Monday, June 28, 2010

Irish Football 101: Devine Turbulence

Irish Football 101 returns after a one week hiatus, which I spent hitting a little white ball around one of the most beautiful pieces of property on earth. This week we touch on the Dan Devine Era.

Q: So Ara Parseghian calls it quits after the 1974 season and Notre Dame has to replace another legend. Who stepped into that unenviable situation?

A: Father Hesburgh and Father Joyce tasked Dan Devine with taking over the football program. He was the head coach of the Green Bay Packers at the time but his heart was always in college football. Prior to his stint in Green Bay he was the head coach at both Arizona State and Missouri. At ASU he compiled a 27-3-1 record, including an undefeated season in 1957. He then moved on to Mizzou where his success continued, including one undefeated season (1960) and four top 10 finishes in the AP Poll (1960, 1965, 1968, 1969) while rolling up a .715 winning percentage. As a matter of fact, Devine was almost offered the Notre Dame job after the 1963 season before Ara Parseghian accepted the position.

Q: Was he a popular choice among Notre Dame fans?

A: Not particularly. There were rumors flying around that Don Shula was going to leave the NFL and come to coach in South Bend as well as rumblings that Ara was just going to take a year off and then return. When Devine was hired people with those high expectations were let down. Devine was fresh off an unsuccessful stint as Green Bay head coach so memories of his past college accomplishments had faded. He was a fine football coach but could not compare to his predecessor when it came to charisma and presence.

Q: Did the players like Devine?

A: When you read about player reactions you can tell that some of them really didn't like him, most of them respected them, but all of them--especially those who had been recruited before Devine got there--wish that Ara would've been their coach.

Q: Was there immediate success (Terry Brennan style) or a drop-off (Hunk Anderson style)?

A: Devine pieced together a pair of good albeit unspectacular seasons to start his career in South Bend (8-3 in '75, 9-3 in '76 including a smackdown of Penn State in the Gator Bowl). In 1977 Notre Dame was pegged by Sports Illustrated as the preseason #1. They were led by future college football Hall of Famers tight end Ken McAfee and defensive end Ross Browner and expectations were understandably sky-high.

After winning the opener against Pitt though, the Irish stumbled against a hapless Ole Miss team and lost 20-13. "Dump Devine" bumper stickers were all over campus and on the cars in the stadium parking lots. The loss combined with the fact that the coach stubbornly and inexplicably refused to play budding star quarterback Joe Montana (even after he'd had so much success as a redshirt freshman in '75) helped create a tidal wave of animosity toward Devine from within Notre Dame Nation.

Q: Why did Devine refuse to play Montana?

A: If you listen to Devine it was a combination of the fact that he didn't think Montana was physically strong enough to go through the rigors of an entire season and his annoyance with Montana playing in Bookstore Basketball in the spring of '77 after he'd missed the entire 1976 football season with a shoulder injury. If you listen to players on the team they thought there was something about Montana that rubbed Devine the wrong way which led to the coach burying Joe on the depth chart.

Q: What's your opinion?

A: If you look at how the other quarterbacks (Rusty Lisch, Rick Slager, etc.) performed (for the most part very poorly) and compare them with how Montana performed when he was given a chance (extremely well, especially under pressure late in games) then I have to call BS on Devine. He was clearly the best quarterback--and it wasn't even close--which leaves no logical reason to keep him on the bench unless there was some sort of personal vendetta.

Going into the 1977 season Montana was relegated to third string quarterback, which was nearly as absurd then as it is now. I'm sure Montana wasn't totally innocent (the Bookstore Basketball incident being one example of the player blowing off what the coach wants), but when push comes to shove it's tough to find any sort of logic in Devine not declaring Montana his starter.

Devine got a lot of unnecessary and unwarranted flack during his time at Notre Dame, but his handling of the Montana situation deserved every bit of criticism it received.

Q: Obviously Montana was eventually inserted in the starting lineup. When was it?

A: After losing to Ole Miss in the second game of the '77 campaign Notre Dame was on its way to losing to Purdue when Devine finally gave Montana his first chance of the season...but only after the first stringer had failed, the second stringer had gotten knocked out by injury, and the first stringer failed again.

The Irish were losing 24-14 with 11 minutes left when Montana entered the game. Three possessions and 17 straight points later Notre Dame was victorious, claiming a 31-24 win. From that point forward the quarterback job was Montana's and he helped spearhead the Green Machine that rolled through the rest of the season.

Q: The Green Machine?

A: Prior to the Southern Cal game that season Devine decided that he needed a mental edge to fire up the players. Notre Dame was a home underdog against the mighty Trojans, who were ranked #5 in the country and the biggest obstacle between Notre Dame and a chance at the national title. He had green jerseys made up for the team but told only the captains and Irish basketball coach Digger Phelps of his plans. At the pep rally Friday night Phelps addressed the crowd and said, "TOMORROW WE WILL BE THE GREEN MACHINE!" No one had any clue of what he was talking about.

After warming up in their normal blue jerseys, the players came back to the locker room to find the green jerseys. The team erupted and when they burst onto the field behind a huge wooden Trojan Horse that the students had constructed the stadium went absolutely crazy. The tide of emotion carried the day as the underdog Irish destroyed Southern Cal 49-19. This victory spurred them on to run the table and clinch a berth in the Cotton Bowl against Texas.

Q: Was the Cotton Bowl a #1 vs #2 sort of deal?

A: No. Texas was led by Heisman winner Earl Campbell and ranked #1 but Notre Dame was only ranked #5. The thought was that in order for Notre Dame to leapfrog the four teams in front of them they'd need to beat the Longhorns convincingly and hope for some help. A future Notre Dame legend Lou Holtz provided the first bit of help when his Arkansas Razorbacks squashed #2 Oklahoma 31-6. Next Washington upset #4 Michigan in the yearly Bo Schembechler Rose Bowl chokejob. The table was set for a title if the Irish could deliver against Texas...and deliver they did.

Notre Dame was essentially playing a road game against the Longhorns since the game was played in the Cotton Bowl, but the Irish dominated both sides of the ball in a 38-10 rout. The thrashing of Texas in their own backyard was enough for voters to place the Irish atop their ballots and Notre Dame was national champion once again.

Q: Was that the beginning of a great run for Devine?

A: Unfortunately no. Notre Dame opened the next year 0-2 and suddenly the Devine haters were out in full force again. After another few good but not great seasons Devine retired in 1980. His final record at Notre Dame was 53-16-1 (.764 win percentage) and he was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame just five years later.

Not many Irish fans appreciated him while he was the coach, but now looking back they tend to tip their cap to his contributions. He brought in a national title, wrote an entire chapter in Notre Dame lore with the unveiling of the green jerseys, and managed to do about as good a job as possible in filling the giant shoes of a legend like Ara Parseghian.

Q: Would you call him as under-appreciated as Leahy is today?

