June 27, 2017

History Renewed at Soldier Field

When Notre Dame renews its storied rivalry with the Miami Hurricanes Saturday night in Chicago’s Soldier Field, it will happen within the hallowed confines of a site that has seen its own iconic place in Notre Dame football history. It will be only the 12th Notre Dame game to take place at the landmark lakefront stadium, but the previous 11 include some of the most well-attended and classic matchups in college football history.

The Irish are unbeaten at Soldier Field, with a mark of 9-0-2. Eight of the games took place between 1924 and 1931, as college football’s – and Notre Dame’s – burgeoning popularity drew massive crowds of the well-off alongside the lunch-bucket brigade.

The first game featured Knute Rockne’s “wonder team” of 1924 – led by the Four Horsemen and the Seven Mules – which was scheduled to play Northwestern at that school’s home field in Evanston, a place seating about 15,000. But just days before the game, it was switched to the new Grant Park stadium (not yet named Solider Field). Here is how we described it in Loyal Sons:

One of the crowning jewels for Chicago was the opening of the new $5-million Grant Park stadium, along the lakeshore south of the “loop district.” Designed by Holabird and Roche, its Classical Revival style used the Greek Doric order, the most distinctive feature being a pair of systole colonnades along the east and west sides. Each colonnade, flanked by tetra style templates, was built with a double row of 32 columns.

The great edifice was declared ready to use in late summer, with about 35,000 seats completed and construction on seating sections continuing. On September 6 and 7, the stadium was dedicated when crowds of 45,000 and 50,000 gathered for the annual Chicago Police Department track and field meet. In the coming weeks, the stadium would host a great variety of civic events, from a children’s parade circus to the Chicago Day program, when men of Troop A of the Fourteenth Cavalry charged with their horses through rings of fire.

A committee of the local American Legion suggested that the new stadium be named in honor of Chicago’s soldiers who served in the world war. A group of Gold Star mothers, who had a plan for another memorial nearby, argued against it. On October 17, the Chicago Tribune editorialized that “Soldiers’ field is the best name for the Grant park memorial to ers’ Field,” they said, “where the youth of the nation can compete in health-giving games is the best memorial to a soldier whose first requisite to serving hmen of the world war. Soldiers and young men are alike the world over.” The name was also backed by the executive committee of the World’s War Veterans.  “Soldiers’ Field,” they said, “where the youth of the nation can compete in health-giving games is the best memorial to a soldier whose first requisite to serving his country is a good physical condition.”

The first football game at the mammoth new field was the 1924 Public League High School championship game. Then, on Armistice Day, the “Catholic college championship of the Midwest” was contested between Columbia College of Dubuque, Iowa, coached by ex-Irish star Eddie Anderson, and St. Viator of Bourbonnais, Illinois, a frequent foe of Notre Dame reserve teams. A rainstorm turned the field into a mud hole, and the teams sloshed their way to a scoreless tie.

The new stadium was as ready as it could be. During the week, Northwestern’s movable bleachers were installed at the north and south ends of the gridiron, adding several thousand seats to the site. Officials decided several thousand more could be admitted to standing room areas. Workmen also thickly dressed down the field with hay to protect the turf.

On game day, though, the new field showed the effects of the recent snow and rain and was in poor condition. Players slipped and slid in pre-game warm-ups, while the heavily bundled crowd, many arriving at the stadium for the first time, struggled to find their seats.

The game itself was a defensive tussle on what became a mudbath of a field. Tied 6-6 in the second half, ND got the winning score when Elmer Layden intercepted a pass and returned it 45 yards for a TD. Layden later left the game with an injury, and his famous mates were fortunate to close out the 13-6 victory, one of the closest calls in a perfect season that included lopsided wins against strong teams like Georgia Tech, Wisconsin and Nebraska.

On the short train ride back to South Bend, the Irish were quietly mulling the close shave they endured when a swaying inebriate burst into their car. The conductor asked him to show his ticket, but the man scoffed. “Where are you headed?” the conductor asked, “New York, Toledo or Cleveland?”

“I don’t know,” replied the disoriented rider. “I guess I’m not going anywhere.”

Jim Crowley didn’t miss a beat, commenting, “He must be one of the Four Horsemen.”

Three years later, Soldier Field hosted the second game of the ND-Southern Cal series, and first to be played in the Midwest, as a massive throng of 120,000 set the record for the largest crowd to watch a football game. It was the season-closer, on November 26, years before USC would request a trip to the Midwest earlier in the season.

The size and makeup of the crowd was featured in page after page of articles and photos in the Chicago newspapers. Celebrities and politicians were numerous. The Chicago Tribune also reported: “Not all of the boxes were occupied by notables and society folk, for the gangsters and detectives called off their shootings until after the game and were out in almost full force except a few, who didn’t have tickets and were left in jail, but all the ‘big shot hoodlums’ were there, behaving just like gentlemen.”

