June 26, 2017

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.

Run Big

The Big Ten 10k challenges runners to don the colors of their favorite Big Ten school and run six miles along Chicago’s lakefront in the very early morning and rewards competitors with bananas, beer, bratwursts and at least a few jokes about Notre Dame.
Those jokes went something like this: “Sure I got into Notre Dame.  No you didn’t.”

As the thousands of runners stretched and chatted in the corrals before the race began they were encouraged by an energetic chap with a megaphone to shout their school spirit: “Michigan, Minnesota, Northwestern, Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan State, Indiana, Purdue, Nebraska, Ohio State, Penn State!”  Joyous cheers erupted each time except for when some obnoxious sort shouted “Rutgers and Maryland” and was slapped with a wet sock.

If the Scarlet Knights and Terrapins have any fears about joining the Big Ten, which now has 14 schools, they would have been allayed by watching this collection of pasty kids traverse Chicago’s streets like farmers at a casino.

Big Ten fans run like Big Ten teams play.  They.  Plod.  Deliberately.  Intensely.  Constantly.  Watching Big Ten fans run is like listening to SEC fans read.  They’ll get there, but it’s painful.

Speaking of the SEC, the running times for the Big Ten 10k might have been a bit more impressive if the SEC 10K had been taking place directly behind it.  Alas, Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, LSU and, for that matter, Stanford, USC and the ghosts of the Rhein Fire don’t dwell in the Big Ten’s world.  They run their course and play their game in the faraway, magical and very, very fast and unforgiving land of Saban and Clowney.

The SEC is Jennifer Aniston. The Big Ten is Lisa Kudrow.

No, that’s not right.

The SEC is Bar Refaeli and the Big Ten is that fat kid who got to make out with her during that disturbingly tantalizing Super Bowl commercial.  Few people know that the super model and the fat geek had sex after that commercial and made a baby named “Arena.”

There was a time when Big Ten football teams were on par with, or maybe even superior to during a given season, schools from the Southeastern Conference.  There was also a time when the sun never set on the British Empire and Johnny Manziel went to church.

The SEC has won every football National Championship since the 2006 season and the smart money says an SEC school will light a cigar again this January while the rest of the college football world is consoled by its job placement and complete sets of teeth.

What can the Big Ten, Notre Dame, Texas, or the Arizona Cardinals do to end the SEC’s stranglehold on amateur football supremacy?  Do they need faster players?  Angrier coaches?  Better facilities?  Fatter boosters?  Slimmer cheerleaders?  Looser rules?

The answer was not found on a summer morning in Chicago.  There was sweat, shiny medals and charming Midwestern merriment but no ladders to climb the wall, no slingshot to topple the giant and no mustard for the bratwurst.

But it’s still only summer.

 

 

Alabama Repeats and Finishes #1 in the Leatherheads Top 16

Alabama took care of business and beat an undefeated team for the second year in a row to claim college football’s crystal ball. Bama came out of the starting gate at top speed and took control of the game, ultimately winning 42-14. The matchup was over by the second quarter and the Fighting Irish showed no fight. Heisman Trophy runner-up Manti Te’o missed more tackles in the game than he did all season, possibly hurting his bank account when the NFL Draft happens later this year. On the other side of the line of scrimmage, the Crimson Tide rolled as Eddie Lacy rushed for 140 yards and A.J. McCarron passed for 264 yards and four touchdowns, both showing that they may one day star at the next level. Lacy, a junior, stated yesterday that he will enter this year’s NFL Draft along with cornerback Dee Milliner and tackle D.J. Fluker.

It has been five days since the BCS National Championship Game so most Crimson Tide fans should be over their celebratory hang over by now and Notre Dame fans are coming to grips that it wasn’t meant to be but that the season was still a magical one. As Leatherhead Tex Noel said to me, “When Alabama and Notre Dame met, it was history vs. history and dynasty won.” I would have to agree with that statement. The two most successful schools in college football history met and Bama won, earning their third championship in four years. Alabama joins Nebraska, who won in 1994, 1995 and 1997, as the only schools to accomplish the feat. Alabama also won their tenth national championship, breaking a tie with Notre Dame at nine. Alabama also won championships in 1961, 1964, 1965, 1973, 1978, 1979, 1992, 2009 and 2011.

Since Alabama was victorious, it is no surprise that the Crimson Tide finished #1 in the Leatherheads Top 16 for the second year in a row. Heading into the game we had them ranked #2 after Notre Dame who now sits at the #4 position. The Oregon Ducks finished #2 after beating Kansas State 35-17 in the Fiesta Bowl. Oops! I mean the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. The Wildcats fell in the poll from the sixth spot to the twelfth spot, the second biggest drop in the rankings. Topping Kansas State’s drop was Florida who lost 33-23 to the surprising Louisville Cardinals. The Gators fell from being tied for fourth with the idle Ohio State Buckeyes (now #3) to eleventh, down seven spots. Didn’t the UConn Huskies beat Louisville a few weeks back? The Cardinals moved back into the poll and finish the year at #13.

Johnny Football showed why he won the Heisman Trophy by leading the Texas A&M Aggies to a dominant 41-13 victory over Oklahoma. Johnny Manziel ran and passed for two touchdowns apiece to become the fourth player in Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) history to run and pass for 20 touchdowns each in a season, joining Colin Kaepernick, Cam Newton and Tim Tebow. You know I have to mention Tebow. Manziel also had a Cotton Bowl-record 516 total yards, 229 rushing and 287 passing. Crazy! A&M finished fifth in the Top 16, moving up four spots. Leatherhead Terry Keshner relayed to me his thoughts on the game: “Watching Johnny Football destroy Oklahoma was like watching Forrest Gump after six shots of Five-Hour Energy.” Oklahoma manged to stay in the Top 16 despite being crushed. They finished the season ranked #15.

