August 24, 2017

A Crowd of 73,967 See Knute Rockne’s Last Game: A Recap of the 1930 Notre Dame Football Season

Notre Dame entered the 1930 season with one of its strongest units since the day the Four Horsemen rode off the playing field following the 1925 Rose Bowl.  The Irish were the reigning Dickinson Rating National Champions, which was the system college football teams were ranked and awarded national championships from 1926-35.  The system’s number one teams from 1924 (Notre Dame) and 1925 (Dartmouth) are often included on lists of national champions, though they were retroactive selections.

The Irish of 1930 played three teams that would be included in Dickinson’s Top 10 in the end of the season rankings.  Numbers 4, 6 and 9, would be met and defeated by the Irish, as Northwestern, Army and USC would fall in the final weeks of the season.  But before these ranked teams would take-on what would be Knute Rockne’s final three games, the Irish would meet a relatively easy but competitive schedule.

Joe Savoldi’s 100-yard kickoff return with around 4 minutes left in the game would prove to be the key in the first-ever game/victory over SMU, 20-14.  This return would be the first over the century mark in Notre Dame history—on a 100-yard field. Alfred Bergman would return a Loyola of Chicago kick 105-yards in 1911 for the longest in school history—but it was on a 110-yard field.  According to the 1931 Spalding’s Official Foot Ball Guide, the Mustangs, under head coach Ray Morrison, had a daring passing attack that season.  Morrison was in his second stint in Big D; having led SMU when it was a member of the Texas Intercollegiate Conference in 1915-16 (2-13-3); and would spend the 1917 season away from coaching, before taking over for Dan McGugin at Vanderbilt in 1918—as he was involved with WW I.  After coming back to Texas and the SMU campus in 1922; the 1931 season would be his—and the school’s—third Southwest Conference title (1923 and 1926, were the others).  The SMU game was the Irish’s first home victory since the 1928 season (32-6 over Drake, October 27).  The team played the entire 1929 season on the road or at neutral sites—Solider Field, in Baltimore or Yankee Stadium, while waiting for the new Notre Dame Stadium to be built.

Notre Dame’s second game of the 1930 season was against the Naval Academy, which was soundly defeated 26-2. It was a down season for the Middies.  Playing before a crowd of 40,593, it was also the dedication game of the new Notre Dame Stadium.  Despite being a down season for the Midshipmen, the school did do something for its country—by agreeing to play in a charity post season contest against Army.  The game, under the auspices of The Salvation Army to aid the unemployed, was played at Yankee Stadium before a capacity crowd.  The Cadets won the 35th meeting between the two service academies.  Army won the contest on Ray Steckler’s 57-yard run, 6-0.

The Carnegie Tech Tartans were next on the 1930 schedule for Rockne’s charges.  The Tartans had started-off strong that fall, winning its first three games by outscoring its opponents 158-8.  But in Notre Dame’s first of three contests against teams from the Quaker State (Pennsylvania), the Tartans would see the Irish cool-off their scoring unit, losing 21-6.

The first road trip for Rockne’s eleven was against another team from the Steel City, this time against Jock Southerland’s Pitt Panthers.  Notre Dame would hand the home team its first loss of the season, 35-19; as Pitt would go on to finish 6-2-1 for the second time in the last three years.

Playing back in Indiana, the Irish met the Indiana Hoosiers and would win for the ninth consecutive (and tenth without a loss) to the school from South Central Indiana.  The streak would continue for another five victories, before a 20-7 loss in the 1950 season snapped it.  With the defeat of the Hoosiers, Rockne gained his 100th career victory—the fourth fastest to the century mark in the Pre-1937 era.   It would take the coach just 117 games to reach the milestone.

Next up for the future national champions was Pennsylvania in their first-ever match-up with the Quakers. The Irish would win 60-20.  In 6 games between the two storied programs, Notre Dame has never tasted defeated, with a 5-0-1 slate.  In the next game against Drake, the Irish were victorious, 28-7; as this was the last time the Bulldogs would score with three games remaining in the series.

As the season would wind down, the stiffest competition would be played in succession as Notre Dame would play Northwestern, Army and USC—which would combine for a 24-4-1 record in 1930.  The toughest game of the three remaining games would be against Northwestern.  Twice the Wildcats had 1st-N-Goal from the Irish 7-yard stripe and failed to score; as Al Culver would recover a fumble at an opportune time; thus ruining the Northwestern scoring opportunity.  It was a defensive struggle as neither team scored for the first 53 minutes of the fray.

