Mother Teresa and Professor Charles Rice were God’s one-two punch that brought this former Michigan Wolverine to the Notre Dame Law School in 1990. I had just finished a 9 year professional football career and was trying to discern my next step in life. My original plan was to build on the 10 acres I had purchased after winning Super Bowl XXI along with my New York Giants teammates.
However, during a retreat I started to realize that God might have other plans. The priest encouraged me to go see Mother Teresa, who was visiting a nearby convent. So I called my teammate Mark Bavaro (ND ’85) and we made plans to attend early morning Mass in the South Bronx. My prayer was that such a special occasion would provide some direction to my post-football planning. My prayer was answered in a most unexpected way.
After meeting Mother Teresa, Bavaro and the two priests who had concelebrated our Mass turned on me and said that I should go to law school. When I later mentioned it to a couple of friends they both told me the same thing, “You need to speak to Charlie Rice!”
A meeting was arranged. My Dad and I drove down and called on him at his third floor office just off the law school stairwell. It was filled with all kinds of interesting things including free rosaries, Marine statuary, posters promoting skiing in Terre Haute, and another with the consoling message “Life is hard, but it is harder when you are stupid.” There was also a photograph of Professor Rice and Pope John Paul II on St. Peter’s Square that captured their kindred spirits so well. As our meeting drew to a close, Professor Rice leaned across his desk and while pointing to his desk for emphasis said, “If you decide to go to law school, you should come to Notre Dame.” I knew he was right.
My wife Daria still remembers my ear-to-ear smile returning from the bookstore with my required reading for Professor Rice’s Constitutional Law class. It was a huge stack of treasures containing legal philosophy, Thomas Aquinas, Church encyclicals and all sorts of meaty topics I had always wanted to study.
However, Torts class with Charlie was a different matter. One morning I was ambushed by a case called Hackbart v. Cincinnati Bengals. “Is there a Chris Godfrey here?” asked Professor Rice. “Stand up and tell us about this case.” I stuttered to my feet, “Well umm …” cursing under my breath for not seeing this coming. It was a case of a player suing another player in a civil court for a cheap shot delivered during a football game. But a simple recitation of the facts was not enough.
Professor Rice kept me standing in front of the large lecture hall and interrogated me further, “What if the cornerback pulled a gun on the receiver he was covering, would you be okay with that too?” “It would depend upon the formation,” I answered. And even though that brought laughs from the class, including Professor Rice himself, he pressed on with his attack. “What do you mean it would depend upon the formation?” And by the grace of God I answered, “If it were a shotgun formation the cornerback could plead self-defense.” The class erupted and Charlie, laughing, told me to sit down. I only wish he would have welcomed such creative responses on my exams too.
The one thing I will always remember about him was his extreme charity when engaged in difficult issues that often became rancorous and petty with lesser men. He always kept to the course with a firm resolve but with a cheerful, humble, and kindly heart. I will miss him a lot.
Chris Godfrey graduated from Notre Dame Law School in 1993.