December 16, 2017

Veterans Day, 1933

If you go back almost eighty years, you might recognize a football game.  But it has changed more than baseball; our other big American sport.  As of 1933, coaches could not call plays.  If a sub was sent into the game, he could not speak in the huddle.  Substitution was allowed, but it was very limited.  Once a player came out, he couldn’t return until the next quarter.  Many men played all 60 minutes.

The forward pass was legal and had been a tactic for at least 20 years after Notre Dame beat Army in 1913.  But the rules committees enacted rules that discouraged the aerial game.  The passer had to be five yards behind the line of scrimmage.  A team was only allowed one incompletion during a drive.  And an incomplete pass thrown in the end zone resulted in a touchback for the other team.  Single wing tactics reigned supreme.   It was like the Wildcat that some teams use for a change of pace.

In 1933, at the depths of the Depression, Veterans Day (known as Armistice Day at the time) fell on a Saturday.  Michigan beat Iowa 10-6 that day. The Wolverines were on their way to the national championship.  A few hundred miles to the south and west of Ann Arbor, a young announcer in Davenport was recreating the game for Hawkeye fans.  He was reading the play-by-play off the teletype.  His name was Ronald Reagan.  Michigan did not allow broadcasters at the Big House, so he stayed home.  Had he gone to the game, his path might have crossed that of a benchwarmer from Grand Rapids.  The sub would later be a standout center, but the Wolverines had a senior named Chuck Bernard.  The world knows that benchwarmer better as Gerald Ford.  Ford and Reagan’s paths did cross on the campaign trail in 1976, but they might have crossed that day 43 years earlier.

ND’s First Night Game Was Also in Michigan, in 1951

History will be made Saturday night at Ann Arbor when Notre Dame takes on Michigan in the first night game in the history of Michigan Stadium.

It will be the first of a record five night games for the Irish this season, including the first night matchup against USC to be played at Notre Dame Stadium (October 22).  Notre Dame has played four night games in a season six previous years, beginning in 1990 and including the past two seasons.

Overall, this will be Notre Dame’s 94th night game in history. The Irish have a record of 58-33-2 in the previous 93.

Ironically, the very first night game Notre Dame ever played was also in the state of Michigan, just shy of six decades ago.

On Saturday night, October 5, 1951, a capacity crowd of 52,371 at Briggs Stadium in Detroit watched the Irish romp past the University of Detroit Titans, 40-6.

The home to baseball’s Tigers at the corner of Michigan and Trumbull already had a long history. The site, first known as Bennett Park, hosted the first Tigers home game in 1896. On September 24 of that year, Bennett Park became the site of Detroit’s first night baseball game.

The park was later rebuilt as Navin Field; then, in 1938, it was expanded and renamed Briggs Stadium for new Tigers owner Walter Briggs. That season, it also started hosting pro football, and was home to the Lions until 1974 (having been renamed again as Tiger Stadium in 1961).

The University of Detroit Titans had a consistently respectable football program through the first half of the 20th century.  Legendary Notre Dame quarterback Charles “Gus” Dorais led the Titans as head coach from 1925 through 1942, posting a record of 113-48-7.  Detroit dropped football for the war years of 1943 and 1944, but Dorais continued coaching at Briggs, guiding the NFL’s Lions from 1943 through 1947.

In 1951, Coach Chuck Baer’s Titans were coming off a 6-3-1 mark in 1950, with wins against Villanova and Oklahoma State. They opened 1951 with three straight home games, defeating Toledo, 34-32, and falling to Houston, 33-7, before the Irish arrived.

The Irish were coming off the worst season in Coach Frank Leahy’s tenure, 4-4-1 in 1950, but started ’51 strong with a 48-6 thrashing of Indiana at Notre Dame Stadium.  Neil Worden, sophomore fullback from Milwaukee making his varsity debut, smashed across for four touchdowns in a 35-point second quarter. Johnny Lattner contributed a TD and an interception.

