Notre Dame's first team. Seated: Harry M. Jewett (right halfback - scored Notre Dame's first touchdown), Joe Cusack (quarterback), Henry Luhn (left halfback), Ed Prudhomme (fullback). Standing: Joe Hepburn (right end), George Houck (right tackle), Ed Sawkins (right guard), Frank Fehr(center), Pat Nelson (left tackle), Gene Melady (left guard), Frank Springer (leftend)

It was nearly seven o'clock on a soggy Wednesday morning when a University of Michigan student wiped some moisture from the Michigan Central Railroad coach window and peeped into the gloom.

"South Bend," crowed the conductor.

"At last," groaned the Michigan student. He and his companions tumbled off the train to the smiling, glad-handing welcome of a well-dressed group of Notre Dame undergraduates. A quick trip to campus was followed by a two hour tour of that obscure little university.

It wasn't much.

A big building with a dome; a church; a grade school; an agriculture barn; and a few other scattered structures. There were signs of construction in progress here and there. The visitors were informed that the school had recently converted from gasoline lamps to the new Edison electric lights. None of which impressed them as much as the unnerving sight of Catholic priests, hovering everywhere in those swirling cassocks.

Finally the boys from up North asked permission to withdraw. They reappeared a few moments later at the muddy senior campus field dressed in uniforms of spotless white. A few moments of instruction were given, and a team of Notre Damers squared off against the champions from Michigan. It was the first inter-collegiate football game at the University of Notre Game.

It was November 23, 1887.

Think about that for a minute.

In 1887 there were thirty-eight United States. Grover Cleveland was president, the first Democrat to hold the office since before the Civil War.

Chicago seemed ready to burst with over one million inhabitants. Los Angeles had 50,000. The city of Miami (Florida) did not exist.

Geronimo had just surrendered. Indian wars would continue for the next thirteen years.

Coca Cola and the Statue of Liberty were one- year-old. Daily railroad service to the Pacific Coast was just starting.

Mark Twain was fifty-four and working on a novel to be called A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court. The most popular character in literary history was debuting in Beton's Christmas Annual: Sherlock Holmes.

The average man worked six days a week, ten to twelve to sixteen hours a day, without vacations. Ladies remained at home where they did not smoke, drink, swear, wear make-upor vote.

The National League of Professional Baseball was eleven years old. Indoor baseball, which we call softball, was about to be invented. So were the Kodak camera and the ball point pen.

But so far as the Michigan team at Notre Dame was concerned, the only interesting thing about to happen was the game with the Catholics.

It wasn't much.

Only one inning was played. The visitors slogged to an unsurprising victory. For this they were given a hearty lunch and a cheering send-off, and were packed onto horse-drawn carriages for a long drive to the Niles, Michigan,train station.

However, inauspiciously, under the mud and torn turf of that ragged senior campus field, the seed of Notre Dame football had been planted.

*******************************

For the first five years of its existence, Notre Dame's football team went 7-3-1 without a coach.

Without a coach. We know this means something, but we're afraid to say what it is.

*******************************

In 1888, Notre Dame took to the field in brand new uniforms of brown and black (great camouflage on a muddy field). The team divided itself in two for scrimmages, The Specials vs. The Anti-Specials; and an old cheer was excavated: "Rah, Rah, Rah, Nostra Domina!" The boys finished a respectable 1-2 on the intercollegiate circuit, winning their first game ever against the Harvard School of Chicago and dropping a couple more to Michigan.

But the biggest news was taking place thousands of miles away. In Voss, Norway, Mr. and Mrs. Lars K. Rockne had a new baby. Named Knute, he would ... well, we'll get to that later.

*****************************

Notre Dame's first undefeated and untied season was 1889. The complete schedule: Notre Dame 9, Northwestern 0.

The Irish promptly celebrated with their two shortest seasons, 1890 and 1891. No games were scheduled and none were played.

****************************

When opportunity knocks but once, some men sneak out the back door. J. L. T. Morrison was hired in 1894 as the University of Notre Dame's first head football coach. He resigned at the end of the season to become coach of the Hillsdale College "Dales."

Morrison must have thought it was a step up.

Back to Irish Reveries