Georgia and Stanford both won their bowl games to finish sixth and seventh in the poll, respectively. Stanford beat Wisconsin 20-14 in the Rose Bowl while Georgia beat Nebraska 45-31 in the Capital One Bowl. South Carolina beat Michigan 33-28 in the Outback Bowl to finish #8. Rounding out the top ten is Orange Bowl winner Florida State at nine and Chick-fil-A BOWL victor Clemson at ten. In the battle of the Tigers, Clemson beat LSU who dropped from tenth to fourteenth.

Boise State, spending most of the season outside of the Top 16, beat Washington in the MAACO Bowl to complete our rankings at #16. Utah State (11-2) and Northwestern (10-3) received support but fell just short of being ranked. Utah State beat Toledo in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl by the score of 41-15. Northwestern beat Mississippi State 34-20 in the Gator Bowl to win their first bowl game since 1949. Nice!  Mississippi State at one time was 7-0 on the season but finished with just an 8-5 record. Ouch!

On behalf of Leatherheads of the Gridiron and all our pollsters, thanks for following us all season and we look forward to doing it all over again next season.

Rank Team Record Points Last Poll
   1 Alabama (11)   13-1    176        2
   2 Oregon   12-1    158        3
   3 Ohio State   12-0    151        4 (Tie)
   4 Notre Dame   12-1    136        1
   5 Texas A&M   11-2    130        9
   6 Georgia   12-2    128        7
   7 Stanford   12-2    108        8
   8 South Carolina   11-2      99      11
   9 Florida State   12-2      74      13
 10 Clemson   11-2      73      14
 11 Florida   11-2      70        4 (Tie)
 12 Kansas State   11-2      65        6
 13 Louisville   11-2      51      NR
 14 LSU   10-3      29      10
 15 Oklahoma   10-3      16      12
 16 Boise State   11-2      15      NR


Others receiving votes
: Utah State – 13, Northwestern – 4.

Participating voters: David Boyce, Ronnie Foreman, Terry Keshner, Bob Lazzari, Dan McCloskey, Andrew McKillop, Tex Noel, Pete Sonski, Bob Swick, Joe Williams, Tony Williams.

 

SEC Champion Alabama Will Play Undefeated Notre Dame in the BCS Championship Game and for the #1 Spot in the Top 16

The SEC Championship Game last Saturday was great one.  Alabama barely beat a Georgia team that had a chance to win in the closing moments.  Georgia sophomore Chris Conley caught a ball and fell on the 5-yard line to end the game.  Instincts are to catch what is thrown to you but in this case he should have just knocked it to the ground to give the Bulldogs another chance to throw it into the end zone.  Instead the clock ran out.  Oh well.  College football fans will be watching the correct matchup in the BCS National Championship Game when Alabama plays Notre Dame.  According to Leatherhead and college football historian Tex Noel, both the Crimson Tide and the Fighting Irish each have nine “official” national championships.  The winner of this matchup will gain their tenth and sit atop the college football world for this season and all-time.  Alabama were champions in 1961, 1964, 1965, 1973, 1978, 1979, 1992, 2009 and 2011.  Notre Dame were the kings of college football in 1943, 1946, 1947, 1949, 1964, 1966, 1973, 1977 and 1988.  Bama is also trying to become the second team to win three national championships in four years, joining Nebraska who won in 1994, 1995 and 1997.

To get back to the Alabama victory, the main reason they won the game was the running of junior Eddie Lacy (181 yards) and freshman T.J. Yeldon (153 yards) plus a few big plays by A.J. McCarron, especially the 45-yard TD pass to Amari Cooper with just 3:15 left in the contest.  Lacy and Yeldon both finished the game with over 1,000 rushing yards.  Lacy with 1,182 and Yeldon with an even 1,000.  Georgia was outstanding in their efforts as well but came up just short.  Freshman Todd Gurley had 122 yards rushing with two scores while senior WR Tavarres King caught five balls for 142 yards.  Leatherhead Dan McCloskey, who has not been a huge Bulldog supporter all year stated, “I’d like to say yesterday’s game proved Georgia has been overrated by the pollsters, but I can’t.”  Georgia, now ranked #7 in the Leatherheads College Football Top 16, will play Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl on New Year’s Day.  Not a fan of the name Capital One Bowl.  I prefer the old name, the Tangerine Bowl!  Georgia is 4-1 in this juicy classic, winning in 1984, 1993, 2004 and 2009 while losing in 1974 to Miami (Ohio).  BTW, Miami (Ohio) won three straight Tangerine Bowls from 1973-1975, beating Florida, Georgia and South Carolina.  Unless Big Ben and Milt Stegall are playing, the RedHawks couldn’t beat those teams today.  As for the Cornhuskers, they are 0-2 in this particular bowl, including a 30-13 lost to South Carolina last season. I think Gurley will be the man in this upcoming matchup.

