The Crowning Glory: Notre Dame-Stanford 1925 Rose Bowl

1925 Rose Bowl
Notre Dame 27, Stanford 10

The trip made by the Irish to and from their first bowl appearance was unlike anything ever seen in college football….before or since.  The nation was eager to see Knute Rockne’s “Wonder Team” and its amazing backfield, The Four Horsemen.  So the Irish went on a three-week round-trip odyssey, stopping for numerous banquets, events and special masses, for local groups of ND alumni, Catholic “subway alums” and the general public.

GATH 05/55:  Football Game Scene - ND  vs. Stanford Rose Bowl, 1925.

Notre Dame’s win over Stanford in the 1925 Rose Bowl featured the legendary Four Horsemen and Knute Rockne vs. Stanford coaching legend Pop Warner and star back Ernie Nevers.

In the Rose Bowl, they went up against coaching legend Pop Warner and star back Ernie Nevers. Stanford and Nevers gained plenty of yardage, but ND returned three key turnovers – a fumble, and two interceptions by Elmer Layden – for touchdowns to complete a perfect season.  The 10-0 Irish were awarded ND’s first consensus national championship.

Reprinted here with permission is the chapter from author Jim Lefebvre’s first national award-winning book:  Loyal Sons: The Story of The Four Horsemen and Notre Dame Football’s 1924 Champions.

The Crowning Glory



The Fantastic Day and Strange Tale of Art Smith

Rockne’s teammate created quite the stir on and off the field

By Jim Lefebvre
Forever Irish

Art SmithJPG

When Notre Dame quarterback DeShone Kizer threw for five touchdowns and ran for a sixth Saturday to lead a 42-30 victory at Pittsburgh, it was reported that his six TDs tied a modern record for Notre Dame.

But one ESPN college football highlight show featured a graphic with the all-time bests. And there it was:

Art Smith        1911    7

That’s right. More than a century ago, a fellow named Art Smith scored seven touchdowns in a game for Notre Dame – a record that stands today.

So who was this Smith, and why haven’t we heard more about him? If he scored seven TDs in a single game, he must have had a noteworthy season and career, right?


What we know is that Art Smith established himself as something of a football star at the College of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn. Smith won a letter in 1909 and was known for his “open field rushing.” He set his sights on a larger stage, and enrolled at Notre Dame the following year.

The 1911 Notre Dame varsity had its share of talented backfield candidates. Sophomore Charles “Gus” Dorais looked very sound as the quarterback. A stable of outstanding runners – many of them track stars – manned the other spots: Alfred “Dutch” Bergman, Alvin “Heinie” Berger, Joe Pliska, Ray Eichenlaub, Bill Kelleher. At left end, a 5-foot-8, 165-pound sophomore, Knute Rockne, worked his way into the starting lineup.

Coach John Marks’ men opened with easy victories over Ohio Northern (32-6) and St. Viator (43-0). Next up was a challenge from home-state foe Butler. On a rain-slicked Cartier Field, Smith entered the game as a sub and helped spark a late run that broke open a close game and resulted in a 27-0 victory.

The opponent the next Saturday, Oct. 28, was originally scheduled to be DePaul, but a conflict in dates wiped out the game. Another Chicago contingent, Loyola University, hastily agreed to fill the spot on Notre Dame’s schedule. It was clear from the start that the visitors were sorely outmatched.

The result: “The most severe drubbing handed a visiting team in years…one continued round of dashes up the field and down…affording Coach Marks an opportunity to judge the ability of various candidates in action against strangers.” When it was over, Notre Dame had scored 14 touchdowns (then worth five points) and 10 goals-after for a total count of 80-0. All 30 Notre Dame men dressed for the game participated.

“All of the candidates who played in the backfield conducted themselves in a manner worthy of honorable mention,” said one report. “Art Smith furnished a sensation by several long runs, and also earned a niche in the hall of fame by scoring seven of the fourteen touchdowns. Miller kicked goal after the last touchdown by Smith, secured on a 75-yard sprint in which excellent dodging ability was displayed.”

