February 18, 2018

100 Years Ago, Notre Dame-Army Changed Football Forever

On the afternoon of November 1, 1913, a pair of football teams representing all-male institutions of higher learning met on the Cullum Hall field at the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York. On that day, it is said, football changed forever.

For 18 students from the University of Notre Dame, a small Catholic college in northern Indiana, the trip began two days earlier, when they boarded a day coach in downtown South Bend, headed East on the longest football trek ever attempted at a school that began playing the game 25 years earlier. The captain of the Notre Dame squad, 25-year-old Knute Kenneth Rockne, reflected on his journey of the previous two decades. As a five-year-old, he was a new immigrant from Norway, learning English at the spanking new Brentano Elementary School in an area recently annexed to Chicago.

Now, he stood at the very heart of American pride – ready to take on the accomplished young men to represent an entire nation on the playing field. For most of them, it was a prelude to the battlefields on which they would fight in coming years. Men like Dwight Eisenhower and Omar Bradley were honing their skills.

The game of football was evolving, from brutal “mass play” in which bodies crashed together on each play, hoping to gain a few inches, or feet, in the battle for position. Too often, the result included cracked skulls, busted limbs, bloodied faces. Death was one possible outcome. In 1905, President Theodore Roosevelt convened a meeting of football leaders and declared the game needed to change, or it would die.

Over the next few years, rules and strategies changed, and gradually an “open game” was played by more colleges. One element of change, the forward pass, was attempted by handful of schools, most notably by Coach Eddie Cochems at St. Louis University in 1906. But passing, by rule, was a risky proposition, and seen more as a desperation move than a means of consistently advancing the football.

Until that November day on the Plain of West Point. Rockne and his pal, senior Notre Dame quarterback Charles “Gus” Dorais, operated as coaches on the field for Irish boss Jesse Harper. And when Dorais declared, “Let’s open it up,” his teammates were ready. The 5-foot-7, 150-pound Dorais began flinging a series of passes, increasingly longer, to receivers running defined pass routes. When he let loose a spiral that followed a long arc into the arms of a racing Rockne, who finished the 45-yard-play in the Army end zone, the crowd – yes, the crowd at West Point – roared.

“Everybody seemed astonished,” Rockne would later write. “There had been no hurdling, no tackling, no plunging, no crushing of fiber and sinew. Just a long-distance touchdown by rapid transit.”

Dorais and Rockne, who had practiced their pitch-and-catch routine on the Lake Erie beach while working at Cedar Point resort in Ohio that summer, led Notre Dame to a shocking 35-13 upset of the Army.

Notre Dame, and college football, would never look back.

No longer would the game need to be a slugfest, a battle over small scraps of turf, in which only when positioned in the shadow of the opposition’s goal could an attempt for a score be made.

Now, the game had become artistry on an emerald canvas. Brains triumphed over brawn. A pair of small men – Rockne himself was just 5-foot-8, 165 pounds – could excel among giants. Deception, evasion, speed…these could be the answer to sheer muscle.

It all came together for Rockne that day. Before the month was over, he would have played in his final collegiate game. Now, he began to see his future as a coach, an innovator, and promoter of the game. A new game. Much more entertaining to those in the stands, those reading about it in the newspaper, and in a few years, those listening on the new invention, the radio.

The next fall, as assistant coach to Harper, a position that become essentially co-coach, Rockne was instrumental in implementing the Notre Dame shift, which positioned the four backs in such a way as that any of them could take the snap from center, and become runner, passer or receiver on the play. Teamwork, speed, precision, unpredictability. These became the four pillars of the Notre Dame backfield.

The goal was, yes, to win football games. But for Rockne, it was the start on another amazing journey. Before it ended, he became the unofficial spokesman for the sport. Traveling from coast to coast, he openly shared the “Notre Dame system” – detailing to aspiring coaches every detail of how he guided the Fighting Irish, after taking over as head coach in 1918.

His rise as a successful coach — his .881 winning percentage remains the highest ever among major-college coaches ¬¬— coincided with a period in which Americans had more leisure time and dollars than ever, and began flocking to sporting events as never before. Rockne took his teams to the nation’s major stadia, from Yankee Stadium in New York to Soldier Field in Chicago to the Los Angeles Coliseum. His “Ramblers” became a national phenomenon.

He was an advocate on anything that improved the fan experience at the game: contrasting jerseys for the teams; numbers on the backs of jerseys, and information game programs; announcers over loud speakers detailing the play; reasonable ticket prices, so that maximum number of people could be accommodated.

Between the years 1919 and 1929, under Rockne’s guidance, the season-long attendance for Notre Dame games grew nearly tenfold, from 56,000 to more than 550,000. Millions more followed along by radio. College football took its place alongside baseball, horse racing and prize fighting in the pantheon of favorite American pastimes.

In catching that first long pass from Dorais, Rockne noted “life for me was complete.” Perhaps so. Because the course for his career and life — like a long pass pattern on the Plain of West Point — was set in motion. There was no turning back.



Jim Lefebvre is an award-winning author and sports historian. This fall, he released his comprehensive biography Coach For A Nation: The Life and Times of Knute Rockne, available at www.CoachForANation.com. His first book, Loyal Sons: The Story of The Four Horsemen and Notre Dame Football’s 1924 Champions, received three national honors for excellence. Jim also operates the website Forever Irish at www.NDFootballHistory.com.

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.

Offseason Knute Rockne Thoughts

For those who know me I have always told them I follow two sports, football and spring football. And for those who know me understand my love of the history of the game of football from its inception in 1869. Today’s game, obviously, is vastly different from when the legends of the gridiron took the field in the 20’s or the 30’s. The days of Knute Rockne have long passed. I guess I am trying to find the true football athlete of 2012–does he exist any more? I really do not know. To me, there are still some young men who play the sixty-minute battle on the gridiron by the rules for the love of the game and not for the commercialism that we may associate it with today.

Small college football still lives in our country and its games follow a predictable pattern and rhythm on its 100-yard field. I still enjoy Ivy League football although was very turned off by the tragedy which occurred before this past Yale-Harvard battle in 2011 when a U-Haul truck carrying beer kegs through a tailgating area outside of the Yale Bowl struck and killed a 30-year-old woman. RIP Nancy Barry!!

My thoughts turn to seasons of the past, at a time when Knute Rockne was the head coach at Notre Dame for such a brief time from 1918 to 1930. His brief life and legend was taken away from the gridiron in a tragic plane crash on March 31, 1931. I have always pondered what if he had not died at such a young age. What more could have been on the gridiron and for Notre Dame? He had a record of 105-12-5. Incredible if you think that his teams only lost 12 games in 13 years, a winning percentage of .881. His theories and coaching philosophies could be used by all coaches in today’s game–all should read and abide by his 25 Commandments for the game and life. It would do all of us good to bring back common sense to the gridiron rather than bounty hunting and the stale showboating of today’s game.

Thus, I wonder about the coming 2012 season. Can values and fair play come back to the game of football? When respect is a given between the goal posts and men play without the intent of permanent injury. Can it be a time of renewal for the game? When will the game becomes pure again rather than a stale commercialized mess of thrash talking and overweight shaking of flesh? It can be done and should be strived for by all who play and coach the game as they should remember the philosophies of Coach Rockne once again.


Bob Swick is Editor & Publisher of Gridiron Greats Magazine.


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.