So Nebraska is going to the Sunshine State.  I think they need a vacation after getting walloped by the Wisconsin Badgers 70-31 in the Big Ten Championship Game on Saturday.  Both Melvin Gordon (216) and Montee Ball (202) rushed for over 200 yards.  Ball had three TDs to become the Football Bowl Subdivision’s career record-holder for rushing touchdowns with 76 and increased the record for most TDs with 82.  The one bright spot for the Cornhuskers was QB Taylor Martinez’s spectacular 76-yard run in the first quarter.   Martinez has 973 rushing yards on the season, including a 92-yarder against UCLA on September 8.  Nebraska dropped out of the Top 16 after being #14 last week.  I was tempted to vote for Wisconsin this week with a 16th place vote after their dehusking of Nebraska.  However, I couldn’t cast a vote for a team with an 8-5 record.  If Wisconsin can beat Stanford in the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day, then I most likely will cast a vote for them in the final Top 16 poll of the season.

Stanford earned their Rose Bowl bid by defeating UCLA in the PAC-12 Championship Game, their second consecutive win over the Bruins in as many weeks.  See Andrew McKillop’s list on Football Geography.com entitled Major College Football Teams That Played Each Other in Back-to-Back Games.  The Cardinal have exceeded my expectations this season, considering the Andrew Luck era had ended.  Last season, Stanford with Luck was also 11-2 but did not make the PAC-12 Championship Game and lost in OT in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl to Oklahoma State 41-38.  I don’t mind Tostitos in the name of this bowl because eating Tostitos with lots of salsa is a fiesta.  I fiesta everyday!  Anyway, the Cardinal had gone 11-2 this season with two different starting quarterbacks, Josh Nunes and Kevin Hogan.  Stephan Taylor has had an excellent senior season with 1,442 yards rushing and 38 receptions.  In his four years at Stanford, Taylor has accumulated 4,973 yards from the line of scrimmage with 44 touchdowns.  The defense has been solid all season as well, just giving up slightly more than 16 points per game.  I don’t see the Badgers scoring 70 points against them.  The Cardinal are on a 7-game winning streak.

Earlier I stated that I almost gave the Badgers my 16th place vote this week.  Instead, that vote went to Northern Illinois.  Who?  The Huskies defeated the Kent State Golden Flashes in the Mid-American Conference Championship Game 44-37 in two overtimes.  This was a battle of two 11-1 teams.  The Golden Flashes were ranked #16 last week in the Top 16.  Oops!  We voted for the wrong MAC team, but barely.  It took two OTs to determine the winner.  Junior QB Jordan Lynch ran it in from the two in the second overtime that sealed the victory.  During the game, Lynch broke the FBS record for rushing yards by a QB in a season with 1,771 yards.  Michigan’s Denard Robinson previously held the record of 1,702 in 2010.  The victory for the Huskies gained them a BCS-bowl bid and a matchup with Florida State in the Orange Bowl.  Something tells me that if Kent State won, they would not be in the Orange Bowl.  Lynch was the deciding factor and he will get his chance to shine in front of all college football fans in prime time after the Rose Bowl.  For the Golden Flashes, they earned a trip to the GoDaddy.com Bowl and a chance to give Danica Patrick a “how do you do?”  They will play Arkansas State, the Sun Belt champs, who lost to Northern Illinois in the bowl game last year.

Florida State defeated a now 6-7 Georgia Tech team, but just barely by the score of 21-15 to become the Atlantic Coast Conference champions.  It was the Seminoles’ first ACC championship since 2005.  Who would have thunk a decade ago that they would go on such a dry stretch?  The Yellow Jackets scored the final 12 points in the game to give Seminole fans a scare.  Will FSU be able to stop Lynch in the Orange Bowl?  The Seminoles remained ranked #13 in the Top 16.

Other games last week that made a difference in the Top 16 include Oklahoma’s 24-17 victory over TCU, Oregon State’s pouncing of Nicholls State 77-3 and Kansas State’s victory over Texas 42-24.  The Sooners remained in the #12 spot, the Wildcats moved up two positions to #6 and the Beavers jumped back into the poll after being knocked out of the Top 16 in the previous poll.  The Beavers’ 77 points are a school record.  Oklahoma will play Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl on January 4.  The Beavers play Texas in the Alamo Bowl on December 29.  The Wildcats play the Ducks in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl on January 3.

Don’t forget there is football today.  The Army-Navy game is on at 3:00 EST.  I think I will have a fiesta!

Here is the last poll until after the BCS National Championship Game.  Enjoy the holidays!

Rank Team Record Points Last Week
   1 Notre Dame (11)   12-0    191        1
   2 Alabama   12-1    177        2
   3 Oregon   11-1    141        5
   4 (Tie) Ohio State (1)   12-0    138        3
   4 (Tie) Florida   11-1    138        6
   6 Kansas State   11-1    135        8
   7 Georgia   11-2    133        4
   8 Stanford   11-2    111      10
   9 Texas A&M   10-2      99        7
 10 LSU   10-2      97        9
 11 South Carolina   10-2      70      11
 12 Oklahoma   10-2      62      12
 13 Florida State   11-2      58      13
 14 Clemson   10-2      32      15
 15 Oregon State     9-3      22      NR
 16 Northern Illinois   12-1      14      NR


Others receiving votes
: Boise State – 6, Utah State – 3, Louisville – 2, UCLA – 2, Nebraska – 1.

Participating voters: David Boyce, Ronnie Foreman, Terry Keshner, Bob Lazzari, Dan McCloskey, Andrew McKillop, Tex Noel, Pete Sonski, Bob Swick, Brandon WilliamsJoe Williams, Tony Williams.