Smith added two of the goals-after, for a total of 37 out of Notre Dame’s 80 points. Truly a memorable day. Yet, the performance did not earn him a spot on the traveling squad to Pittsburgh the next week. The 20 players who boarded the train at South Bend included all the regulars, and not Smith.

What sparked Smith’s outstanding running that one day in October, 1911? Well, one might speculate that he was running from something that happened a few weeks earlier.

In the Minneapolis Morning Tribune of Nov. 27, 1911, shocking headlines told of a previously unreported scandal:

Girl Student Elopes

With Football Player

Gladys Van Nest, West High

Scholar, Married Sept. 2

In Hudson, Wis.

Bride, Only 15 Years Old,

Won After Short

Summer Courtship

Keeps Secret From Parents

–Father Would Annul Ceremony

It turns out that Gladys Van Nest was from a proper and prominent Minneapolis family, her father John H. Van Nest being a former president of the Minneapolis city council.

The report said of Art Smith: “The husband is a shining light on the Notre Dame football team. He is 18 years old and had been spending his summer vacation in Minneapolis when he met Miss Van Nest. They were introduced by a cousin of the girl, and had been acquainted but a few weeks before their marriage took place. Mr. Smith left the next day to pursue his studies at Notre Dame.”

That’s right. The young couple apparently borrowed Mr. Van Nest’s automobile on Sept. 2, drove to the Wisconsin border, took the ferry across the St. Croix River, obtained a marriage license in Hudson, Wis. (known then as a place for quick marriages) and were wed by a Protestant minister, Rev. John Fisher. After the ceremony, the couple returned to Minneapolis, had a picnic, after which Smith drove Van Nest home to her parents, and prepared to board the train back to South Bend.

On the marriage application, Smith claimed to be 21, and from Osseo, Minn. Van Nest’s age was listed as 20. The county clerk who issued the license later admitted he was suspicious, “and required young Smith to make affidavit that he and the girl were of age…the county judge admitted that he received a fee of $5 for giving them permission to side-step the Wisconsin law.”

Nearly three months later, the newspapers got wind of the story, and it remained atop the headlines for several days, with a number of details added to the narrative.

One dispatch, from South Bend, said that Smith denied marrying Van Nest:

“Arthur W. Smith denies that he eloped and married Miss Gladys Van Nest of Minneapolis last September. The denial was made when the authorities of the University of Notre Dame summoned the young man before them. Smith, who lives at Corby Hall, has been attending school regularly. He spoke of knowing the supposed bride intimately, explaining that their parents were close friends.”

However, in the next day’s report, a Tribune reporter spoke with Smith at Notre Dame “by long distance telephone” and Smith “repudiated a statement borne by a dispatch last night saying he had denied the marriage. He admitted that he had eloped to Hudson with Miss Van Nest…When told it was reported here that John Van Nest, father of the girl, was considering starting annulment proceedings, Smith said it was “all right” with him.

“Leave everything to ‘Old John,’” Smith said over the phone. “’Old John’ will know what to do. Anything he does is all right with me. If the girl wants the marriage annulled it’s all right with me; anything they do is.”

The paper reported that Smith had been confined to his bed on campus “with a broken collarbone, received in the Notre Dame-Wabash football game Nov. 18.” Smith denied “that he had told the university authorities that he had not been married. He refused to say whether he had been called before them.” But one way or another, his time at Notre Dame was to end.

The Van Nest family’s reaction to the secret marriage was one of shock. An older sister, Rachael, said she was astounded by the news. “I hadn’t the least idea that such a thing had taken place…I have not met Mr. Smith more than three or four times. I recall that he and Gladys went on a few automobile rides, but never imagined that they would run away to get married…This was the first time father and mother knew of it and it has almost broken their hearts. Gladys could not have realized what she was doing.”

The same could probably be said of Art Smith.