A: Well they're totally different scenarios. An appreciation of Leahy's true greatness has slipped through the cracks in modern times, but he was never under-appreciated when he was head coach. He built Notre Dame into a juggernaut that rivaled and probably even surpassed the teams Rockne fielded. He won four national titles, coached four Heisman winners, and lifted the Irish program to new heights.

Devine was the complete opposite. He was never beloved by the Notre Dame fan base and it seemed from day one most people were looking forward to when Devine would ultimately be replaced. As time passed people began to have a much more profound appreciation for his achievements on the field at Notre Dame. He stepped into the most pressure-packed job in college football and had to deal with one of the toughest situations in all of sports (replacing a legend). When you look at his body of work even the most anti-Devine people have to admit he did a fine job in spite of difficult circumstances.

Q: So the unpopular coach finally leaves town. Who did they bring in?

A: A high school coach by the name of Gerry Faust.

Q: Wait, didn't Notre Dame hire a coach whose only head coaching experience was high school before in Terry Brennan?

A: Yes.

Q: Didn't that fail miserably?

A: Yes.

Q: How'd round two with a high school coach turn out?

A: I believe midway through Faust's tenure Father Hesburgh channeled his inner Gob Bluthe and uttered, "I've made a huge mistake...again."


This Week's CliffNotes

* Dan Devine left his head coaching position with the Green Bay Packers and took over for Ara Parseghian in 1975.
* Devine wasn't a particularly popular choice among fans or players. He lacked the charisma and panache that Parseghian had.
* After some initial bumps in the road he helped lead the Irish to a national championship in 1977. Notre Dame jumped from #5 to the top of the polls after dismantling #1 Texas 38-10 in the Cotton Bowl.
* During that '77 season he unveiled the famous Notre Dame green jerseys, a psychological ploy that helped galvanize the underdog Irish to a 49-19 beating of Southern Cal.
* Devine and Joe Montana never got along for some reason. Montana was forced to sit on the bench for most of his redshirt freshman year and the beginning of his junior year in spite of the fact that he clearly outplayed those ahead of him on the depth chart.
* After leading Notre Dame to a comeback victory against Purdue in the third game of the '77 season Montana kept the job for good and led the team to the national championship.
* Devine could not keep the momentum going and experienced marginal success his remaining three seasons. He announced before the the 1980 season that he would be retiring at the end of the season. After losing to #1 Georgia in the Sugar Bowl he left with a .754 career win percentage at Notre Dame.
* In 1985 Devine was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame.
* Gerry Faust, a high school coach from Cincinnati, was hired to takeover for Devine. This was the second time they went the route of hiring a high school coach with no college head coaching experience. This is the second time it was a huge mistake.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Guru Breakdown: Ben Koyack

We decided to do a little renovating to the site so that we looked slightly different than the 5,000 blogs with the same exact format and color scheme. I think it looks better. Bill will give his opinion too I'm sure if he ever visits the site again.

It's been a pretty active June for the sport of college football. The expansion wheel finally stopped turning, Southern Cal had the smackdown laid upon them by the NCAA, and Mike Garrett opened his mouth and proved that he eats a steady diet of paint chips...but before we touch on those things with an inevitable Two Dudes, One Post, it's time FOR A LITTLE GUUUURRUUUUU!

Ben Koyack
Position: TE
Height/Weight: 6'5 230
Forty Time: 4.59
Hometown: Oil City, PA
Stats: 41 Catches 748yds 6tds (In 7 Games)
Offer List: LSU, Ohio State, Penn State, Oklahoma, USC, Virginia Tech
Of Note: Scout rates him as 5-star, #2 TE overall...Rivals rates him as a 4-star and #5 TE overall

Strengths: Explosive off the line of scrimmage...Will be a match-up problem for Linebackers...Adjusts well when the ball is in the air...Catches the ball away from his body...Good use of the stiff arm in runs after the catch...Has the physical ability to earn those YAC...Very agile for a TE...Deadly in the redzone...Has experience running routes from the slot which will come in handy in Kelly's offense...Good all-around athlete (excelled in both basketball and track).

Weaknesses/Areas of Concern:
His level of competition is questionable at best...Will need to add strength and weight to block at the collegiate level....Will need to work on his ability to run option routes....Not much film of him blocking from the TE position.

Overall: Koyack stood out at State College Nike Camp and several other camps in which he attended. Bob Linchtenfels (a analyst) has scouted Nate Byham, Kyle Rudolph, and Aaron Hernandez over the years and believes that Koyack has the potential to be as good as any of them. That's very high praise from someone who has seen him in person. This was a great pickup for the Irish.

Koyack seems to fit the mold of current Irish tight end Tyler Eifert. Depsite the fact that Eifert has made little impact up to this point, he's received high praise from the coaching staff seemingly from the moment he stepped on campus. I think Koyack will come in and do the same, only he should make a difference on the field quicker than Eifert has because he's physical a little farther along than Eifert was when he arrived in South Bend. He is a big athletic kid who can step in and immediately be a quarterback-friendly target in the Red Zone.

Where he fits in:
If there is one position that Notre Dame has recruited well over the past 5 years, it's tight end. I think we've taken the throne from Miami and should be considered the new Tight End U. Our current Roster (including incoming freshman Alex Welch) contains a 5-star, a pair of 4-stars, and two more 3-stars for good measure.

Assuming Kyle Rudolph stays for his senior season (please God, answer our prayers), Koyack will have a tough time seeing the field as a true freshman. The most likely scenario is that he'll have to wait his turn behind Eifert (sophomore) as well. Eventually Koyack will see the field as an upperclassman paired with incoming freshman Alex Welch. They should perform a Carlson-Fasano-esque dynamic duo by the 2012 campaign.

The fact that Koyack has made it known that his favorite basketball player is JJ Redick has in no way impacted my evaluation of his film. Redick was the most hated college basketball player for his 4 years at Duke. Why? Because he went to the most polarizing school in college basketball and was a little weiner who publicly admitted he liked to write poetry. I guess Koyack will have the opportunity to follow in his hero's footsteps and play for the most one of the most polarizing teams in his own sport during his four years at Notre Dame.

And for the record, McAlarney was a better shooter than JJ.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Irish Football 101: Ara Saves the Day

For the third installment of Irish Football 101 we take a look at one of the darkest eras in school history and the man responsible for bringing the Irish back to the top.

Q: So Frank Leahy leaves after an undefeated season in 1953 and many people speculate he was forced to resign. Do you think that was the case?

A: I love a good conspiracy theory, but Father Hesburgh says that was not the case and Father Hesburgh is a living saint. Is anyone really going to call him a liar?

Q: Fair point. Who took over for Leahy and how did he fill the enormous shoes left behind?

A: President Father Hesburgh and Athletic Director Father Joyce promoted 25 year old Notre Dame freshman coach Terry Brennan to head football coach. He had played under Leahy in the 40's and had great success as a head coach at Mount Carmel High School after graduating from ND. It was considered a very bold move to hand such a young and inexperienced coach the reigns but initially it looked as if Hesburgh and Joyce's gamble paid off. Brennan picked up right where Leahy had left off and the Irish posted 9-1 and 8-2 records in his first two seasons.