 

Manti Te’o: A Mantle of Greatness

Following an afternoon of steady showers, the skies had opened into an all-out downpour on rain-soaked Notre Dame Stadium. Students romped with student-athletes, celebrating a dramatic goal-line stand that ended a classic, overtime victory against fellow heavyweight Stanford.

Manti Te’o stood with his arm around his coach, Brian Kelly, explaining for a national audience what had just happened. “This team will scratch, claw, do whatever it takes to win….We walked into the overtime knowing he had to stick together and execute, and that’s exactly what we did.”

There was a knowing look in Brian Kelly’s eyes. As if to say, this man next to me represents excellence. Greatness. Perseverance. Humility. Everything we want here at Notre Dame.

Much has been written and said about Manti Te’o and his tremendous football instincts. His ability to be in position, anticipate the play, read the situation, react and be there. The key tackle, the timely interception. It was never more in evidence than on his third-down stop of Stanford’s Stepfon Taylor in that goal line stand for the ages. Again and again, he makes the biggest plays in the biggest games.

From a strictly football standpoint, it’s his knowing. Knowing what’s coming next. Knowing where to be, how to react. In ways that cannot be measured by statistics, he transcends the game. He is the defender par excellence on the nation’s best defense.

But it’s his knowing about the important things of life that may be even more impressive.

In describing his decision to return for his senior year at Notre Dame, Manti mentioned family members wondering: Wasn’t reaching the NFL your dream? “I said, ‘the NFL is my goal. My dream is to have an impact on the most people possible.’”

He went on: “Money can’t buy the memories I can build here with my friends and family. When I die I can’t take a big Cadillac, a big house or a Rolex with me. But what I will take are the memories of my senior year at Notre Dame.”

For the 2012 football season, consider the dream realized. Manti’s impact, along with his teammates, has been to remind a nation that champions can also be truly decent people – with tremendous passion for doing things the right way, and caring for one another.

“There’s no better combination of person and place than Manti and Notre Dame,” says athletic director Jack Swarbrick. “He embodies so many of the value that are fundamental to this institution. Everybody he touches is a better person for being around him.”

Adds defensive coordinator Bob Diaco: “He’s the type of person you don’t replace. His worth to the team is incredible. They get an example of how to work, how to behave and how you conduct yourself on and off the field.” In describing Manti, strength and conditioning coach Paul Longo uses the term “other-centered.”

Notre Dame has always existed both in reality and as an ideal. In football, that ideal is that championship-level football can be played by real student-athletes who go to class, manage their time, graduate in four years with a meaningful degree, and leave campus ready to make a positive impact on the larger world.

And Notre Dame’s connection to the larger world is played out in numerous ways. As the place “where the church does its thinking” for one. And where various programs reach out to meet the world’s needs, from supporting global justice in Cairo to rebuilding communities in Bosnia.

Nearly 120 years ago, a five-year-old made a voyage from Bergen in Norway to Ellis Island, and went on to create a quintessential life as a successful immigrant to the U.S. Knute Rockne became the face of a Notre Dame that knew its mission could not be contained by geography, and had to go coast-to-coast, impacting millions along the way.

It’s fitting that in a season where the Irish traveled back to Europe, and criss-crossed the continent from Boston to Los Angeles to Miami, the key individual is one who crossed another ocean to become Irish. It is not too much to say that Manti brings with him the sensibilities of the indigenous Hawaiian peoples – a simple grace, more concerned with caring for friends and family than with material possessions.

Manti may not win the Heisman Trophy. (He also hasn’t tried to trademark a nickname.) Voters are distracted by shiny objects, like offensive statistics – in a game where once again, we’re reminded that defense wins championships.

But we all know. We know he truly deserves the Heisman. That he represents everything positive one could ever hope to associate with college football.

And, most importantly, Manti knows. He knows he will not be changed by winning the trophy, or by not winning it. It really doesn’t matter to him. He knows why he came back for his senior year. He is on a path to impact many other lives. If he makes millions from pro football, which seems certain, he will no doubt use it wisely to help others.

Manti knows the importance of living every possible minute, and living in the moment.
During this incredible 2012 season, coming back to be part of the Fighting Irish, being their leader…he knew he had to be there.

What Notre Dame fans know is that Manti helped turned the page to the next chapter of greatness for this University and its football program.

Manti knew.

The Fighting Irish Are #1, But Luck Is On Alabama’s Side Too

Today is Thanksgiving.  On this day, we are usually thankful for all that life has given us.  For most of us, we are thankful for our family, friends and the other blessings we have received along the way.  For the fans, players, coaches, students, administrators and communities of both the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the Alabama Crimson Tide, they should be thankful for two additional items: a 52-24 Kansas State loss to the now 5-5 Baylor Bears and a 17-14 Oregon loss to the Stanford Cardinal.  Without losses by K-State and Oregon, Notre Dame and Alabama would not be in the position they are in–the top two spots for the chance to play in the BCS National Championship Game and of course the top two spots in the Leatherheads College Football Top 16.  Leatherhead Andrew McKillop pointed out, “It’s only the fifth time in the last 25 years that the AP’s top two teams lost on the same day and it’s the second time it’s ever happened on November 17 – the other time was in 1984.  Visit Andrew’s site, FootballGeography.com, for the complete list.

