Notre Dame equals
college football. It's as much a fact of American life as Sonny plus
Cher equals plate-throwing or Nelson Rockefeller equals money.The
good fathers who run the university have never wanted it this
way. They prefer that the school be mentioned once in awhile for its
academic achievements, which are considerable.
But Notre Dame, and
football have been synonymous almost from the day it was decided pigs
could be used for something besides bacon.
Because of this, no
university is more surrounded by football legend. Think about it. From
Rockne through the Sugar Bowl victory over Alabama a couple of years
ago, the history of college football is sprinkled with Notre Dame
stories bigger than life.
They are cornball
stories-an injured player leaping off the bench to score the winnng
touchdown, a secret play is scratched in the sand and then used to beat
USC, a locker room speech inspires exhausted players -sure fire stuff
to enhance the legend.
When adverse stories
surface, such as the firing of Terry Brennan on Christmas week, or
faking an injury to gain a "tie" with Iowa, or playing it safe
to gain a tie with Michigan State, it's as though Mary Poppins had just
smacked the kids of England across the face with her broom. It is out
of character, unbecoming.
This Notre Dame
"Everyman's University" concept probably aggravates the hell
out of fans from Alabama to Zinzinnati, but so it goes.
a blue gray November sky, the, Four Horsemen Rode Again."
"When the goin'
gets tough, and the team is up against it, win one for the Gipper
"What though the
odds be great or small, old Notre Dame will win over all." The
Notre Dame Victory March, written long ago by the Shea boys of Holyoke,
is the most copied, most parodied college tune in America.
The most talked-about
single game in college history is Notre Dame's 18-13 victory over Ohio
State in 1935, when the Irish scored all their points in the last
quarter, with the final touchdown coming on a pass from Bill Shakespeare
to Wayne Millner with 40 seconds to play. Both boys, it was pointed out
in those peaceful days, were non-Catholics.
And the names, the
put-them-up-in-neon names. The Horsemen. Rock. Gipp. Carideo. Bertelli.
Lujack. Hart. Sitko. Brennan. Hornung. Lattner. Lynch. Page. Patulski.
And, of course, Frank
Leahy, the coach whose memory they will honor on Monday before the Notre
Dame-Boston College game at Schaefer Stadium.
Leahy's life was in two
sections-Before Football and After Football. Nobody, not even Rockne,
was more successful as a coach, but when the tumult and the shouting had
died, much of the fun and meaning left his life.
The twin dogs of
controversy and illness were forever yapping at his heels, as a coach
At the same time his
teams were crushing everybody in sight, Leahy was defending his methods.
In 1949, Notre Dame was penalized 135 yards against Washington after
officials who had watched movies of the 1948 game said his team's
method's of blocking was illegal.
Coaches spoke of the
Leahy Clutch, meaning the way Notre Dame linemen protected the passer by
allegedly grabbing rival jersies.He was accused of being a bad sport in
1952 because of the so-called "sucker shift." The fake
injuries of Frank Varrichione in the Iowa game of '54 got him more bad
Over the years he had
pancreatitis, an ulcer, a nervous collapse, leukemia, major abdominal
surgery and spinal arthritis. Leahy was involved in a stock swindle, and
other business ventures were less than successful.
But when he coached, he
was a man with a mission, which was to win for Notre Dame. He came up
with no football innovations, such as the T formation or the quarterback
option, but he turned out teams so well prepared in how to play the game
that rival coaches were embarrassed to the point of jealousy.
There'll be many Leahy
stories passed around on Monday, when his old players from Boston
College and Notre Dame gather. And you can bet there'll be general
agreement on one thing.
Frank Leahy's football
genius will far outlast the controversies and the jealousies.
Although he was only 45 when he retired, Frank Leahy has a worried, haggard look along the sidelines during the 1953 season.