However, in his third season the roof shockingly collapsed. Due to a rash of injury the Irish had to play a slew of underclassmen and went on to win only two games, the worst season in school history. The only bright spot was the fact that "The Golden Boy," Paul Hornung, became Notre Dame's fifth Heisman Trophy winner--albeit very controversially--over Syracuse's Jim Brown. He's the only player to ever win the Heisman for a losing team but many argue that the only reason Hornung won it over Brown was skin color and sadly it's most likely true.

In spite of that, Hornung's great season shouldn't be lost in the controversy. In that 1956 season, he led Notre Dame in passing, rushing, scoring, kickoff and punt return yardage, and even punting. On defense he was a great defensive back who led the team in passes broken up and was second in tackles and interceptions. Hornung had a spectacular season, it just wasn't enough to avoid the worst season in Notre Dame history.

Q: Did Brennan bounce back or was he doomed after the 2-8 campaign in 1956?

A: He lasted another two seasons and while he had a couple great moments--like going to Norman and ending Oklahoma's 47 game winning streak in 1957--he just couldn't quite get Notre Dame where it needed to be.

Q: So who was next?

A: The next two coaches were complete disasters. First came Joe Kucharich, a Notre Dame grad who had played under Elmer Layden in the 1930's. He became the first coach in Notre Dame history to complete his tenure with an overall losing record. By all accounts Kucharich was listless, emotionless, and unable to adjust his philosophies--which he'd learned coaching in the professional ranks--to the college game.

When Kucharich resigned in the spring of 1963, Hugh Devore was named the interim head coach for the '63 season. Devore had played for Notre Dame and actually coached the team for a two year period in the 40's when Leahy was serving in WWII. Devore loved ND and the players loved Devore, but he was an abysmal, underqualified, and overwhelmed head coach. The team went 2-7 in the 1963 campaign and Devore was relieved of his duty.

That was probably the darkest era in Notre Dame football--even darker than the one we find ourselves smack in the middle of today. There was a common thought that the University's administration was looking to deemphasize football and go the route of the Ivy League schools. Father Hesburgh insists that this was never the case. His response to these accusations was: "there is no academic virtue in playing mediocre football and no academic vice in winning a game that by all odds one should lose." For those who believe the Notre Dame administration was actively choking out the football program, I invite you once again to call the living saint a liar.

Q: Wow, five straight seasons without a winning record and a conspiracy theory that the administration was trying to kill the football program. That's pretty bleak. So how did Notre Dame emerge from the depths?

A: Well, first Father Hesburgh and Father Joyce altered a long-standing policy of hiring only Notre Dame graduates as head coach since there really weren't any viable candidates in that pool. Then a savior came knocking. Ara Parseghian, the head coach at Northwestern, was one of the hottest up-and-coming coaches in the country. He had beaten Notre Dame four straight times and taken the bottom feeder Big Ten program to unprecedented heights.

After the 1963 campaign he called Father Joyce and asked two questions: was Hugh Devore going to be fired and would the school ever consider hiring a head coach that had not graduated from Notre Dame. Father Joyce answered yes to both questions, Ara quit his job at Northwestern, and Joyce pounced on the opportunity to bring him to South Bend. Just like that Notre Dame was on its way back on the map.

Q: So Parseghian was the head coach at Northwestern. Had he coached anywhere else?

A: He had quite the pedigree. He'd learned under Sid Gillman (who was considered one of the most innovative and influential coaches of his time), Cleveland Browns Hall of Fame coach Paul Brown, and Hall of Fame college coach Woody Hayes. Not a bad list of mentors.

Q: Was it instant success once Ara arrived or was there a rebuilding process?

A: You would think after years of losing and "deemphasis" of football the cupboard would be pretty bare and it would take time for ND to reemerge, but Ara came out with guns blazing. Notre Dame shocked the college football world and opened the 1964 season with nine consecutive victories. Quarterback John Huarte, who had been buried on the depth chart before Ara arrived, went on to become Notre Dame's sixth Heisman Trophy winner as he teamed with wide receiver Jack Snow to form one of the most explosive duo's in Irish history. They entered their final game of the season against Southern Cal ranked #1 in the country.

There in the Los Angeles Colosseum the dream of a title died. The Irish raced to a 17-0 lead, but some highly, HIGHLY questionable officiating allowed the Trojans to stay alive. Late in the game Southern Cal punched in the go-ahead score and secure a 20-17 victory. It was one of the most devastating defeats in Notre Dame history and where the pure venom toward Southern Cal originated.

Q: Was Ara able to sustain that high level of success after bursting on to the scene?

A: After a slight step backward in 1965, Ara led the Irish back to the summit of the college football world in 1966. After ascending to #1 in the country, they battled #2 Michigan State to a 10-10 tie in a contest billed as "The Game of Century." This set the table for Notre Dame to finish the season 9-0-1 which earned them a national championship for the first time since 1949.

The icing on the cake was a 51-0 drubbing of Southern Cal in the season finale. It was Notre Dame's first return to Los Angeles since the heartbreaking loss that cost them the '64 title and the team made a point of exacting a humiliating revenge on the Trojans. It is still the most lopsided final in the rivalry's history. Allegedly Southern Cal coach John McKay pledged he would never lose to Notre Dame again after that drubbing.

Q: Did McKay's squad ever lose to ND after that game?

A: They did, but not until seven years later. Southern Cal was the perpetual thorn in Ara's side (his final record against them was 3-6-2) and McKay always seemed to find a way to thwart the Irish. In 1972 Southern Cal embarrassed the Irish 45-23 with showboating running back Anthony Davis leading the way with six touchdowns (including two kickoff returns). He used to slide into the endzone to put an exclamation point on all his touchdowns, an act that infuriated Irish fans and players alike.

In 1973 the Trojans traveled to South Bend to play the undefeated Irish and the by all accounts the venom on campus was at unprecedented levels. Dummies with Anthony Davis' jersey on were hung in effigy out the windows of dorm rooms, pictures of Davis were plastered all over the sidewalks so that students could step on his face no matter where they went on campus. The Trojans had played the spoiler too many times and Parseghian was determined to not let it happen again.

On the first play of the game Irish defensive back Luther Bradley hit legendary Southern Cal receiver Lynn Swann so hard that Swann's helmet flew off. It set the tone for the entire day, one that would see star Anthony Davis held to just 55 rushing yards. The game was tight at halftime with Notre Dame clinging to a six point lead, but on the first play of the second half running back Eric Penick found a gaping hole cleared by linemen Frank Pomarico and Gerry DiNardo and raced 85 yards for a touchdown. Star defensive back Mike Townsend describes the emotion and meaning of the play best in the book Talking Irish:

"That was the prettiest play I ever saw. Eric was running straight down our sideline, straight toward Touchdown Jesus, straight toward our student section. After all those years of trying to beat USC--all that time not getting what we wanted--it was like the gods look down on us. And they said, 'This will be."

