In Herb's Archive this month, an
excerpt from Gene Schoor's A Treasury of Notre Dame Football. It's
a chapter entitled "Old Football Days at Notre Dame."
A FALLACIOUS FOOTBALL LEGEND has sprung up regarding Notre Dame's early
days on the gridiron. After reading the nation's sports pages, one might
be pardoned for assuming that Knute Rockne was the founder of Notre Dame
football, even as Walter Camp and Dennis Michie fathered this rugged
contact game at Yale and West Point, respectively.
Sports writers of the post-World-War-I generation (which includes most
present-day scribes) apparently cherish the belief that football was first
introduced at Notre Dame in 1913 by a couple of guys named Rockne and
Dorais, who are supposed to have invented the forward pass. It is also the
popular impression that Notre Dame had never been heard of as a football
power until the so-called "obscure little corn-belt school"
astonished the experts by upsetting a mighty Army eleven 35 to 13 at West
Point in 1913.
It's high time these absurd ideas were dispelled. Notre Dame is no
gridiron Johnny-come-lately. Fact is, football was one year old at South
Bend when Knute Rockne was born in 1888 in the little hamlet of Voss,
The first Notre Dame eleven was organized in 1887. Mighty Michigan
generously condescended to send the Wolverine varsity to South Bend, that
year, as football missionaries. They came to teach the Irish upstarts what
this strange game was all about. The Notre Dame novices proved apt pupils.
Michigan's "instructors" had a hard time winning, 8 to 0.
Lou Salmon, who captained the powerful Notre Dame elevens of 1902 and
1903, is still hailed by many South Bend old timers as a harder-hitting
fullback than Mullin, Savoldi, Mello and other modern line smashers. In
1902 the Irish team beat Indiana and tied Purdue.
The 1909 season was a red letter one at South Bend. That year saw Notre
Dame work a gridiron miracle by conquering "invincible"
Michigan, 11 to 3, with Harry (Red) Miller running wild. The older
generation of Irish rooters contend that Red Miller was a better running
halfback than such later-day stars as Jim Crowley, Elmer Layden, Marchie
Schwartz, Christy Flanagan, Jack Elder, Stan Cofall, Andy Pilney, Dippy
Evans and Creighton Miller. Every Notre Dame man concedes that there was
only one George Gipp.
That 1909 Notre Dame conquest of Michigan's Paladins happened four years
before the so-called "unknown little Hoosier school" came out of
the West to humble Army and startle Eastern critics-which explodes that
fallacy! The truth is that every football follower in the Midwest
recognized Notre Dame as a formidable grid power long before Rockne and
Dorais collaborated to ambush the unsuspecting Cadets.
Indeed, Rockne didn't even originate the system which bears his name,
though he did dramatize it. Rock himself always credited the hike shift to
his coach, Jesse Harper, a disciple of Alonzo Stagg.
The forward pass, incorporated into American football back in 1906, was
old stuff by the time Dorais began pitching to Rockne. Brad Robinson,
first of the super passers, completed heaves of sixty-seven and sixty-five
yards for St. Louis University in 1906. Robinson towered 6 foot 4 inches
and grabbed the pigskin by its pointed end as though it were a baseball.
Dorais couldn't have taught that guy anything about tossing a pass.
Among the pre-Rockne era football stars who gleamed brightly at Notre Dame
from 1887 to 1910 were Cartier, quarterback; Cusack, halfback; Mullen,
end; Dimmick, tackle; Philbrook, guard; Shaughnessy, end; Cullinan,
tackle; H. Miller, halfback, and Salmon, fullback. Even Coach Frank Leahy,
abundantly supplied with material though he was this fall, could have used
some of those "antediluvians."
If Eastern football authorities had never heard of Notre Dame before the
Irish exploded that barrage of passes against Army in 1913, it was because
the smug Brahmins of the Atlantic coastal sectors never bothered to look
beyond the Allegheny Mountain barrier.