ND Games at Pittsburgh Have Featured High Drama

By Jim Lefebvre

Notre Dame travels to Pittsburgh today for Saturday’s game against the Pitt Panthers. In recent years, the games have been decided by slim margins, regardless of the teams’ relative strengths. That’s consistent with a long history of close, dramatic contests, beginning more than a century ago.

On Oct. 30, 1909, Coach Frank “Shorty” Longman brought his ND gridders to play at Pitt, the furthest east Notre Dame had ever traveled for a football game up to that point. The South Bend visitors came away with a 6-0 victory, setting up an even bigger triumph the following Saturday – the historic 11-3 upset of Michigan at Ann Arbor, ND’s first-ever win against the team that taught it the game of football back in the 1880s.

The second trip to Pittsburgh came in 1911, with sophomores Gus Dorais and Knute Rockne starting to make their mark. Notre Dame had destroyed four lesser opponents by a combined score of 182-6, but the Panthers would be a totally different challenge. After the teams battled to a scoreless first half…

It was time for some trickery. For the start of the second half, (Ray) Eichenlaub executed a perfect onside kick and Rockne scooped up the ball and took off toward the Pitt goal line. Using his sprinter’s speed and the element of surprise, he raced into the clear. Notre Dame fans went wild with cheering as he crossed the Pitt goal line. For the first time, he had scored a touchdown for the varsity—in a crucial point of a hard-fought battle. One by one, his teammates joined him in the end zone to congratulate. But soon, confusion reigned. Referee F. D. Godcharles, a respected man from Lafayette College, waved his arms frantically. Notre Dame, he ruled, had begun the play before he formally opened the quarter with a whistle, and was technically offside. The ball was returned to midfield, with a penalty instead of a touchdown. The teams continued to slug it out without a score. Later, as if dictated by the conditions, a Pitt touchdown was also called back due to an offside call.

After the scoreless tie, the weary Notre Dame warriors were ‘feted and feasted’ by the school’s Pittsbugh alumni with ‘characteristic hospitality and good cheer.’ A Notre Dame writer noted that the whole experience served to “bind faster the chords of memory between us of today who are here (at ND) and those of yesterday who are in Pittsburgh.”

Knute Rockne in a wheelchair with player Frank Carrideo as phlebitis sidelined the ND coach.

Knute Rockne in a wheelchair with player Frank Carrideo as phlebitis sidelined the ND coach.

Notre Dame was learning the importance of playing games in distant locations. The Notre Dame family was putting down roots in cities and towns across the land.

The next season, 1912, Notre Dame again opened with four lopsided home victories against outmatched opponents before facing its major road test at Pittsburgh.

Notre Dame was determined to secure victory at Forbes Field this time. They didn’t count on the conditions that greeted them on Nov. 2: bone-chilling cold, biting wind, and snow. In these conditions, every yard was a battle; numerous fumbles and penalties kept both sides bottled up all day. Even when Rockne was able to break free for a gain of 33 yards on a perfect pass from Dorais in the third quarter, penalties derailed the drive and forced another punt. In the end, it was a 25-yard drop kick by Dorais that gave Notre Dame a hard-fought, 3-0 victory.

In three games at Pitt, Notre Dame had outscored the Panthers by a total count of 9-0. The two victories and one tie proved that ND was indeed ready to take on major opponents. But the Irish wouldn’t meet the Panthers again until 1930, Rockne’s final season as head coach. The 1920s would be marked by a series of trips to Pittsburgh to take on Carnegie Tech, which had a meteoric rise both in academic circles and football since its founding in 1900 by industrialist Andrew Carnegie. The Scots played a strong schedule, and under its coach, Judge Wally Steffen, was a formidable opponent. So strong that the Scots defeated Notre Dame twice – 19-0 in 1926 in Pittsburgh, and 27-7 in 1928, in the final game ever played at Cartier Field.

Coach Knute Rockne on the sidelines in a wheelchair.