Last week, both K-State and Oregon sat #1 in the Top 16, each receiving six first-place votes and 186 points.  With their losses, the Ducks make their home in the number five position and the Wildcats are ranked seventh.  So what happened?  The Wildcats got behind early against the Bears and could not catch up.  Kansas State QB Collin Klein got picked off three times after only be intercepted three other times all season.  The Bears couldn’t be stopped offensively,  especially on the ground.  Sophomore RB Lache Seastrunk ran for 185 yards on just 19 carries and got in the end zone on one occasion while Junior RB Glasco Martin had 113 yards rushing and three scores.  In the case of the Ducks, they lost a close one to the now 9-2 Cardinal in OT on a Jordan Williamson 37-yard field goal.  The key to the game was Stanford’s ability to contain Kenjon Barner to just 66 yards rushing.  Just two weeks ago, Barner ran for 321 against USC.

Notre Dame and Alabama were both lucky with the losses by the Ducks and Wildcats, but they both had to win to be in their current situations.  The Fighting Irish beat the now 5-6 Wake Forest Demon Deacons by the score of 38-0.  Notre Dame QB Everett Golson threw for a season-high 346 yards and three touchdowns while Senior RB Cierre Wood ran for a season-best 150 yards and a score.  Earlier on Saturday, the Crimson Tide won 49-0 over the now 1-10 Western Carolina Catamounts.  The Catamounts started out 1-0 with a 42-14 victory over the Mars Hill Lions.  Enough said.  This game had no chance of being competitive.  I’m surprised Alabama gave up 14 points to the worst team in the Southern Conference.  As Leatherhead Dan McCloskey stated in referring to the Crimson Tide, “They are f*&%ing lucky!”

Now that Notre Dame and Alabama are in position to meet for the crown of college football, they must finish out the season with wins.  It is simple for Notre Dame.  They must beat USC this weekend.  Victory gets them into the BCS Championship Game.  USC was the number one ranked team at the beginning of the season, but their 21-14 loss to Stanford on September 15 ended their reign at the top and are entering the game against Notre Dame with a 7-4 record.  Here is USC’s chance to grab some of the spotlight and salvage a disappointing season.  However, this will be no easy task, especially without their stud QB Matt Barkely.  Freshman QB Max Wittek makes his first start for the Trojans.  How will the Wittek era at USC begin?  Will the Irish be heading to the big game?  Tune in Saturday night at 8:00 EST on ABC.

For Alabama, the road is not so simple.  The Crimson Tide play a 3-8 Auburn team on Saturday.  It should be an easy victory.  I say “should be” for a reason.  Didn’t a disappointing Baylor team upset K-State last week?  I don’t expect the Tigers to win but have to make this matchup seem interesting.  If Bama beats Auburn, they still have to play in the SEC Championship Game on December 1 against our #4 ranked Georgia Bulldogs at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.  Now that is a game to watch!

As for the rest of the Top 16, just 15 teams received votes for the remaining 14 openings.  Oregon State received one more point than UCLA to grab the 16th spot.  Ohio State is ranked #3 in the Top 16, their highest ranking of the season, with their 11-0 record.  I don’t see them moving up in the poll.  The Buckeyes are not eligible for a bowl game or the Big Ten Championship, and the Big Ten has been weak this season, although Nebraska is 9-2 and now ranked 15th in the Top 16.  It would take several upsets for the Buckeyes to move up, even with an undefeated record.  They finish out their season on Saturday against Michigan.  If Ohio State wins, it will be the second time Urban Meyer led his team to an undefeated season.  In 2004, he took the Utah Utes to a 12-0 record and a victory in the Fiesta Bowl.  In his career, he has a record of 115-23 for an outstanding winning percentage of 83%.  I think he is my favorite Urban after only Urban “Red” Faber.

Besides Alabama, there are six other teams with a 10-1 record–Clemson, Florida, Florida State, Georgia, Kansas State and Oregon.  It will be interesting to see what happens to each of them this weekend.  It is Rivalry Week in college football so Florida plays Florida State.  One of these teams will get their second loss and officially see their BCS National Championship dreams disappear.  Georgia plays Georgia Tech, which is 6-5 on the season.  Oregon plays Oregon State.  The Beavers would love to hand the Ducks a second-straight loss.  Clemson plays South Carolina.  Clemson has been outstanding all season and is not getting the love the other 10-1 teams are getting in the Top 16.  They are #11, with two teams with two losses ranked ahead of them.  Their only loss of the season came against Florida State on September 22 in Tallahassee.  The Wildcats get to stay home and lick their wounds.  They play Texas on December 1.

Other big games this weekend include Nebraska at Iowa, LSU at Arkansas, Stanford at UCLA, Missouri at Texas A&M, and Oklahoma State at Oklahoma.  I love Rivalry Week!

Before I go, I thought I would share some thoughts by Leatherhead Terry Keshner on some of the teams in the Top 16:

On Notre Dame: “The Irish are number one for the first time since 1993 when Clinton was President, Jennifer Aniston was “fat” and “Twitter” was something you did after drinking too much lemonade.”

On Alabama: “The Crimson Tide couldn’t score 50 on Western Carolina.  Something’s wrong.”

On Ohio State: “The Buckeyes named Lance Armstrong an honorary captain.”

On Oregon: “Ducks don’t cry.”

On Kansas State: “Baylor did things to the Wildcats that are normally only seen in church revivals and Rob Zombie movies.”

Happy Thanksgiving!