The Irish went on to win that game 23-14. Afterwards Penick was asked whether he'd considered sliding in to the endzone to mock Anthony Davis's customary celebration. He looked back in disgust and replied, "On my knees? I'm no hot dog. THIS IS NOTRE DAME.”

Do I absolutely love that quote? Holy hell, yes.

Q: Did ND beating the Trojans spur them on to the national championship?

A: As a matter of fact it did. The Irish went on to complete the season 11-0, clinching the championship with a 24-23 thriller over legendary head coach Bear Bryant and his #1 ranked Alabama squad in the Sugar Bowl.

Q: So who were some of the big name players to suit up for Parseghian?

A: If you're talking about the names that do stick out from the Era of Ara you start with a few dynamic passing duos. You have to start with quarterback John Huarte, who won the Heisman in 1964, and his partner in crime wide receiver Jack Snow. In Huarte's Heisman campaign he found Snow 60 times and Snow in turn piled up 1,114 receiving yards (which more than doubled the previous Notre Dame record) and nine touchdowns.

Terry Hanratty quarterbacked the 1966 championship team and he leaned on a go-to receiver as well in Jim Seymour. Nicknamed "Fling and Cling," Hanratty and Seymour teamed up to shatter the single game receiving record (276 yards) in their first games as sophomores (the record still stands today). When quarterback Tom Clements led the Irish to the national championship in 1973 he relied heavily on future NFL hall of fame tight end Dave "The Ghost" Casper--though it was scarcely used backup tight end Robin Weber that he found for the game-clinching first down in the '73 Sugar Bowl against Alabama.

Halfback Nick Eddy was one of the most electrifying players in school history who may have won a Heisman had he not gotten injured his senior season and wide receiver Tom Gatewood set receiving records over the course of his time on campus. Joe Theismann had a great run as starting quarterback between the Hanratty and Clements Eras--good enough that he changed the pronunciation of his name in order to aid his Heisman campaign (it used to be pronounced THEEZ-MAN, he changed it to rhyme with Heisman).

On the other side of the ball Ara had NFL Hall of Famer Alan Page and future first round pick Kevin Hardy on the defensive line along with college football Hall of Fame linebacker Jim Lynch anchoring the '66 national championship. Former walk-on defensive back Nick Rassas played a huge role in turning around the program in Ara's first year while Luther Bradley and Mike Townsend made huge impacts later in Parseghian's tenure. He also coached Ross Browner, one of the most dominating defensive lineman in college football history, in his final two seasons at the helm.

Parseghian had a slew of All-Americans and future Hall of Famers who played for him, but he really didn't have anyone on that top level of Notre Dame lore like The Four Horsemen, Lujack, Hornung, Montana, or Rocket. That's not at all to say that his teams were less talented--he just didn't have the players with the "flair" to stick out like some others.

Q: So what did Ara's final record look like when all was said and done?

A: Ara posted a phenomenally successful eleven year run at Notre Dame where he amassed a 95-17-4 record (.836 win pct), the third best winning percentage in school history. Amazingly, he never lost consecutive games over the course of his entire tenure. He won Notre Dame's first bowl games since Rockne and The Four Horsemen won the 1925 Rose Bowl, brought home two two national championships, and lifted Notre Dame from its darkest days back up to the pinnacle of the college football world.

Q: Wait, Notre Dame hadn't won a bowl since the 1924 Rose Bowl?!?

A: After Notre Dame won the Rose Bowl after the 1924 season it took the team a month to get back to campus. The administration decided that it would not be in the best interest of the student-athletes to miss extended class time and therefore chose to decline any bowl invitations moving forward. Over the next 40 years this decision didn't have an effect on where Notre Dame ended up in the rankings because the final polls were taken before the bowl games, which in reality relegated the postseason games to almost exhibition status.

That changed in 1968 when the AP decided to crown its champion after the bowls were played. This meant Notre Dame would have to adjust their policy in order to legitimately compete for national titles, which they did. Starting in 1969, the Notre Dame administration decided to allow its teams to compete in the postseason bowls. By that time the academic calendar had been altered anyway--exams were done by mid-December as opposed to running into January as they used--which meant the football players didn't have to worry about missing extended class time since they'd be on break.

Q: How and why did Ara leave? Was there any controversy or conspiracy theory?

A: Ara simply burned out. He's an incredibly intense guy and the pressures of the job finally became too much after 11 seasons. He announced his resignation prior to coaching his final game, the 1974 Orange Bowl. The game was a rematch of the '73 Sugar Bowl, pitting Ara and his Irish against Bear Bryant and his Alabama squad. Notre Dame had been thrashed 55-24 by Southern Cal in their last game of the regular season and went into the Orange Bowl as a huge underdog to the undefeated Crimson Tide. The Irish gutted out a 13-11 victory, which denied the Bear a national championship and allowed Parseghian to go out a winner.

There was a lot of talk of Parseghian returning to coaching after taking a year or two off, but he said he would only consider professional jobs since "Notre Dame was the pinnacle of college football." When all was said and done he ultimately decided to remain retired.

The scene of him riding off into the sunset a winner was a stark contrast of the situation he'd walked into in 1964. It wrapped up one of the best eras in Notre Dame history--a truly improbable one when you think about the turmoil the program faced in the early-60's. Ara truly was a savior and remains to this day one of the most beloved and legendary figures in Notre Dame's history.


This week's CliffNotes:

* Father Hesburgh is a living saint. Should you choose to call him a liar you risk God striking you down with a lightning bolt.
* Terry Brennan was only 24 years old when he was hired to replace Leahy with his main head coaching experience coming in high school. This mistake is something you will see Notre Dame repeat. Brennan did not succeed and was replaced in 1957.
* Joe Kucharich was the worst coach in Notre Dame history--even surpassing Ty "The Molder of Men" Willingham--and the only one to finish with a career record under .500.
* Hugh Devore was twice named Notre Dame's interim coach. The first time was a two-year stretch when Leahy went to serve in WWII, the second time was during the 1963 season when Kucharich resigned the spring before the season started. He was a great guy who loved Notre Dame but a terrible coach.
* People accused Notre Dame of deemphasizing football in the early 60's. School President Father Hesburgh says this was not the case. Once again, should you feel the need to call him a liar this could be your fate.
* Ara Parseghian took the helm in 1964 and led the biggest turnaround in school history. The Irish improved from 2-7 to 9-1 and were a few terrible officiating calls away from winning the national championship.
* Southern Cal was responsible for the majority of heartbreak suffered during the Era of Ara. Parseghian only beat them three times over the course of his career.
* After beating the Trojans 51-0 in 1966 Notre Dame didn't beat them again until 1973. The '73 game was one of the most intense atmospheres in Notre Dame Stadium history and the Irish prevailed 23-14.
* Ara went on to win two national championships in 1966 and 1973.
* In 1969 the Notre Dame administration altered their policy on attending bowl games, allowing for the Irish to participate for the first time since Rockne and The Four Horsemen won the 1924 Rose Bowl.
* Ara burned out physically after 11 seasons at Notre Dame, compiling a winning percentage of .836. He considered coaching professionally after he left South Bend but ultimately decided against it.

