Herb Juliano

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."

The Notre Dame team of 1900

The Notre Dame team of 1900


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, Norway.

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.

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