Grantland Rice, called "the Dean of American sportswriters," wrote: "I
will stand for the fierce and continued spirit of Notre Dame teams.
Spirit is the most vital of all football factors. They got this from the
Fathers at Notre Dame and from Knute Rockne. It can't and should not be
destroyed." During more than one period in Notre Dame's illustrious
football history was this spirit in danger of destruction. But always,
something or somebody would come along to revive it.
During the eleven years in which Ara Parseghian was head coach of the
Fighting Irish, each week of the football season an anonymous member of
the coaching staff would write a letter to the team regarding the
upcoming game. Copies of the letter were given to each player for his
own personal reading. Always, the letters would be signed "The Phantom,"
so the "Phantom" became an institution for the football program during
those eleven years. As you might expect, there was much speculation as
to whether the "Phantom" was Parseghian himself, one of his assistant
coaches, or an "outsider." Such as the case may be, they are interesting
studies in philosophy and psychology. I have in my possession three of
these letters from the 1974 season, Ara's most frustrating, which led to
his resignation. First, the letter prior to Game 2 against Northwestern.
The Phantom Speaks
When the "Fighting Irish" assembled for their last reminders, against
Georgia Tech; when they kneeled en masse reaching out to touch someone
else on "our team"; the unity of team intention and dedication told me
we would not be beaten easily!
Having prepared physically, mentally and emotionally, only the execution
and effort remained to bring us our first 1974 season victory.
Everyone we play will rise up to their highest point for us. This is a
tough reality that is really a high form of compliment.
It would be shaky if we were not aware of it...but we are...and this
knowledge forearms us not to relax and never to underestimate the
The first win was a tribute to the offensive and defensive prep teams.
It was the big "D" coming of age on a goal-line stand. It was an offense
that played to overcome obstacles...for a full and complete 60 minutes.
Within the great team victory were magnificent individual plays that
spurred and ignited the entire team. This is the thrill in football...to
overcome all that opposes with the tenacity of effort and the
cooperation of many minds and hearts "tuned in" to a final goal.
We have two rather worn sayings at Notre Dame. (I) That "we" have no
breaking point. Behind by 30 or ahead by 30... we're coming after you
with the same degree of intensity because a team that won't let itself
be beaten, cannot be beaten. (2) NO GAME IS AS IMPORTANT AS THE ONE YOU
ARE PLAYING! (What went before--other games, and other times, won't help
now!) A long look down the road at an arch rival-will not help on the
particular day of a contest with a different opponent. The game we are
most involved with-the most important contest in the world to all of us
here and now-is the one we are going to play. In this case
Each man learns to believe in himself and the things he belongs to. We
all belong to this 1974 Notre Dame team. We must, therefore, believe
that our small parts may become big parts in the overall success. We
cannot waver or weaken, only prepare.
Someone once said that, "Success is when preparation meets opportunity.
Many people never find it because it is hidden under hard work." If the
good things and moments of life come with work, LET US WORK WITH JOY!
Nothing is sadder than "it might have been." Few things are more grand
than "We did it!" Let's do it to Northwestern!! BEAT THE WILDCATS!!!!
On this occasion the inspiration worked. The following Saturday,
however, whatever The Phantom had to say, it was not enough to get the
team "up" and Purdue's Boilermakers upset the Fighting Irish, 31-20, in
a game played in the rain at Notre Dame Stadium. This set off a chain
reaction of frustration for Parseghian that reached its climax in the
final game of the regular season against Southern Cal-the unbelievable
second half turnabout which obliterated a 24-6 Irish half-time lead and
wound up an ignominious loss to the Trojans, 55-24.
What happened in the Irish dressing room at half-time to cause such a
urnabout remains a mystery to this day, to all save those who were
present to witness it. To this day the rumors abound. Was it racially
motivated? Were there punches thrown? The only point of agreement seems
to be that half-back Art Best sat next to Father Edmund Joyce during the
entire return flight. Before that game was played, however, The Phantom
had these words for Irish players:
The Phantom Speaks
We have taken one giant step in our planned series of three-and now for
number two. No one gives Notre Dame much chance of beating Southern Cal.
In the many years we have played we are finally an underdog. Just as
when we are made 30 points a favorite, this underdog role is an opinion.
We are walking into a situation where no one except those who really
count figures we can do it. We-the players, the coaches KNOW WE CAN! ! A
great effort-a great feat-starts first in the mind. The idea explodes in
the thinking process, it crowds out the maybe's and the if's. It takes
out everything negative and dwells on, We will do it!
The mind harnesses energy and stores it up. The body prepares and
practices and works at the preparation. It slowly ebbs towards the
climax and then with full heart and full team harmony-explodes at the
game! All great efforts and all great achievements are a product of
readiness. When the idea of "WIN" hits, and when it is coupled with
fierce determination, no power can withstand such readiness.
Sure they are big and fast, sure it is their home field, sure they are
smarting from last year's loss. This only causes doubts in their mind.
Doubt is the enemy. Believe in yourselves. Believe in the "stout
hearted" idea of team walking in-doing the job-and walking out
Victor Hugo once said, "NO ARMY IS AS POWERFUL AS AN IDEA WHOSE TIME HAS
COME." They are no army and our time has come!