Coach Knute Rockne on the sidelines in a wheelchair.

In the fall of 1929, there were a number of challenges for Notre Dame. The Irish were coming off a less-than-stellar 5-4 season; there were no home games scheduled, due to the construction of Notre Dame Stadium; and Rockne’s coaching was severely impacted by his health – a bad case of thrombophletibis, an inflammation of the veins in his legs. His mobility was limited, and he tried coaching from a prone position on a gurney. The Irish opened with wins over Indiana, Navy and Wisconsin, with Rockne giving his players instruction and encouragement by phone for the Navy game at Baltimore.

Doctors ordered continued bed rest and warned Rockne against excitement—or even activity—that might dislodge a blood clot from his legs and send it through his bloodstream, potentially causing a heart attack or stroke.

Rockne’s decision to bring (assistant coach Tom) Lieb back on the staff looked prescient. Every morning and every evening, Lieb came to the Rockne house and sat in the sickroom with the head coach, going over planning and personnel. Lieb then presided over the noon-time football talk and the afternoon practice.

Next up was Carnegie Tech, the team that always seemed poised to spoil Notre Dame’s season. It was only 11 months ago that Wally Steffen’s bunch embarrassed the Irish, 27-7, in their final game at Cartier Field. Carnegie had become a thorn in Rockne’s side that needed to be extricated. Rockne wanted this one—badly. Rockne ignored his doctors’ orders and was on the train with the team as they left for Pittsburgh. On Friday, he lay on a sofa in his room at the Pittsburgh Athletic Club, trading wisecracks and handing out tickets to his coterie of friends and admirers, including a number of newspapermen. In many ways, he was the old Rockne—jovial, witty, full of energy, the center of attention. Friday afternoon, he was wheeled to the gymnasium, where he oversaw the team’s drills. That evening, there was quiet in the vicinity of Rockne’s room. The coach was not entertaining visitors. It was so unlike the normal hustle and bustle of activity surrounding the night before a big game that rumors began to spread about his condition.

On game day, in the locker room at Forbes Field with 66,000 fans who packed every nook and cranny, Notre Dame’s players sat waiting, not sure whether Rockne had even survived the night. Suddenly, the door flung open, and Lieb strode in, carrying Rockne in his arms. He placed him on a table, where Rockne sat with his legs stretched out straight; he looked emotionless, serious, staring straight ahead and saying nothing, seemingly barely conscious of his surroundings. The players fidgeted in the nervous silence. Who was this man masquerading as their coach? They knew him as strong, fierce, animated, and emotional, and now he sat in their midst as an invalid. Was he there merely as a spectator? The moments passed, with the 2 p.m. kickoff now almost upon them. In a corner, team physician Dr. Maurice Kelly said to the man next to him, “If he lets go, and that clot dislodges, to his heart or his brain, he’s got an even chance of never leaving this dressing room alive.”

Then, as suddenly as a great gust of wind, the coach began to speak, clearly and forcefully. “A lot of water has gone under the bridge since I first came to Notre Dame, but I don’t know when I’ve ever wanted to win a game as badly as this one. I don’t care what happens after today. Why do you think I’m taking a chance like this? To see you lose?” His voice, rising now into a shout, went on. “They’ll be primed. They’ll be tough. They think they have your number. Are you going to let it happen again?” The room went quiet, as Rockne let his words penetrate the players’ souls. Then, like a great fighter making a final, valiant charge, he let loose, pouring every ounce of energy into his oration: “Go out there and crack ’em. Crack ’em. Crack ’em. Fight to live. Fight to win. Fight to live. Fight to win, win, WIN!” With a mighty roar, the players exploded from the room toward the field. Rockne collapsed, his eyes closed, his face sweating. The doctor attended to him, wiping his brow. It was no exaggeration to say Rockne had looked death in the face and survived. He wanted his boys to show similar courage—today on the football field, but also some other day, in some other place, when one would be summoned to perform against all odds.