Friday, June 11, 2010

An Open Letter to Mike Garrett

Dear Mr. Garrett,

After spending the last day celebrating the fact that the NCAA did it's duty and rightfully punished the football and basketball programs at Southern Cal, I decided to head to the internet to see what reactions were from fans, coaches, players, and administrators in Trojan Land.

I expected to hear people pleading ignorance (like Petey), people saying that the penalties were too harsh, maybe some genuine remorse (that they were caught, not that they did it). Hell, I wouldn't have been surprised if I heard you talk about how the NCAA was just wrong in their findings and you don't understand how this happened.

What I did not anticipate was you, the very person who oversaw every misstep the program had made over the past decade, getting in front of a microphone and giving a talk that smacked with so much hubris that I don't even know where to begin.

This LA Times article quotes you boasting, "as I read the decision by the NCAA I read between the lines and there was nothing but a lot of envy...they wish they all were Trojans."

I'm staggered. You were just levied with the most severe sentence handed down by the NCAA since the SMU Death Penalty, a sentence that was so harsh because the program YOU ran had a total lack of institutional control...and you think it means people are jealous?

The ignorance of that statement alone--we're not even touching on the fact that you said you were "invigorated" by this stuff--leads me to believe you are so blinded by arrogance that you truly believe jealousy is the reason you were punished. Perhaps you didn't read the NCAA's stack of pages outlining why you just had a bomb dropped on your sports programs.

Allow me to enlighten you: it's because you are an incompetent, cheating moron who willingly turned a blind eye to people within your program that were knowingly breaking the most basic rules because you had the audacity to think you were above them.

Pleading ignorance in this situation is unacceptable--your reaction and stance goes completely beyond that into uncharted territories of contemptuousness. I would hope the "powers that be" at Southern Cal read the transcript of your talk and immediately drew up a letter of resignation for you to know, if they hadn't drawn it up after (officially) hearing what you had allowed to go on under your watch as athletic director over the past decade.

Mr. Garrett, you are an embarrassment to your school, your profession, and to collegiate athletics. My hope is that the skin of Southern Cal fans, alumni, and administrators crawled as much as mine did when they read your suffocatingly arrogant and ignorant words.

Your lasting legacy will no longer be the fact that you were once a Heisman Trophy winner; instead it will be that you oversaw the corrupt rise and sudden fall of the Southern Cal football program and attempted to explain away your transgressions by saying everyone is just jealous.

Maybe it hasn't sunk in yet Mr. Garrett, but dozens of wins will be vacated, a national championship will be vacated, and a Heisman Trophy will most likely be vacated.

I'd like to add that all "envy of being a Trojan" has been vacated as well. I hope your unemployment invigorates you as much as it does me.

Matt Mattare

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Guru Breakdown: Kyle Brindza

There's a lot going on in the college football world right now--from sanctions to conference implosions to commissioners slapping together "superconferences" without much thought about anything but increasing the coffers. We'll address that all in due time...but first, A LITTLE GUUUURRUUUUU!

Kyle Brindza
Position: Kicker
Height/Weight: 6'2 195
Hometown: Canton, Michigan
Stats: 6 for 10 FG's
Offer List: Michigan
Of Note: Rated Top 5 Kicker Nationally

Lots of power....Kicks the ball through the uprights on kickoffs...Will definitely be able to get touchbacks when kicking off from the college starting point (30 yard line)...Also claims to have made a 64 yard field goal in practice...Good footwork on field goals.

Seems to struggle with accuracy as a field goal kicker (6 for 10)...Also does not get the lift he needs to avoid getting blocked on field goals...His leg power on kickoffs does not transfer to punting...His punting is also very inconsistent--he can boom a kick 60 yards and then have the next kick go 35 (so think a rich man's Eric Maust--Maust used to boom a kick 45 yards and shank one 20).

Our last four kickers/punters that we've given scholarships are Nick Taush, Ben Turk, Brandon Walker, and Ryan Burkhart. With the exception of Taush's first 13 field goals, this crew has struggled miserably. I would rather have offered a scholarship to Dip as a "Hype Man" than have wasted a scholarship on Burkhart or Walker. Does Craig Hentrich have a kid yet????

Brindza will have the kickoff duties from the moment he steps on campus but will remain a backup for field goals and punting at least for a few years. His quickest way onto the field for field goals may be as a long-distance field goal specialist. There's plenty of potential with Brindza, but if the last slew of kickers we've given schollies has taught us anything it's that nothing is even remotely guaranteed.

Ya See Snoop....Wha ha-happened was...

According to reports on ESPN the hammer has finally dropped on Southern Cal. The verdict: a two-year postseason ban and a boatload of scholarships (up to 20) sailing away.

What a great way to kick off the day. I hope it ends with the Heisman Trophy winner list looking like this:

2009: Mark Ingram, RB - Alabama
2008: Sam Bradford, QB - Oklahoma
2007: Tim Tebow, QB - Florida
2006: Troy Smith, QB - Ohio State

Monday, June 7, 2010

Irish Football 101: The Forgotten Glory Days

We move on to the second installment of Irish Football 101. This week we'll concentrate on the Frank Leahy Era. It was one of the most successful eras in college football history but is often overlooked, even within Notre Dame circles.

Q: So Knute Rockne died in a plane crash after the 1930 season. Was there a drop-off when he left?

A: Inevitably there was a bit of a drop-off from the ridiculous clip that Rockne was winning games, but it wasn't a free-fall. The two coaches who replaced in for the next decade were former Notre Dame players Rockne had coached: Hunk Anderson and Elmer Layden (of Four Horsemen fame). Anderson coached from '31-'33 and posted a respectable .630 win percentage while Layden took the helm for the next seven years and had the most successful run in the program's history that didn't result in a national championship for the Irish (.770 win percentage).

Eleven years after Rockne's death Notre Dame's ascension back to the college football summit truly started though when they hired a young coach by the name of Frank Leahy.

Q: Frank Leahy? What's his backstory?

A: He had played at Notre Dame under Rockne and went into coaching shortly thereafter. He was the line coach for Fordham's famous "Seven Blocks of Granite" offensive line (which included Vince Lombardi) before accepting the head coaching job at Boston College. After leading BC to their best season in school history (and it's still the best season in their history to this day) he jumped at the chance to go back to his alma mater and coach the Irish.

Q: Wait, why would he leave Boston College if he was having so much success there?

A: Well Leahy was a Notre Dame alum, but really it's simple: Notre Dame's a better football program. Always has been, always will be.

Q: Couldn't he have made BC into a powerhouse and rewritten history though?

A: He could've, but my guess is he didn't see much potential for anything more than a mid-level program in Chestnut Hill. Seventy years later his choice proved correct because while Boston College has experienced some success in recent years, it is still a job used by coaches as a stepping stone to more attractive North Carolina State!

Q: Ok, back to Leahy. What'd he do on the field to get Notre Dame back to Rockne-esque levels of success?