Notre Dame edged the Trojans, 7-6, in a game marked by controversy. Late in the fourth quarter, ND’s Charlie Riley fielded a USC punt near the Notre Dame goal line, bobbled the ball and crossed into the end zone, where he was hit hard, knocking the ball out of bounds. The officials ruled it a touchback. USC players and coaches stormed the field, insisting it should have been a safety and an 8-7 Trojan lead. Instead, ND won 7-6.

The ’27 USC game also helped propel forward plans to built Notre Dame Stadium. Rockne had been lobbying university administrators for years that a replacement for rickety Cartier Field could help bring big-time opponents and large crowds to campus. In 1928, it was proven the previous year’s USC game was no fluke, as another estimated 120,000 – including a paid crowd of 103,081 – turned out in Chicago for a 7-0 win over Navy.

In 1929, as Notre Dame Stadium was being built, Soldier Field hosted three Irish victories, over Drake, Wisconsin and USC, en route to ND’s second consensus national championship. The USC game, on November 16, was like many that season in that Rockne, confined to a wheelchair or gurney due to severe phlebitis, played a limited role. With the scored tied 6-6 at the half, he was brought into the locker room and made a brief speech, after which Joe Savoldi scored the winning touchdown early in the second half. USC scored on a long run but missed the point-after, and the Irish escaped with an exciting 13-12 win.

In 1930, the Irish breezed through their first eight opponents, playing five games at new Notre Dame Stadium, before the undefeated season came down to games against its two biggest rivals – Army and USC. The Irish had played Army 16 times since 1913, with the first nine games at West Point, then seven contests in New York City. But this time, with a long trip to the West Coast looming the following week, Notre Dame asked Army to visit the Midwest, so the Cadets traveled west for a November 29 game at Soldier Field.

The crowd estimated at 110,000 – with 103,310 paid – was pelted with snow and rain under dark, low-hanging clouds. Yardage was at a premium, and the teams appeared headed toward a scoreless tie. Until, with less than six minutes left, Notre Dame executed what they called “the perfect play” in which a number of blocks were completed with exact precision, and the ball carrier Marchie Schwartz was escorted by end Tom Conley and fullback Moon Mullins on a 54-yard TD run. The conversion made it 7-0.

But in the final minute, Army blocked a Notre Dame punt and recovered in the end zone for a TD. Army’s extra point attempt was described this way in The Big Game: “Notre Dame sets up a nine-man line against the conversion attempt and the forwards crouch for the savage lunge…A frail, blond kid named Chuck Broshous stands bare-headed on the 12 yard line, arms outstretched, waiting to drop-kick. He has wiped the ball with his sweatshirt to improve his chances. He opens his hands as a signal for the snap and the line meet. The ball never gets off the ground. Notre Dame’s complete wall is in on him and the swarm inundates the pigskin and the lightweight Cadet.” Final, ND 7, Army 6.

The two ties at Soldier Field were a 0-0 deadlock with Northwestern in 1931, and a 13-13 final against Great Lakes in 1942. It was another 50 years before the Irish returned to the stadium, when they downed Northwestern 42-7 in 1992. The last visit prior to Saturday was a 42-7 win against the Wildcats in 1994.

Chicago’s great edifice will again shine on Saturday night. The spirits of Rockne, the Four Horsemen, and other Irish greats will surround Coach Kelly, Manti Te’o and his mates as they strive to create more ND history in the Windy City.

******

Jim Lefebvre writes at Forever Irish (www.NDFootballHistory.com). He is author of the award-winning book Loyal Sons: The Story of The Four Horsemen and Notre Dame Football’s 1924 Champions, and is currently working on the definitive biography of Knute Rockne, entitled Coach For A Nation: The Life and Times of Knute Rockne, scheduled for release in 2013.

Tony Latone: The Hero of Pottsville

This article was written by Joe Zagorski and was originally published in The Coffin Corner in 1987. The Coffin Corner is the official magazine of the Professional Football Researchers Association. Visit PFRA’s website to learn how to become a member today!

He came out of the coal mines to play pro football – a shy but rugged individual whose actions did his talking for him. He was a true-to-life hero in a town where heroism meant making it through a 12-hour work day in the mines. His name was Tony Latone.

During the 1920’s, Latone played for the Pottsville Maroons of the National Football League, competing against athletes who’d earned glittering reputations on college gridirons. Although he never attended college, Tony was considered one of the league’s top players.

Remembering the balding, Lithuanian-Italian fullback, the late George Halas claimed: “If Latone had gone to college and played college ball, he would certainly have been one of the greatest pro players of all time.”

In the Anthracite Region of Northeastern Pennsylvania, mining provided rugged men in places like Pottsville, Frackville, and Shenandoah with a way to make a living. Pro football provided early century coal miners with a brief respite from their hard lives.