As expected, Carnegie played Notre Dame tough in a fierce, physical battle. Rockne watched the proceedings from his wheelchair, calm now, efficiently grading the results and making adjustments. After a scoreless first half, he expected the Scots to pass; they did, and Notre Dame was ready. The biggest play came when Elder returned a punt to the Carnegie 7-yard line, and from there, the Irish fought their way to the game’s only score, a one-yard blast by Savoldi. With their 7-0 victory, the tired and battered Irish, and their ailing coach, made the return trip to South Bend in higher spirits.

The narrow victory helped propel the Irish onward toward a perfect season and consensus national championship. The next year, 1930, Notre Dame played both Pittsburgh schools on back-to-back Saturdays, downing Carnegie Tech, 21-6, in the third game ever played at Notre Dame Stadium, then traveling to defeat Pittsburgh, 35-19, before more than 66,000 at Forbes Field. That season would also finish with the Irish as undefeated national champions – with a well-established tradition of pivotal games held in Pittsburgh.

Portions of the preceding are excerpted from Coach For A Nation: The Life and Times of Knute Rockne (2013, Great Day Press) by Jim Lefebvre. All rights reserved.

Philly Shares Historic Links With ND, Dating to Rockne

By Jim Lefebvre

The eyes of the college football world will be on Philadelphia this Saturday, with ESPN’s GameDay originating from Independence Square, and No. 9 Notre Dame meeting No. 21 Temple on prime time from Lincoln Financial Field on ABC.

With its large Catholic population, Philly has always had its share of Notre Dame support. And that dates back to the days of Knute Rockne.

Roman Catholic High, located at Broad and Vine streets, just a few blocks from the iconic Philadelphia Museum of Art, is celebrating the 125th anniversary of its founding in 1890. It produced current Notre Dame star Will Fuller, but also has Notre Dame connections from much earlier times.

Coach Knute Rockne's national impact on the game reached to Philadelphia too.

Coach Knute Rockne’s national impact on the game reached to Philadelphia too.

Rev. John F. O’Hara spent decades at Notre Dame, and as prefect of religion in the 1920s, saw the benefit of promoting a positive image of Notre Dame students (Rockne’s players) far and wide across the U.S. (We tell this story in detail in Loyal Sons.) O’Hara served as Notre Dame’s president from 1934-45, and was Archbishop of Philadelphia from 1951 until his death in 1958. He was the first member of the Congregation of the Holy Cross to become a Cardinal.

While Father O’Hara was early in his career at Notre Dame, the Irish had a quarterback named Stan Cofall in 1914-16, while Rockne was assistant coach to Jesse Harper. Cofall became football coach at Roman Catholic High, and in 1922, he coached his squad to an Eastern prep-school championship.

Cofall wrote Rockne, then the successful head coach of the Irish, about three superb players from his Roman Catholic team – quarterback Vince McNally, end Joe Maxwell and tackle Joe Boland. On a cold winter night in early 1923, with Rockne in New York City speaking at a banquet, Cofall drove his Model T with the three as passengers, to meet the great coach.

Boland, in his biography, recalled the impression made by “the flat-nosed, square-faced dynamic Norwegian who lived football, but who talked about education; the discipline of the Hoosier campus, and how valuable both would be to all of us in later life. It wouldn’t be easy, he said. We’d have to work for what we got. Jobs as dining-hall waiters would be ours, as long as we maintained a high level of scholastic achievement, steered clear of trouble, and did good work in the dining halls.

“It would be worth it, Rock explained, for nothing is gained in this life without sacrifice and work.”

The three needed little prodding, as they had lived with Coach Cofall’s glowing descriptions of campus and life as a Notre Dame student and football player. They became the first Philadelphia high school stars to head to Notre Dame to play football. And by 1924, they were members of the varsity that included the Four Horsemen and the Seven Mules.