The Irish had surprised the football world in the Indiana game by unveiling their new “I” formation backfield.  All four backs –- quarterback John Mazur, halfbacks Bill Barrett and John Peitibon and fullback Worden — lined up in a row perpendicular to the line of scrimmage.

Notre Dame's new "I" formation was unveiled a week before the first night game in 1951.

Under the lights of Briggs Stadium, Notre Dame got its first score before many in the huge crowd had settled into their seats. Petitbon, a senior sprinter from New Orleans coming off an injury-plagued junior year, took the opening kickoff and raced 85 yards down the right sideline for a TD.  Before the first quarter was over, Petitbon added touchdown runs of 80 and 39 yards, and the Irish led 20-0; they made it 26-0 before halftime on a TD pass from Mazur to Jim Mutscheller.

Lattner, primarily a defensive specialist in ’51 before starring at right halfback the next two seasons, picked off Ed Gornak’s pass and raced 32 yards for a fourth-quarter score. Third-stringer Ralph Guglielmi snuck over for the final TD as the Irish triumphed, 40-6.

The loss would propel Detroit to a 4-7 record that season; Notre Dame finished 7-2-1.

During those years, Detroit was one of a number of Catholic universities playing major college football.  The Titans’ schedule included regular matchups with fellow Jesuit institutions Marquette, San Francisco, Boston College and Fordham, as well as Villanova and Duquesne.

Notre Dame, on the other hand, was decades into a tradition of playing top schools nationwide, and leaving the other Catholic schools to battle it out with one another for the honor of being the nation’s No. 2-ranked Catholic football squad.

In fact, the Briggs Stadium game was Notre Dame’s only meeting with a fellow Catholic school during a stretch of nearly a half-century, between a 12-6 victory over Loyola of New Orleans to open the 1928 season (the last at Cartier Field) and the 1975 season opener against Boston College at Foxboro, Mass., a 17-3 Irish win.

Four years and two nights after the Detroit game, the Irish played their second night game, a 14-0 win at Miami.  Most of ND’s earliest night games were away contests in Southern locations, and many seasons in the 1950s and 60s included no night games.

When the Irish won the 1973 national championship with a 24-23 triumph over Alabama in the 1973 Sugar Bowl, it was only the 15th night game in school history.

The era of night games at Notre Dame Stadium began on September 18, 1982, with a 23-17 season-opening victory against Michigan.  The game was made possible with the advent of Musco Mobile Lighting, a company from Oskaloosa, Iowa. The ability to bring in portable lights also made possible late-afternoon kickoffs, in addition to a string of truly “prime time” night games from 1982 to 1990.

Two other night games in that stretch were victories over Michigan – 19-17 in 1988 and 28-24 in 1990 – giving Notre Dame an all-time record of 3-0 vs. the Wolverines in true night games going into Saturday.


Jim Lefebvre is the author of the award-winning book Loyal Sons: The Story of The Four Horsemen and Notre Dame Football’s 1924 Champions.  He also edits the website Forever Irish at, and the e-newsletter Irish Echoes.

Fielding “Hurry-Up” Yost and Tom Osborne: The Only Two

Throughout the history of college football, many coaches have left their mark on the game. Of all that have patrolled a sideline, only two major college coaches were on the job for at least 25 seasons and also compiled a winning percentage of eighty percent or greater.

Fielding “Hurry-Up” Yost and Tom Osborne are the field generals who accomplished this feat. They were leaders of schools that make up college football lore. And in fact, both coached at the same school—75 years apart.

Fielding Harris Yost’s coaching rein lasted from 1897 through the 1926 season. According to football legend, he was nicknamed “Hurry-Up” for trying to motivate his players by yelling “hurry up” at them. By looking at his record, I suppose it worked.

His time as a head coach would take a round-a-bout way to stardom. His legendary coaching career of 29 years began at Ohio Wesleyan in 1897. This would be Yost’s first stop of five different schools in five seasons.