Like most of the men, Latone entered the mines not because he wanted to but because he had to. His father died when Tony was 11-years-old, leaving the Latone family without a breadwinner. Tony went to work in the mines immediately after his father’s death. The cold, the stench, and the pain crushed many; in Tony’s case it turned him into a strong man.

“That’s how Tony got his strength,” said Russ Zacko, the son of the Maroons’ number one fan and the one who supplied the uniforms that gave the team its name. “He was a slaypicker in the mines, and let me tell you, that was one tough job. He developed his legs by pushing locies (shuttle cars) up a slope.”

Latone’s matchless leg-driving power was best exhibited on the football field as a run-blocker. From the old single wing formation, Latone moved defensive linemen and opened holes for Maroon teammates like Carl Beck and Walter French. Pro football games in the rugged coal region were won with brute force.

While the hard-hitting Latone excelled in the physical aspects of the gridiron, he was not known for his cerebral accomplishments.

“Tony wasn’t too bright,” said Zacko. “He only had a fifth-grade education. There was always talk going on about Tony’s not being too smart.”

One story came about because Tony was always paid in cash, a common occurrence for oro players of the day.

“One day,” remembers Zacko, “several players found some money on the bench. They asked Tony, and he said it was his. `What are you doing, Tony?’ one of the players asked. `Why don’t you get yourself a checking account?'”

“Tony didn’t understand how a checking account worked and didn’t want to get one. But because the other players kept bugging him about it, he eventually gave in and got one.”

“A week later, the players found his checkbook lying on the bench, and every check in the book was signed. Tony had signed each and every check. He’d go into a place and ask the clerk, ‘What do I owe you?’ Then he would fill in the amount on the check because his name was already on it.”

On a typical autumn Sunday, more than just Latone’s name was on the minds of his opponents. Few thought the 5-11, 190-pounder lacked any ‘smarts’ on a football field. Forearm shivers, crunching blocks, and those hard-driving legs made him famous in Schuylkill County while the Maroons were still an independent team.

In 1925, the Maroons joined the NFL. Tony contributed eight touchdowns to a memorable season in which the powerful Pottsville attack led the league with 270 points. When the Maroons defeated the Chicago Cardinals in December, they believed they’d won the NFL championship.

On December 12, Latone and his teammates faced the Notre Dame All-Stars, a squad made up of former Fighting Irish luminaries including the Four Horsemen: Harry Stuhldreher, Don Miller, Jim Crowley, and Elmer Layden. A sparse crowd of 8,000 turned out at Philadelphia’s Shibe Park.

“We always felt,” said Stuhldreher later, “that Latone was just about as rugged a football player as anyone would want to see, and on that day, Tony turned out to be a one-man gang.”

Tony was the driving force behind the Maroon attack. Late in the fourth quarter, with the Maroons trailing 7-6, his plunges brought several first downs in Pottsville’s “game drive.” Charlie Berry’s field goal gave the Maroons a 9-7 win.

The “Notre Dame Game” was played against league wishes in the territory of the Frankford Yellow Jackets, resulting in a suspension for the Maroons, one that cost them the championship. But despite the controversy that surfaced, the victory was perhaps the proudest moment in Maroon football history. Latone continued with the Maroons through 1928, then went with the franchise to Boston in 1929. His last NFL season was with Providence in 1930.

Many years later, at a banquet in Williamsport, Pa., Red Grange had these words to say about Latone:

“Tony was one hell broth of a rugged coal miner, and for my money, he was the most football player I have ever seen. I simply cannot imagine anyone who could equal that power-play fullback whose leg drive was so unbelievably potent he simply knocked the linemen kicking.”

Following his playing days, Latone moved to Michigan and went into business with former Maroon teammate Frank Bucher. For many years, he’d sit in the stands at Briggs Stadium in Detroit, watching a modern brand of football and no doubt recalling the glory days when he was the one carrying the pigskin.

Walter Farquhar, the dean of Pottsville sportswriters, summed up Latone’s career: “Because he was a non-collegian and because pro ball was then young and primitively guided, the greater part of the football world will always be ignorant of his true worth.”

Pottsville certainly wasn’t.

                      RUSHING (Unofficial)
                    ----COMPLETE GAMES----   INCOMPLETE GM
                     CG  ATT  YDS  AVG  TD   IG  AT YDS TD
------------------   --  ---  ---  ---  --   --  -- --- --
1925 Pottsville  N   11  138  540  3.9   5    1  12  53  2
1926 Pottsville  N   12  144  578  4.0   4    -   -   -  -
1927 Pottsville  N   12  136  407  3.0   0    -   -   -  -
1928 Pottsville  N    9  164  482  2.9   2    1   2   8  1
1929 Boston      N    2   41  132  3.2   2    6  40 165  7
1930 Providence  N    3   46  223  4.8   2    8  21  60  1
                     --  ---  ---  ---  --   --  -- --- --
6 years              49  669 2362  3.5  15   16  75 286 11

 

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.