Rank Team Record Points Last Week
   1 Notre Dame (10)   11-0    175        3
   2 Alabama   10-1    158        4
   3 Ohio State (1)   11-0    147        6
   4 Georgia   10-1    138        5
   5 Oregon   10-1    126        1 (Tie)
   6 Florida   10-1    106        9
   7 Kansas State   10-1    100        1 (Tie)
   8 Florida State   10-1      95        7
   9 Texas A&M     9-2      93      11
 10 LSU     9-2      91        8
 11 Clemson   10-1      79      10
 12 Stanford     9-2      67      13 (Tie)
 13 South Carolina     9-2      48      12
 14 Oklahoma     8-2      33      13 (Tie)
 15 Nebraska     9-2      19      15
 16 Oregon State     8-2      11      NR


Others receiving votes
: UCLA – 10.

Participating voters: David Boyce, Ronnie Foreman, Terry Keshner, Bob Lazzari, Dan McCloskey, Andrew McKillop, Tex Noel, Pete Sonski, Bob Swick, Joe Williams, Tony Williams.

 

Underdog Irish Shocked Nation, OU in ‘57

By Jim Lefebvre
Forever Irish
www.NDFootballHistory.com

In the fall of 1957, the Notre Dame football team found itself in a most unusual situation – trying to recover from possibly the worst season in the history of the program.

The 1956 season had ended 2-8, and even though the Irish had produced the Heisman Trophy winner in Paul Hornung, they had suffered a string of one-sided losses to top teams: a 48-8 thrashing at the hands of No. 3 Iowa, and back-to-back home losses to No. 2 Michigan State (47-14) and No. 1 Oklahoma (40-0). The 87 points were easily the most ND ever allowed in consecutive home games.

When fourth-year head coach Terry Brennan gathered his troops together in the fall of 1957, there was a changed attitude. Greater dedication. A certain toughness. And more physical practices.

“In 1956, we had a younger team, and it was felt there wasn’t a great deal of depth,” says 1957 co-captain Ed Sullivan. “The coaches let up on scrimmaging, fearing for injuries. So we hit tackling dummies all week. Only come Saturday, those ‘dummies’ hit back, and moved in different directions that we weren’t used to from practice. And once that happens, it’s hard to adjust to.

“Football, then and now, is a game of fundamentals. You have to know how to block and tackle. And the only way to become proficient at that is to do it. Repetition. Day after day.”

In ’57, the renewed focus on physicality seemed to work as ND started the season by shutting out in-state Big 10 foes Purdue, 12-0, and Indiana, 26-0. The Irish zoomed to No. 12 in the nation, went to Philadelphia and won a squeaker over No. 10 Army, 23-21. They came home and edged Pittsburgh, 13-7, to sit 4-0 on the season, ranked No. 5 in the nation.

The euphoria wouldn’t last, however. On Nov. 2, No. 16 Navy came to rainy Notre Dame Stadium and whipped the Irish 20-6. A trip to No. 4 Michigan State was next, and the Spartans again had a field day against ND, winning 34-6.

So the Irish were now 4-2 on the season and, dating back to the final game of 1955, a 42-20 loss at USC, had lost 11 of their previous 17 games. It was little wonder that they were nearly three-touchdown underdogs as they boarded a plane and headed to Norman, Okla., to meet the three-time defending champion Oklahoma Sooners.

By 1957, Bud Wilkinson was already a football legend – a walking embodiment of college football excellence, having been a part of six national championship teams. The Minneapolis native was a guard and quarterback for head coach Bernie Bierman at Minnesota, helping lead the Golden Gophers to three consecutive national championships from 1934 to 1936.

Wilkinson’s overall record as head coach at Oklahoma from 1949 through Nov. 15, 1957 was a Rockne-like 101-8-2. The Sooners had not lost since the 1953 opener, when Coach Frank Leahy and his top-ranked Irish came to Norman and defeated No. 6 OU, 28-21. After a 7-7 tie against Pittsburgh the next week, the Sooners beat Texas, 19-14 to start the most dominating run in college football history.

After closing out 1953 with nine straight wins, Oklahoma went 10-0 in ’54, 11-0 in ’55 and 10-0 in ’56. So far in ’57, the Sooners had ripped through seven opponents, outscoring them, 200-48. That made 47 straight wins for the Sooners, the all-time record in major college football.

Sullivan, the Irish captain and center, injured his knee the previous week against Michigan State, and was not part of the Notre Dame traveling party headed to Oklahoma, as each available spot was filled by an able-bodied player. But he managed to find his own way to Norman, and before the game he reached the Notre Dame locker room, only to be stopped by a security guard.

“They had to go get someone to identify me, tell them I was the captain of Notre Dame,” Sullivan recalled recently. “When I got into the dressing room, I think it had an impact on the guys. They didn’t expect me to be there, and now all of a sudden it’s, ‘how did he get here?’ I think it blew a lot of them away to see me show up.”

And the Irish were further fired up when they saw what Sullivan carried with him.

“We rolled out (hundreds of) the telegrams pasted together,” he said. “The students had gotten organized and sent all these telegrams, and I took them with me to the locker room. My message was, ‘The student body is here with me, supporting you.’ Well, the fellows were so excited, they nearly crushed Coach Brennan leaving the locker room.”