From the Buckeye State, he would, like many of America’s early pioneers, “Go West, young man!” He followed this motto, popularized by nineteenth century newspaper editor Horace Greeley, and headed to Lincoln, Nebraska for the 1898 season; as it was 75 years before Tom Osborne would take over the reins of the Cornhuskers. After the 1898 season, he hit the trail again; ending up in Kansas as the 1800’s would come to an end.

He had hoped for a new start with the beginning of a new century. He began the 1900’s as the coach of Stanford; but it would be like the previous stops — one season and gone!

While at Stanford, he was the fifth of seven coaches that served just a single-season on “The Farm.” Stanford implemented a rule that all coaches had to be an alumnus. Yost had graduated from West Virginia in 1896.

It was reported that this new guideline didn’t sit too well with him! One could only think that this was in the back of his mind when he would lead Michigan westward to play in the very first Rose Bowl; as Michigan shellacked Stanford 49-0 following the 1901 season. But before his career in Ann Arbor would start, he had some unfinished business in California.

Further research has uncovered two additional wins not noted with his NCAA-official record. A researcher, combing through the Cornhuskers’ scores, discovered that a game was initially listed as a loss; when in reality it should have been recorded as victory.

Playing in Kansas City, Missouri, the Bugeaters’ (an early name that Nebraska was known by from 1890-1900) game was originally recorded as a 24-0 loss to William Jewell; while the research revealed the score against the Cardinals as a 38-0 triumph!

Even though it was two seasons later—in terms of when the games were played—his next additional victory has never been credited to his career record.

During the 1900 season, in addition to coaching at Stanford, he also served as interim head coach at San Jose State Normal School. Checking the 2009 San Jose State Media Guide, three coaches are listed for the 1900 season with two credited with records for the seven games that the school played:

• 1900 James E. Addicott 2 3 1  .417
• 1900 Fielding Yost     1 0 0 1.000

No reason was given why Addicott left after the sixth game. Yost is listed as the coach in the finale, played on December 8th. San Jose State Normal School was victorious over Chico State Normal School (Chico State’s name from 1897-1921) 12-0.

After the 1900 season, he headed to Michigan.  In his first five seasons with the Wolverines, his record was 55-1-1. Yost won his 100th career game on November 7, 1908 against Kentucky, as the Wolverines were victorious 62-0. This was the only shutout win by Michigan in 1908 (5-2-1) who also played Michigan Agriculture to a scoreless tie and would lose to an 11-1-0 Pennsylvania, 62-0.

U of M would also drop its season finale 28-4 to Syracuse—as this would be the first time a Yost-coached Wolverine eleven ended the season with back-to-back setbacks. Despite these late season losses, Yost had finally found a home…as he stayed in Ann Arbor for the remainder of his career, compiling a 165-29-10 record. His career record, counting the two previous victories discussed above, was 198-35-12 for a .833 winning percentage.

Tom Osborne took over the Cornhuskers from the retiring Bob Devaney (in a 16-year career from 1957 through 1972, Devaney compiled a 136-30-7 record and .806 winning percentage) after the 1972 season, continuing the winning tradition at the University of Nebraska. Osborne’s career mark would ultimately end up as 250-49-3 with a .836 winning percentage!

Osborne in his 25 years on the Cornhuskers’ sideline turned in some impressive statistics: 25 winning seasons, an equal number of bowl appearances (12-13-0) and his teams were ranked in the final polls every season.

He won his 100th career game in 1983, a 41-10 win over visiting UCLA (7-3-1).

In 1983, the Cornhuskers were 12-1-0; scoring 654 points; while the famed “Black-Shirt Defense” would hold the opposition to just 217 points. A heart-breaking 31-30 loss in the Orange Bowl, when a two-point conversion pass was tipped away, prevented Dr. Tom from winning his first National Championship. However, in his final four seasons as Nebraska’s coach, Osborne compiled a 49-2-0 mark and was No. 1 in three of those seasons: 1994, 1995 and 1997.

Both Yost and Osborne were inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1951 and 1999, respectively.


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