On Jan. 1, 1925, the undefeated Fighting Irish played in the Rose Bowl against Stanford, coached by the legendary Pop Warner and featuring Ernie Nevers. Early in the game, Irish tackle Joe Bach was injured, and Rockne sent in Boland, who played the remaining 57 minutes. Boland and the rest of the Irish line took a terrible pounding from Nevers, but prevailed, 27-10, to wrap up a perfect season and ND’s first consensus national championship.

Boland went on to a career in coaching and broadcasting. From 1942 until his death in 1960, he had daily sports shows on South Bend’s WSBT radio (and later TV) and did play-by-play of Notre Dame and high school sports. He was instrumental in forming the Notre Dame radio network, which reached nearly 200 stations nationwide.

Vince McNally had a notable career as a sports executive, rising to the position of general manager of the Eagles, from 1949-64. In 1958, he hired veteran college coach Buck Shaw, another former Notre Dame player under Rockne, to be the Eagles head coach. McNally is credited with building the Eagles team which won the NFL championship in 1960, handing Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers what would be their only post-season loss. Shaw retired after that game, and the Eagles have not won a championship since then.

But this Saturday, there should be a championship-like buzz when the hometown favorite Owls and iconic vising Fighting Irish get together before a sold-out crowd. Rockne would love it.

A Year Unlike Any Other

By Jim Lefebvre

The Notre Dame-Clemson game is the talk across much of the college football world this week. Today on College Sports Nation (XM Sirius), hosts Mark Packer and Brady Hoke were analyzing Clemson’s unusual 16-day layoff prior to hosting the Irish Saturday. Packer delivered this item: it’s the longest in-season layoff for Clemson since 1918.

Notre Dame first year head coach Knute Rockne with his 1918 team.

Notre Dame first year head coach Knute Rockne with his 1918 team, which included Curley Lambeau and George Gipp.

Hmmm. 1918. What major events dominated the fall of 1918? Well, first there was the Great War raging across Europe. And then the worldwide Spanish Influenza epidemic, which killed millions of people, had hit the U.S.

It wasn’t just Clemson (which played no games between an Oct. 5 battle with Georgia Tech and a Nov. 2 visit to South Carolina). Travel bans were put into effect across the nation, severely limiting college football. Overnight travel, especially, was off limits. So games were postponed, re-scheduled, cancelled. Colleges scrambled to find fill-in opponents, especially military units. Most schools saw their October schedule completely wiped out.

At Notre Dame, the football team traveled to Case Tech in Cleveland for a Sept. 28 game – then didn’t get another chance to play until a Nov. 2 visit to in-state rival Wabash College. Four more games did get played in November, and the Irish finished 3-1-2 under first-year head coach Knute Rockne, with a backfield that included George Gipp and Curly Lambeau. One of the ties came against the Great Lakes Naval team led by George Halas.

Here is how we described this most unusual football season in the pages of Coach For A Nation: The Life and Times of Knute Rockne, in a chapter entitled A Year Unlike Any Other:

A Year Unlike Any Other

For more information on the book, click here.

Notre Dame-Texas Goes Back More Than A Century

It’s been nearly two decades since Notre Dame met the Texas Longhorns on the gridiron, but their rivalry goes back much further than that. Back to the days of Knute Rockne…the playing days of Knute Rockne.

Knute Rockne in his Notre Dame playing days.

Knute Rockne in his Notre Dame playing days.

Their first meeting, in 1913, marked the final game in which Rockne would pull on a Notre Dame jersey. Earlier that season, Rockne and 17 teammates made an historic trip to West Point, N.Y., where they shocked the Cadets of the U.S. Military Academy, 35-13, in a game that changed the way football would be played going forward. For Notre Dame, still a small men’s school from the Midwest, to be taking on another major trip was remarkable.

Said a South Bend newspaper at the time: “That (coach and athletic director Jess) Harper is going to put Notre Dame athletics on a higher plane seems certain, and though nothing definite has been arranged, it is probable that the gold and blue will be marched against opponents of the first class in the near future.”

