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Chasing drug lords, cheering for the Irish

The DEA's Jack Riley is as uncompromising on Notre Dame as he is on drugs



In recent weeks the Chicago division of the Drug Enforcement Administration has announced the busts of marijuana growers, cocaine traffickers, and a Mexican cartel leader.

Yet when I stopped by recently for a chat with Jack Riley, the no-bullshit agent who heads it, he was eager to talk about the start of college football.

"You're a Northwestern guy, right? Great coach up there. Maybe the best in the country. They'll never be in the top tier because of the academic standards, but they're never going to bend, and I don't want them to . . ."

Riley went to Bradley University before going to the University of Illinois for grad school, and he's cheered on teams all over the country as his 25-year career has taken him to posts in Missouri, Texas, and Virginia. But he's as unequivocal about his football loyalties as he is about his views on legalizing pot.

To step into his office you have to walk on a Notre Dame rug. His desk is lit by a Notre Dame lamp. A picture of former Notre Dame football coach Lou Holtz hangs on the wall. And he talks about current coach Brian Kelly like he's a fellow general fighting the forces of darkness that tend to amass at places like Southern Cal, Miami, Ohio State, and the SEC.

And then there's South Florida. "Oh, man," Riley said of Notre Dame's 23-20 loss to USF last weekend. "That was definitely a surprise. The way they were looking for awhile, you and I could've suited up for them."

But even "the longest game in Notre Dame history"—literally, thanks to storm delays—won't kill Riley's zeal for the cause. He's a lifer.

Incidentally, no freaking way on that pot thing.

"As a Chicago guy, you either loved them or hated them. My grandfather was a Chicago policeman, and my dad went to Notre Dame on the GI Bill. So he completes three years there before he gets into med school at Saint Louis University. He never graduated from Notre Dame—gets through med school and starts practicing. But my grandfather, being an old Irish dude, he says, 'Hey, you've got to go back and get your degree!'

"So my father went back in the summers and got his degree, because gramps didn't give a shit about the doctor stuff—he wanted to go the bars and tell his friends that his son graduated from Notre Dame.

"This is how I was brought up. My dad had a couple of goofy friends, and they bought this old beat-up school bus. It was a dump. They used to drive it every weekend to the home games. My dad was kind of an electronics guru and they put in a black-and-white TV and they had a little generator for it, and they'd put the flags up, and I remember thinking, oh my god, when are these guys going to shut up? . . .

"My favorite game ever? I've got a picture of it right here. Miami-Notre Dame, 1988. They came out of the tunnel and they got into a brawl. So they finally get everyone back into the locker room and Holtz gets his guys calmed down and then he starts building them up again. And he finally gets them to the point where he says, 'Go out and kick these son of a bitches' asses—but I've got [Miami coach] Jimmy Johnson to myself!' And he was this little guy. It was great.

"And the worst game I ever saw? Two years ago, when Navy just beat the shit out of them. Notre Dame had beaten them for 43 straight years—and now they've lost three out of four. . . .

"Now Saturday night against Michigan, they're going to have to play a whole lot better. I think they will. I think they now know as a team what it's like to be behind. I think they had kind of a loser mentality last weekend after that first fumble. So being an optimistic Irish fan, I know that can learn from that. They got it out of the way—now they can go on and play.

"And you know what? It's just exciting to have football rolling again. It's a nice distraction from this job, I'll tell you that."

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