As for the game, Oklahoma “was expected to annihilate us, especially after what they had done to us the previous year,” Sullivan said. But he recalls that teammate Nick Pietrosante was “a big factor all day, on offense and defense.” On the winning drive, “it was Pietrosante to the left, Pietrosante to the right, all the way down the field. Then, on the winning play, it was a fake to Pietrosante and a pitchout to Dick Lynch, and he got loose and did the rest.”

Not only was Sullivan unavailable for the Irish that day, but so was his backup Bob Scholtz. That left the center position to third-string Frank Kuchta, from Cleveland. Kuchta performed admirably, and was named AP Lineman of the Week.

“That was just fantastic for Frank,” said Sullivan. “I was tickled to death for him. It was certainly the highlight of his college career.”

The same could be said for a whole bunch of happy Irish headed back to South Bend that night.

Here is how the game was covered by the AP and UP on the scene that day….

Lynch’s Run In Final Four Minutes Gives Irish 7-O Win
Notre Dame Ends Oklahoma Win, Scoring Streaks

By SAUL FELDMAN

NORMAN, Okla, (AP)- Oklahoma’s all-time record of 47 straight football victories was shattered yesterday by an underdog Notre Dame team that marched 80 yards on the ground in the closing minutes for the all-important touchdown and a 7-0 triumph.

Oklahoma, No. 2 ranked in the nation and an 18-point favorite, couldn’t move against the rock-wall Notre Dame line and the Sooners saw another of its national records broken- scoring in 123 consecutive games.

The defeat was only the 9th for Oklahoma Coach Bud Wilkinson since he became head coach at Oklahoma in 1947 and virtually ended any chance for the Sooners getting a third straight national championship.

Although the partisan, sellout crowd of 62,000 came out for a Roman holiday, they were stunned into silence as the Sooners were unable to pull their usual last-quarter winning touchdowns- a Wilkinson team trademark. As the game ended, when Oklahoma’s desperation passing drive was cutoff by an intercepted aerial, the crowd rose as one and suddenly gave the Notre Dame team a rousing cheer.

It was a far cry from last year when the Sooners ran over Notre Dame 40-0. The victory gave the Irish a 3-1 edge in the five-year-old series dating back to 1952.

The smashing, rocking Notre Dame line didn’t permit the Sooners to get started either on the ground or in the air. The Sooners were able to make only 98 yards on the ground and, in the air, just 47. Notre Dame, paced by its brilliant, 210-pound fullback Nick Pietrosante, rolled up 169. In the air, the Irish gained 79 yards, hitting 9 of 20 passes, with Bob Williams doing most of the passing.

Notre Dame’s lone touchdown drive, biting off short but consistent yardage against the Sooners’ alternate team, carried from the 20 after an Oklahoma punt went into the end zone.

Time after time, Pietrosante picked up the necessary yard when he needed it as the Irish smashed through the Oklahoma line. Notre Dame moved to the 8 and the Sooner first team came in to try to make the third Sooner goal line stand of the day. Pietrosante smashed four yards through center and Dick Lynch was stopped for no gain. On the third down, Williams went a yard through center

Then Lynch, who had failed to score from the one-foot line in the second period, crossed up the Sooners and rolled around his right end to score standing up. Monty Stickles converted to give Notre Dame the upset and end collegiate football’s longest winning streak.

The closest Oklahoma could get to Notre Dame’s goal was in the first quarter when the Sooners’ alternate team moved to the 3 before being held on downs. In the third period, brilliant punting by first string halfback Clendon Thomas and alternate quarterback David Baker kept Notre Dame back on its own goal line but the Sooners couldn’t capitalize.

Thomas set punts down on the Notre Dame 15 and 4 and Baker put them down on the 3 and 7 and waited for the breaks that have come the Sooners’ way in the past to help them keep up their streak through 47 games. This time there were no breaks as Notre Dame shook off last week’s jitters that saw the Irish fumble away the ball five times to let Michigan State have an easy 34-6 victory.

Pietrosante scored almost a third of Notre Dame’s rushing yardage as he made 56 yards on 17 carries. Lynch was just two yards behind with 54 in 17 carries while the best any Oklahoma player could muster was 36 yards in 10 tries by first string halfback Clendon Thomas.

Williams completed 8 of 19 for 70 yards. In Oklahoma’s last minute desperation drive, third string quarterback Bennett Watts made 2 of 3 for 31. Notre Dame was the last team to beat Oklahoma, at the start of the 1953 season on the same field that it smothered the Sooners yesterday. Then coach Frank Leahy’s Irish beat Oklahoma 28-21. The next game, Oklahoma and Pittsburgh tied 7-7. Then, the Sooners set sail through the 47 games until Terry Brennan’s Irish stopped the string yesterday.

Wilkinson, the nation’s winningest, active coach, had amassed 101 victories in his 10 years at Oklahoma. There were 3 ties. Yesterday was his 8th loss.

Oklahoma started out as if it would stretch its string to 48 at the expense of the Irish. It marched the first time it got its hands on the ball from the Sooner 42 down to the Irish 13 but the big Notre Dame line stiffened on the 13.

Oklahoma continued to play in Notre Dame territory the rest of the first quarter and had another chance when a Notre Dame fumble with 9 minutes gone was recovered by right guard Dick Corbitt on the Notre Dame 34. However, the Sooners were stopped cold and finally Baker had to punt on fourth down.

In the second quarter another Sooner drive got down to the 23 but on the first play second quarter, starting back Carl Dodd fumbled. The ball was punched around in the Sooner backfield and Pietronsante finally smothered it on the Notre Dame 48.