Marty Brill and Moon Mullins were two sterling blockers and defensive men equally at knocking down passes or backing up the line, according to the write-up in Spalding’s.  Culver, at tackle, was called by Coach Rockne one of the most underrated on publicity in the country.  He would make second team All-American in 1930.  The backfield, led by Marchy Schwartz, according to the publication, would state this about the runners: In all-around usefulness, this back field compared with the famous “Four Horsemen.”  Schwartz, known for off-tackle plays, would follow his blockers that day to seal Notre Dame’s 14-7 win over Northwestern.

Following the triumph, the Cadets of Army would travel from the “Banks on the Hudson” to meet the Irish in the “Windy City” of Chicago.  The two teams had met since 1913 in the major college game, including one game that would bring forth the forward pass as a part of a team’s offense.  The overall series to that point was dominated by the Irish with a 12-4-1 record.  Notre Dame’s 7-6 win was its third in as many seasons by a composite 14 points; which came on the heels of the thrilling 7-0 victory a year before when Jack Elder picked-off a Cadet pass and returned it for the longest interception return in school history—the length of the field.

After the thrilling win over the Cadets, which 110,000 witnessed at Soldier Field (103,310 paid), Notre Dame would travel to Los Angles for an intersectional battle with Howard Jones’ Southern California eleven.  Entering the game, the teams would combine for a 16-0-1 mark with USC being an early favorite to triumph over the Irish.  Scoring early and often, the Irish behind third-string running back Paul “Bucky” O’Connor keyed the 27-0 whitewashing; as he rambled for 142 yards on just 11 carries and a score.  This was Notre Dame’s first shutout over the Trojans and the school’s 247th all-time.  Culver who recovered a fumble in the win against Northwestern, repeated the feat against USC.  The Trojans would finish the season, 8-2-0 with the other loss coming to Dickinson Ratings’ No.2 ranked team, Washington State, by a single point, 7-6.

Notre Dame’s win over the Trojans gave the school its second 10-0-0 season; the first being in 1924—the Four Horsemen team.  It was also the seventh perfect record team in school history when playing more than 1 game.  The victory extended Notre Dame’s unbeaten streak to 19 games over two seasons and is still currently third longest in school history—second at the time when it occurred—and would ultimately cover 26 games (25-0-1), dating from October 5, 1929 to November 21, 1931.  Notre Dame would finish the 1929 and 1930 seasons with a perfect slate and the streak would stretch into the first 6 games of 1931, before a 16-14 loss to USC snapped it. Army’s season finale defeat of the Irish (12-0) would end the latter’s season with a 6-2-1 record.  The school standard is 27 games (24-0-3), accomplished between the 1910-14 seasons.

A capacity crowd of 73,967 would see Rockne coach his fifth and final spotless record team.  He would die in a plane crash less than four months later. The great leader of the Irish finished his career with a 105-12-5 record.  Rockne was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1951.

1930 Notre Dame Statistical Player Leaders:

Rushing: Marchy Schwartz, 146-692, 6 TDs

Passing: Marchy Schwartz, 17-56 319 3 TDs

Total Offense: Marchy Schwartz, 202-1011 9 TDR 

Receiving: Ed Kosky, 4-76 1 TD

Scoring: Schwartz, 9 TD 54 points

Punt Return Average: Frank Carideo, 37-303, 8.2

Kick-off Return Average: Joe Savoldi, 4-186, 46.5

Interceptions: Carl Cronin, 3-26; Marty Brill, 3-8; Tom Conley, 3-4

1930 Dickinson Ratings

1          Notre Dame

2          Washington State

3          Alabama

4          Northwestern

5          Michigan

6          USC

7          Stanford

8          Dartmouth

9          Army

10        Tennessee

11        Tulane

Other actual selectors naming Notre Dame No. 1 in 1930:

Azzi-Ratem (William Boand); Ray Bryne; City Service Football Guide/Grantland Rice;  Dick Dunkel; Earl Jassen; Esso Gas College Football Guide and Deke Houlgate.

Tex Noel is the Executive Director of the Intercollegiate Football Researchers Association.