A: Leahy's coaching tenure spanned from 1941-1953 (with a two year break in 1944-45 when he served as a lieutenant in the Navy during WWII). His teams amassed three consensus national championships, six undefeated seasons, and a win percentage of .855 (his career winning percentage of .864 is second best all-time in college football history behind Knute Rockne). He referred to all his players as "lads" so over time his teams became known as "Leahy's Lads."

Q: Rockne had the Four Horsemen and the Gipper. What are some of the names worth knowing from the Leahy Era?

A: Amazingly, Leahy coached FOUR Heisman Trophy winners over the course of his eleven seasons in South Bend (the most ever by one coach). Notre Dame's first Heisman winner came in his third year when "The Springfield Rifle," Angelo Bertelli, took home the award in 1943. Bertelli only had the opportunity to play six games in '43 before leaving to serve in the Marine Corps in WWII, but in those six games he engineered a deadly offense that averaged almost 44 points per contest en route to Notre Dame's first national championship since Rockne was coach.

Leahy's second Heisman winner came four years later when Johnny Lujack won the award his senior season in 1947. Lujack is thought by many people to be the best player in Notre Dame's illustrious history. He was a phenomenal two way star that quarterbacked the Irish to back-to-back undefeated national championships his junior and senior seasons. Paul Zimmerman wrote an article for Sports Illustrated about the greatest college football team ever--and the only debate was whether it was the '46 or '47 Notre Dame squad. For all his exploits on the offensive side of the ball, Lujack is better known for his open-field touchdown saving tackle of Heisman Trophy winner Doc Blanchard in the 1946 Notre Dame-Army showdown.

The third in line was defensive end Leon Hart in 1949. Over the course of his four seasons Hart never experienced defeat at Notre Dame (36-0-2 record). He was the last lineman to win the Heisman Trophy and was a three-time first team All-American. The last of the four Leahy Heisman winners was Johnny Lattner in 1953. He had the distinction of receiving All-American honors his junior and senior seasons not only as a running back, but as a defensive back as well.

Q: It seemed like there were a lot of players who had their careers interrupted in some way by military service in World War II. Were there any noteworthy stories of players' time in battle?

A: In 2003 Sports Illustrated ran the story of Notre Dame fullback Motts Tonelli. It is an incredibly powerful and moving story--one that truly makes you appreciate the power of human will and how such a silly game of football can have such a far-reaching impact. Read the story, it's not something that can be done justice in a summary.

Q: So why did Leahy resign after the 1953 season? He was only 45 years old and fresh off another undefeated season.

A: At his resignation news conference it was stated that he was resigning at the advice of his doctor. Earlier that year he'd collapsed in the locker room during a game due to pancreatitis and the stress of eleven seasons on the job had taken a definite toll on his health. Some people think he was forced to resign by school president Father Hesburgh, but both Hesburgh and AD Father Joyce insist that they suggested his resignation for his own good. In the book Talking Irish, multiple players--including Heisman winner Johnny Lattner--agreed with Hesburgh and Joyce's assessment. Leahy had become so wound up by his final season that it was just a matter of time before he totally cracked.

If there's one thing history shows it's that you can't expect someone to last more than 11 seasons in the high-stress pressure cooker that is the world of the Notre Dame Football Coach.

Q: His record shows he was one of the best coaches in college football history, he was an alum who played under Rockne, he loved the school...but when you hear people talk about the best ND coaches he seems to be an afterthought compared to Rockne, Parseghian, and Holtz. In fact, on the Mount Rushmore of ND Coaches that appear on the 2006 Shirt they included Charlie Weis instead of Leahy. Why do you think he doesn't quite get the same publicity or love as those other three?

A: That's a great question. I think it's very clear why Rockne is placed atop the pedestal; he's basically the father of Notre Dame football and overcame great odds to turn a fledgling program into a national powerhouse. For the reason as to why Parseghian and Holtz hold a "higher place" in Notre Dame fans' eyes than Leahy, I think it comes down to the state of the program when each coach took over. When Leahy arrived it had been eleven years since Notre Dame's last national title, but ND was still one of the top programs in the country, winning 77% of their games from '34-'40. That's a stark contrast from the situations Ara and Lou walked into.

In 1964, Parseghian inherited a squad that had gone 2-7 and lost to Navy the year before he arrived. Critics of the time suggested Notre Dame should go the way of the Ivies and give up major college football to maintain academic integrity. Those that wanted to see Notre Dame ascend back to the top of the college football world were desperate for a savior. Ara proved to be just that and in his third season led them to a national championship.

In 1986, Holtz inherited a squad that had been completely eviscerated and embarrassed by Miami on national television in the final game of a 5-6 campaign. Once again critics questioned whether Notre Dame could ever be relevant again in a new, fast-paced world of college football ruled by irreverent teams like Miami and Florida State. Like Parseghian, Lou proved to be exactly what the program needed and three years later the Irish completed a 12-0 national championship season.

Leahy's not mentioned in the same breath as Parseghian and Holtz (when he should be placed ahead of both on the proverbial totem pole) because of one thing: Ara and Lou resurrected the program from its darkest days while Leahy took a great program and made it the greatest program. While Leahy's feat may have been more difficult to achieve, Ara and Lou's feats were more dramatic. Playing the role of savior wins a special place in fans' hearts. It's the reason people were so quick to place Weis on a pedestal after the '05 season and why Brian Kelly will probably leapfrog Leahy and become the fourth member of the casual fan's Irish Mount Rushmore should he ultimately bring the Irish back to prominence.

Frank Leahy was one of the greatest coaches in college football history and without question the second greatest coach in Notre Dame history. But he was not a program savior like Ara and Lou were and therein lies the main reason he doesn't get the pub or love he deserves.

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This week's CliffNotes:

* Notre Dame didn't drop off the map after Rockne's death, but the next two coaches both failed to win a national title.
* Frank Leahy left Boston College in 1941 to become Notre Dame's coach because he realized BC's program ceiling was (and is) lower than the ceiling on Snooki's career as a veterinarian.
* Frank Leahy was the second best coach in Notre Dame history, winning three national titles, completing six undefeated seasons, and coaching a record four Heisman Trophy winners.
* The four Heisman winners in the Leahy era were Angelo Bertelli ('43), Johnny Lujack ('47), Leon Hart ('49), and Johnny Lattner ('53).
* The Motts Tonelli story is one that every Notre Dame fan needs to know.
* Leahy resigned after eleven season at age 45 due to health concerns. At one point in his final season he actually collapsed and received Last Rites in the locker room.
* Leahy doesn't get the same love or acclaim as Ara Parseghian or Lou Holtz (in spite of the fact that he had a superior record) because he wasn't a "savior" of the program the way Ara and Lou were. He took ND from great to greatest while the other two took it from bad to great.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

We Never Graduate presents: The Recruiting Guru

Because I'm feeling a bit frisky (and attempting to carry Billy's carcass on this site) I thought it'd be a good time to introduce another feature we'll run weekly every Thursday or Friday until the season starts.