Then Williams started his passing attack to three different receivers and piloted the Irish down to the 3 with first and goal. Pietrosante picked up a yard in each of two plunges, Frank Reynolds went to the one foot line and then Jim Just was held for no gain.

Then Notre Dame came back with its bruising ground game and moved to the 16. With fourth down, Stickles came in for his fake kick but instead hit Just on the six for a first down. It was then on the second play that Reynolds pass was intercepted by Baker in a desperation lunge in the end zone.

“They Were Just Better”: Wilkinson
Lynch scores winning touchdown around end.

NORMAN, Okla. (UP)- Some may have called Notre Dame’s upset 7-0 decision over Oklahoma yesterday “The luck of the Irish”, but victorious coach Terry Brennan said simply “we just played 60 minutes of good football against a great team.”

Brennan and the entire Notre Dame squad emphasized that the triumph was the result of a great team effort combined with superb scouting.

Coach Bud Wilkinson in his usual sober tone said it was a tough job to accept defeat in the face of his team’s brilliant 47-game winning streak. “They were just better than we were yesterday,” he said. “They deserved to win.”

Brennan said he could not single out any individual as the key player but said quarterback Bob Williams; guards James Schaaf and Allen Ecuyer and tackle Don Lawerence were the stalwarts “if anyone has to be mentioned personally.” “It feels great to beat a grand team and for the first time we played 60 minutes of football and we came down here to win,” Brennan said in a dressing room jammed with with wishers. “Oklahoma is a great team and must be considered as good as any we played. We just happened to have one of our best days and I don’t believe anyone could have beaten us.”

Brennan said that every play in Notre Dame’s touchdown drive was engineered by Williams. Dick Lynch, who scored the the touchdown was probably the happiest fellow among the Irish. “That is the shortest but best touchdown I’ve scored this season. Monty Stickles blocked out the end and Pietrosante took care of the outside halfback. I believe we could have gone 95 yards on the play if we had been at the other end of the field.”

Brennan, asked if he would have called a field goal on the fourth down play instead of a run, replied, “No, we decided at the half to go all the way. We were afraid Oklahoma could go all the way anytime they had the ball and felt that it would take a touchdown to win.”

Williams explained the winning play thusly. “They were in tight, real tight, just waiting for me to give the ball to Pietrosante. Well, I just faked it to him and tossed out to Lynch and it worked like a charm.”

Wilkinson said Oklahoma really never had a chance to score. ”They had our pass receivers covered very well,” he added. “We had time to throw the ball but couldn’t get anybody open.”

Asked why he put his third and fourth stringers into the game near the finish, Wilkinson said, “I just thought they might do better.”

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.

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.

Visiting the Land of The Gipper

We used Notre Dame’s bye weekend to make a long-anticipated trip to the Copper Country of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula – the area that gave us George Gipp and several other ND standouts of the Knute Rockne era. It was research for our upcoming biography on Rockne…and a great reminder of all the unique places that are part of the Notre Dame story.

Back in the 1910s, the copper mining industry was at its peak in the area, and copper helped fuel a burgeoning economy and population in the region. Some 90,000 lived in Houghton County, including the cities of Houghton, Hancock, Calumet and Laurium.

Calumet High School alone sent to Notre Dame not only Gipp, but Heartley “Hunk” Anderson, who would become Rockne’s great confidante, assistant coach and ultimately his successor as head coach of the Irish; fellow lineman Ojay Larson; hockey-football athlete Percy Wilcox; and a few years later, Dominic Vairo, captain of the 1934 Irish, and Larry Danbom, starting fullback in the mid 1930s.

The Gipp Memorial is a beautifully designed and maintained V-shaped park that features a monument made of rocks from the shores of nearby Lake Superior. A Notre Dame flag is proudly flown above the memorial, which also features plaques and a path of paving stones in the shape of a football. A visitor can’t help but be moved by the civic pride evident in the hometown of one of the all-time greats of college football.

Gipp’s childhood home at 432 Hecla Street in Laurium stills stands, as does Hunk Anderson’s on Tamarack Hill at the edge of Calumet. And a significant portion of Calumet High – including an impressive and classically outfitted assembly and study hall – dates back to the late 19th century.

School board president and local historian Bob Erkkila was our tour guide extraordinaire, and he made sure we saw it all. Some hockey side trips were also fascinating – to Houghton’s Dee Stadium, birthplace of U.S. professional hockey; the Colosseum in Calumet, the oldest continually-operating indoor ice arena in North America; and George Gipp Arena in Laurium.

Friday night, we joined a good crowd at Agassiz Field to watch the Calumet High School Copper Kings take on rival West Iron County. The Copper Kings roster is dotted with names like Torola, Kariniemi, Lahnala, Pieti, Mattila, Tanskanen, Erkkila, Eskola, Helppi and Lasanen, speaking to the great Finnish heritage that worked the mines.

A full moon rose just over the pine trees that ring one end of the field. Before the game, the Calumet band takes the field single file, seemingly from between the pines. The color guard is front and center. Time for the National Anthem.

And then….the Victory March, as played by the Calumet Copper King High School band.

You could almost feel the spirits of Gipp, Anderson, Larson, Wilcox, Vairo, Danbom. The links to the past, the strength of tradition. These are the cornerstones of Notre Dame football… yesterday, today, tomorrow.

It was perfect.

******
Jim Lefebvre writes at Forever Irish, at 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 a definitive biography of Knute Rockne.

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.