What is size? Hell, if size were everything, elephants would rule the
world. We are going to out hit, out heart, and out hustle Southern Cal.
We are going to be such a bonded and connected group of team, that no
one will penetrate us. Total unity, total concentration and effort is
our goal, and with these we will win!
Eleven individuals can be bigger-faster-and more talented, but
individuals cannot match the harmony of one "TEAM" with one "MIND" and
In our fleeting lifetimes only rare opportunities present themselves for
moments of great achievement. Though opportunity KNOCKS or WHISPERS- few
are aware of it when it does. We have that advantage-WE KNOW the
opportunity and thrill at the challenge for such a chance. The world's
football eye is on us. Few give us hope. Those who do not cannot look
into our hearts nor know the magnitude of our "TEAM DESIRE."
These are the "almost did" or perhaps "never can" -they never discovered
the mystery of belief and faith in themselves. They allowed doubt! You
lose or get beat or get blocked or tackled only because you think it
You can never be beaten if you refuse to think it and fight to never let
WITH A FULL HEART-WITH A GREAT EMOTION-AND A CHAMPION'S POISE-LET'S GO
BEAT THE HELL OUT OF SOUTHERN CAL!!!!
Obviously, that call for "total team unity" did not land on all ears and
the Irish suffered their second loss of that season. Not all Irish
stories are magical. But the season wasn't over. The Irish had a date to
play Alabama, ranked number one, in the Orange Bowl on New Year's Day.
Alabama would be coming into that game ranked first on the UPI poll and
second in the AP poll with an 11-0 record. The Irish were going in at
9-2, ranked eighth in the UPI poll and ninth in the AP poll. Notre Dame
had its job cut out and The Phantom, undiminished in spirit, was going
to get in his words:
The Phantom Speaks XI
No one that understands football and our unique situation can view the
upcoming game with Alabama as anything less than a great opportunity. It
is an opportunity to close the season on a sweeter note than we had on
the West Coast. It is a chance again to play the number one ranked team
on national T.V. Great rewards go hand in hand with great challenges.
No one gives you a chance. The staff at N.D.-team members and the
Phantom see things unlike the viewing public. We have a great chance! We
have more than a great chance to beat Alabama.
The severe loss to Southern Cal was not our "normal" game. We know
this-but no one else does. We are capable of beating any college
football team on any given day.
People on the outside looking in, think Southern Cal overpowered us.
They really don't understand the momentum switch and the "stunned"
reaction. They think we quit and were that much inferior. We didn't rely
on their observations or guidance or understanding before and more than
ever, should not now. One thing we've never done is quit and God only
knows we're not inferior to anyone!
Alabama has great speed! We have a little more size. They have a revenge
motive. We have one also. There is no other way to meet this challenge
than with a great "bounce back" effort.
All the seniors, juniors, sophomores and frosh-united with great
harmony-and dedication to play an errorless game with a full heart.
"Pride" is our key now! We are not a "lame duck" just to afford an
opponent to Alabama, but a football team of men that play to win
whenever they walk on the field. In this case-it is the last walk for
the 1974 team.
Make a vow-Do your part- BEAT BAMA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Coach Parseghian is carried
off the field after his last game as Notre Dame coach, a 13-11
Orange Bowl victory in 1975.
The Irish did beat 'Bama, 13-11. And the spirit lives on.
For years, Notre Dame was a lighthouse to the immigrant dream, not only
to working-class Irish who adopted it as their own, but for all of the
poor Catholics with bigger-than-Iife ambitions and foreign names who saw
in it not only a standard-bearer for their pride, but a symbol of their
In the early part of this twentieth century , when it took all of their
fight and furor just to earn a living and battle the prejudice and prove
their newly acquired loyalty to America, there was Notre Dame fighting
and winning on the battlefield of that most American of causes,
Each Notre Dame victory was a kind of vindication for the workers in the
dark little coal-mining towns of Pennsylvania and West Virginia. And the
nuns in their cloistered convents said their rosaries for the Fighting
To this day, it hasn't really changed that much, except that most of the
students who come here now tend to be offspring of a prosperous middle
class, for the most part polite, with an optimism that fits them as
comfortably as their blue and gold sweatshirts. During orientation,
incoming freshmen are still shown the movie "Knute Rockne, All
American," but now the University also exploits its new pride, "Wake Up
The Echoes: The History of Notre Dame Football," a real heart-tugger.
At Notre Dame, from the guidance and direction of demanding coaches and
a self-imposed discipline, an improved image is created. At Notre Dame,
a football player is a special kind of man. He does not only have the
physical strength necessary for success, but also personal discipline
and a more-than-average intelligence necessary to get into school, to
stay in school, and to earn a diploma. Above all, he has dedication. A
dedication that allows him to give of himself-both mentally and
physically-seven days a week and, at times, seven hours a day. A
dedication that forces him to budget his time, to regulate his
activities, in order to fulfill all obligations. A dedication that
drives him to readily sacrifice, so that he may proudly say, "I am a
Notre Dame football player."
And so to each Notre Dame player-from the All Americans to the lowliest
prepper-a thank you and an admiring recognition-you ARE a special kind