Recruiting has taken on a world of its own in college football. There are so many sites devoted to it now--Rivals, Scout, MaxPreps, ESPN--and the list seems to be continually growing. Grainy film of 17 year olds is used to formulate rankings and grown men pay $9.95 a month to read about other grown men dissecting the potential of these 17 year olds ad nauseum (and in Rivals' case, $9.95 to read Barry Every writing about these kids' bodies in a manner that makes you wonder if Chris Hansen will suddenly interject in one of his

So here at WNG we're going to help you wade through the quagmire of the recruiting sites. I've enlisted the help of the best talent evaluator I know. For anonymity's sake we will call him The Guru.

Little background: The Guru is an '08 Notre Dame grad, a former high school and interhall football star, a future coach, and probably has the record for most total Rivals film watched over the past six years. He's a go-to guy when it comes to getting a true read on a prospect and a true die-hard fan. Our freshman year we used to break down the depth chart every Calculus class and I'm totally convinced if you would've ta
ped all those conversations they were identical every single time.

During the Washington game last season he changed all his clothes four times over the course of the contest and ended up grasping a chain with no shirt on by the end. There's little doubt in my mind that neither of us will be allowed to watch ND games at age 40 due to doctor's orders.

To kick this series off we'll start with 2011 recruiting class verbal commit Matthias Farley.

Matthias Farley
Position: ATH (WR/CB...most likely CB)
Height/Weight: 6-2 185
Forty Time: 4.5
Hometown: Charlotte, NC
Stats: 37 Catches 900 yds 12 Td's
Offer List: Duke, Illinois, Maryland, North Carolina, NC State, UCLA, Wisconsin

Good burst off the line of scrimmage and seems to be a legit 4.5 receiver...good feet (former soccer player)...good body control and shows the ability to catch the ball at the highest point...soft hands- catches the football with his hands (rarely lets the ball get into his body)...Not much film on defense (only shows him playing as a safety in a cover 2 defense), however his soccer background leads me to believe he has good hips and good feet which are very important skills to have at the cornerback position...He has a brother that played football for East Carolina.

Doesn't use his hands to fight the jam at the line of scrimmage(he can get away with this at the HS level because of his quickness but will need to develop this skill to be successful in college if he ends up on the offensive side of the ball)...shows that he has the ability to make moves in the open-field however he does not seem to run with power (think of your boy Neon Deion Walker)...will need to improve his strength...tackles too high...only his first year of football (he is not a kid that grew up loving the game).

My evaluation for his overall contribution is based heavily on the fact that he has good feet and hips, an assumption based on the fact that he was a former soccer player.

His HS coach describes him as a physical kid that is coachable, has raw athletic ability, and can flat out fly. Notre Dame is recruiting him as a cornerback despite that fact that he played very little defense in his only year of football. He's probably the hardest prospect to evaluate due to the fact that he has only played one year of football and the Irish are recruiting him at a position he has played very little (and which there is virtually no film available to evaluate him from).

I question his toughness but it is clear that he has the athleticism to be a Division I player. The fact that he his first year of football can be looked at as both a positive and a negative. The positive is in only one year he managed to impress numerous D-I coaches. The negative is he's not the type of kid that grew up loving the game.

Initially I wanted to draw comparisons to Shane Walton due to the soccer background. However, after evaluating his strengths and weaknesses I would compare him to Darrin Walls. He is a three-star prospect with four-star potential. I think that if he buys into Kelly's system he will develop the strength that he needs to be a successful collegiate cornerback. He will never be a big-hitter or a corner that is known for his tackling ability, but he has the potential to be a great cover-corner.

Where He Fits:
Assuming Gary Gray and Robert Blanton both stay for their final years, he will not see the field as a freshman (he'll need the red-shirt year anyway). Both corner back spots should be open his sophomore year. Will he be ready? Probably not, but the only other corners on the depth chart are Spencer Boyd, Lo Wood, and EJ Banks so who knows. Shane Walton came from farther in left field than Farley will be coming from so anything can happen.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Penn State Spring Recap - Defense

Last week we looked at the Nittany Lion offensive outlook coming out of spring ball. Now we're going to look at how the defense is shaping up, starting from the line of scrimmage.

Defensive Line - Consistently my favorite group to write about. Our front four is always good and this year is no different. 1st stringers should look something like Jack Crawford and Eric Latimore at end, and Ollie Ogbu and Devon Still at defensive tackle. Last year Jared Odrick commanded double teams all season so we're certainly going to miss him, but now Crawford and Latimore have an entire year of starting experience under their belt. This experience coupled with his natural athleticism could transform Crawford into a polished quarterback equalizer. Ollie Ogbu is a steady performer inside and everything I'm reading is telling me that Devon Still is ready to step up and fill Odrick's role.

Linebackers - All three of Penn State's starting linebackers from 2009 were taken in this year's NFL draft. Obviously we have some holes to fill. One guy the coaches considered moving around this spring was Gerald Hodges. Hodges is the most athletic backer we have and there was some discussion about moving him to safety if Astorino was having trouble coming back from injury. Astorino's rehab is ahead of schedule (resilient little bugger) so Hodges stays at LB, and hopefully will see the field immediately at the "fritz" OLB position. . The other guys in the mix to earn starting jobs are Michael Mauti (after missing all of last year with an ACL injury) and Chris Colasanti at ILB, and Nate Stupar, Bani Gbadyu and Gerald Hodges competing for OLB jobs.

Secondary - The secondary is probably the biggest concern of the defense, and not because of players lost. Stephon Morris is going to start as our no. 1 corner as a true sophomore, the coaches absolutely love him. It looks like D'Anton Lynn will start opposite from him. Chaz Powell has been moved from WR to CB and probably won't start. Interestingly enough about Powell, he was our top CB recruit in 2007 and was immediately moved to offense and now as a senior he's going to have to work his way into the rotation as a defensive back. A little confusing if you ask me, I understand you want to get him on the field, but it's undeniable that his development as a corner was stunted by the move.

Derrick Thomas, who came in with Morris will also provide depth at CB, he's a very physical player. As far as safeties, it's the same old story. Nick Sukay is the strong safety and has played well as he recovered from injury last year. I hate to start the pot shots at Astorino 3 months before the season, but I really feel he has physical limitations that will prevent him from being an elite safety. In 2011 we are going to be primed for a run at a national title, and I don't know if we can achieve that with a 5'7" safety with average speed. Every effective passing team has targeted Astorino and had success. I just think we should give Malcom Willis or Lynn (he wanted the job) a shot at the position so they have time to develop. I digress, Andrew Dailey has made a move from linebacker to safety, apparently Bradley thinks he has the lateral movement to play there, we'll have to see how this all works out. I hope I eat my words.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Irish Football 101: The Ancient History

Much to my complete and utter joy, this fall my little cousin Jenny will be enrolling as a freshman at the University of Notre Dame. She's not a huge football fan so as a responsible big cousin I feel obligated to bring her up to speed on what will certainly become part of the fabric of her life from this September on: Notre Dame Fighting Irish Football.

