caution about obeying the rules.
Dan Quinn had gotten off lightly, again, in what has been a lifelong skirmish with coaches, principals, teachers, recruiters, anybody who wanted to challenge him.
"I've always had a chip on my shoulder," said Quinn, 18. "I've never really started a fight, but I guess I've always been looking for one. I've mellowed out so much since I've been here at Notre Dame it's not even funny. In high school, people in the hall would get out of my way when they saw me coming.
"I just don't like to have authority imposed on me or have anyone tell me what to do. It makes me want to lash back. I'm finally realizing you can't punch your way through life. I've always had to be the toughest. . . . I've always had the need to master people."
Quinn, who lived in Monrovia through fifth grade before attending high school in Encinitas, has left his mark from Southern California to the Midwest.
Recently, he established himself as perhaps the toughest guy at Notre Dame, winning a campus charity boxing tournament. He expects to win it each of the next three years, by which time he hopes to be ready for pro football or a fast-track job at a major company.
"Dan Quinn could become president of IBM--or he could wind up sweeping out the place," said Lou Holtz, Notre Dame's new football coach.
Holtz is a rarity, an elder who commands respect from Quinn. Not so his high school coach, or the man who received him in the fall of 1985, Gerry Faust. Quinn said he couldn't stand his hard-driving high school coach, and he dismissed Faust as an absent-minded joke.
As for the Fighting Irish tradition, Quinn's irreverent response would not endear him to the Gipper or Rockne, Theismann or Parseghian, or any of the subway alumni scattered between the Bronx and Barstow.
"The tradition here is of losing," Quinn said. "I mean, the recent tradition. That's the way the players see it.
"There are a bunch of plaques of old players in the tunnel at the stadium. Those plaques get you fired up, but they also remind you of how far Notre Dame has slipped."
Quinn envisions a national championship within a few years, but the main project he has in mind is himself.
"The only thing that can keep me back is me," he said. "I'm in the catbird seat here, but I know I could become a bum if I don't take things more seriously. I don't think I have a self-destructive personality, but it's good that I can't get away with any BS here."
Raised by a feisty, soccer-playing mother who became a research attorney in San Diego, Quinn has searched vainly, brutishly, for an acceptable authority figure. The pain of watching both his parents and grandparents grow apart apparently left psychic bruises he is only now coming to terms with, say those closest to him.
Quinn's combativeness at times overwhelms what he views as a deeply rooted sense of ethics and fair play. But it was these very forces that elevated Quinn from just another troubled, immature football player to a position of controversy last summer.
His size--he is 6-foot-4, 232 pounds--and dominance as a linebacker at San Dieguito High School lured recruiters from such powers as USC, Michigan and Notre Dame.
"Recruiting was hell," said his mother, Joan Quinn. "It was disgusting and obscene. But I'm glad Dan saw it all. It showed him that football is not all pie in the sky and he shouldn't count on it for his future."