Every Monday over the next couple months I'll be rolling out a different segment each week that will help explain in a Q&A format the program's history, legends, rivalries, gameday rituals and more through the eyes of a lifelong die-hard Irish fan. Without further ado, I present to you the first installment of Irish Football 101: The Ancient History.

Q: I was born in the 90's. I know nothing about college football but I know Notre Dame is the most famous team in spite of the fact that they haven't been that good recently. What's the story with how they originally became so popular?

A: Notre Dame football really burst onto the scene in 1913. The head coach at the time (Jesse Harper) wanted to boost the profile of the football program--something that wasn't easy to do considering it was a small Catholic school in the middle of nowhere. ND set out for the east coast to play Army who at the time was a football powerhouse.

In those days football consisted of running the ball 99% of the time and passing only in dire and desperate situations. On that day in 1913 ND changed the face of football forever by unleashing an aggressive passing attack that was incredibly efficient. Gus Dorais completed 12 of his 14 pass attempts for over 200 yards--many to star end and future Irish coaching legend Knute Rockne--as Notre Dame stomped the heavily favored Army Black Knights 35-13. You could call it ND's coming out party.

Five years later Rockne took the helm as head coach. Over the course of his 12 years he transformed Notre Dame from a nice little program to a powerhouse and the most popular team in the country. Programs in the Midwest became worried about Notre Dame's meteoric rise (like Michigan...much more on this later) so they blackballed the Irish, wouldn't allow them to join their conference (the Western Athletic Conference, which is now known as the Big Ten), and many refused to even schedule them for games.

This collusion forced Rockne to take his troops on unprecedented road trips across the country to find opponents. The scrappy underdogs from South Bend took on any and all challengers--from Army in the east to Southern Cal in the west--and quickly become one of the best teams in all the land. Thanks to these coast-to-coast road trips Notre Dame received unparalleled national exposure and as the victories piled up they won legions of fans across the nation. These followers that didn't attend ND but helped to form the rabid and national fanbase became known as Subway Alumni.

Q: What were the highlights on the field of the Rockne Era?

A: Knute Rockne had a winning percentage of .881 (still the best of all-time), completed five undefeated seasons, and won three consensus national championships. Tragically he was killed in a plane crash after the 1930 season on the heels of winning two consecutive national championships in 1929 and 1930. Under his watch Notre Dame's program was elevated into the elite of college football and his teams introduced terms like "The Four Horsemen" and "Win One for the Gipper" into the lexicon of American sports.

Q: The Four Horsemen?

Grantland Rice, one of America's most famed sports writers, attended the Notre Dame-Army game in 1924 in New York City. Notre Dame defeated the favored Black Knights in large part because thanks to the efforts of their four stars in the backfield: Harry Stuhldreher, Jim Crowley, Don Miller, and Elmer Layden. Inspired by their performance he penned the following paragraph:

"Outlined against a blue-gray October sky, the Four Horsemen rode again. In dramatic lore their names are Death, Destruction, Pestilence, and Famine. But those are aliases. Their real names are: Stuhldreher, Crowley, Miller and Layden. They formed the crest of the South Bend cyclone before which another fighting Army team was swept over the precipice at the Polo Grounds this afternoon as 55,000 spectators peered down upon the bewildering panorama spread out upon the green plain below."

(Sidenote: How did sports journalism devolve from Grantland Rice to Scoop Jackson over the last century?)

When the quartet arrived back in South Bend Knute Rockne's student publicity aide had them pose for a picture atop horses while in their uniforms. It's now one of the most famous and recognizable pictures in sports history. The Four Horsemen (and the less publicized players who blocked for them, known as the Seven Mules) led Notre Dame to a perfect 10-0 record that season, resulting in the school's first recognized national championship.

Q: And who is "The Gipper" and what's the story behind him?

A: The Gipper was a Notre Dame football player by the name of George Gipp who played from 1917-1920. He was an incredibly versatile athlete who played halfback, quarterback, and even punted. He set a whole slew of records over the course of his career and some still stand to this day (such as his staggering career average of 8.1 yards per carry). After the final game of his senior season he contracted strep throat and pneumonia and tragically died less than a month after he last took the field.

Some people say he got sick from giving a punting clinic in terrible weather after his final game. Others insist that he became ill when he got back to campus past curfew after a night of drinking, got locked out of his dorm and Washington Hall (where he commonly used to sleep off those post-curfew nights), and had to sleep out in the cold November night. WNG will go with the latter story. Rage on, Gip.

Eight years after Gipp's death Notre Dame was playing the mighty Army Black Knights at Yankee Stadium. Notre Dame was in the midst of their worst season in Rockne's illustrious coaching career and the expectation was that Army would thump the wounded Irish. Before the game Rockne addressed his troops and revealed that on George Gipp's deathbed he had asked Rockne for a favor.

"Gip said to me, 'I've got to go, Rock. It's all right. I'm not afraid. Some time, Rock, when the team is up against it, when things are wrong and the breaks are beating the boys, ask them to go in there with all they've got and win just one for the Gipper. I don't know where I'll be then, Rock. But I'll know about it, and I'll be happy.' The day before he died George Gipp asked me to wait until the situation seemed hopeless--then ask a Notre Dame team to go out and beat Army for him. This is the day and you are the team."

Rockne's speech ignited the Irish. Trailing 6-0 at halftime, Jack Chevigny scored a touchdown in the second half and exclaimed, "THAT'S ONE FOR THE GIPPER!" Notre Dame punched in another touchdown and shocked Army with a 12-6 victory. After the game the details of Rockne's epic pre-game talk leaked to the press and "Win One for The Gipper" was forever immortalized.

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A lot to digest? I can appreciate that. As a tip of the cap for those that needed CliffNotes to get through high school English (oh stop acting like YOU actually made it all the way through Crime and Punishment) I'll include a condensed summary at the end of every entry.

* Notre Dame burst on to the national football scene when they defeated Army 35-13 in 1913. The victory was spurred on by the implementation of a passing attack unlike anything anyone had ever seen before.
* Notre Dame was black-balled by the Western Athletic Conference (fueled by Michigan's desire to kill ND's program) and forced to travel across the country to find opponents. This played a large role in Notre Dame developing a national fanbase, sometimes referred to as the Subway Alumni.
* Knute Rockne coached the team from 1918-1930, had five undefeated seasons, won three consensus national championships, and had a winning percentage of .881, the best of all-time. He was killed tragically in a plane crash in 1930 on the heels of two consecutive national championships.
* Grantland Rice coined the term "The Four Horsemen" to describe the Notre Dame backfield of Stuhldreher, Crowly, Miller, and Layden after they dismantled Army in 1924.
* Grantland Rice is one of the greatest writers in American history. Scoop Jackson is one of the worst. Every time Scoop writes an article Grantland rolls in his grave.
* The "Win One for The Gipper" speech was delivered by Knute Rockne to his team before playing a heavily favored Army team in 1928. Inspired by their coach's story the Irish went out and upset Army 12-6.
* George Gipp's last words on his deathbed may or may not have been "Sorry I party."