Here is how the season-ending trip to Texas happened:

“It was a two-game Thanksgiving week trip to close out the season and Rockne’s career. The squad left South Bend early on the morning of Friday, Nov. 21, to arrive in St. Louis on Saturday for a meeting with the Christian Brothers College, coached by Luke Kelly, star and captain of the 1911 blue and gold. With a heavy rain beating down on the players continuously, Notre Dame found itself scoreless deep into the second quarter. But Dorais came through with a 40-yard punt return for one score, Eichenlaub smashed through for another, and Dorais completed a long run for a third. Notre Dame won, 20-7. The team boarded the train with Austin, Texas its next destination. There, the Notre Dame squad had a friendly base of operations. St. Edward’s College, a school also run by the Congregation of the Holy Cross, opened its campus and practice field to its northern brothers. For three days, Harper’s men could recuperate from the battle of St. Louis and prepare to face a team, the Texas Longhorns, that claimed superiority in the southwest, having defeated Oklahoma and the Kansas Aggies in their previous two games. Overall, Coach Dave Allerdice’s team was 7-0 on the season, and supremely confident.

“The novelty of a strong northern eleven descending on Austin, and the unblemished records of the two teams, created tremendous interest in the game, and a large throng crowded Clarke Field on a warm, though sometimes rainy Thanksgiving Day. Notre Dame traveled with its own water, but at times the heat seemed like it would overwhelm them. On an early possession, Dorais faked a pass and ran 15 yards for a score. His kicking was a a factor, as he booted three field goals and two kicks after touchdown, for a total of 17 points. Notre Dame was never seriously challenged, throttling the Longhorns, 29-7. Rockne would tell this tale of his final game as Notre Dame’s captain:

A giant hunchback tackle had been treating me rough when he was sent in a s sub toward the end of the first half. He left me with a limp so that in the rest between halves, I dreaded returning, getting myself set mentally, for thirty minutes of hell. I’ve played against many strong linemen; but never against one as strong. This man was a murderer. In that – to us – terrific heat, he smashed into me like a ton of animated ice. I was glad when the half ended.

In the second half, a cool northerner blew in, and with the temperature comfortably reduced, everything was rosy. We scored two touchdowns and the game seemed in the bag. But the Texas coach returned the hunchback to the line, and the hunchback returned to me. He knocked my poor, sweating, ill-treated carcass sideways, backways and always. Suddenly I had an idea. Elward, my substitute at end, was just ten minutes short of the sixty minutes big-game play necessary to win a football monogram, emblem of team membership.

I called to the coach: ‘Send Elward in; he needs ten minutes for his monogram.’

‘Darned nice of you,’ said the coach as I hurried out of the game.

‘If that hunchback does to Elward what he’s done to me, he won’t think I’m so nice!’

It was a self-deprecating way for Rockne to describe the close of his playing career. But his teammates, and all observers, made no mistake about his contributions to the team, as a leader, as a fearless defender, and as a ground-breaking, long-distance pass receiver.

From that point forward, Rockne’s contribution to football would be not as a player, but guiding men with a relentless work ethic, creative genius, and indomitable spirit.

Excerpted from Coach For A Nation: The Life and Times of Knute Rockne (2013, Great Day Press), by Jim Lefebvre. All rights reserved.

Of Hesburgh, Sorin, Rockne, Place, and Purpose

A raw, biting wind swept across the Notre Dame campus last Wednesday afternoon, as folks gathered outside the Basilica of the Sacred Heart. Large speakers played the sounds of the proceedings inside, the funeral for President Emeritus Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, C.S.C.

“And I will raise you up…on the last day,” the refrain echoed across campus.

Father Theodore Hesburgh

Father Theodore Hesburgh

In a matter of minutes, an amazing sight unfolded. Hundreds, if not thousands, of Notre Dame students began pouring out of their residence halls, to line the procession route along St. Mary’s Drive, from the Basilica to the Holy Cross cemetery, where Father Ted would be laid to rest among his fellow religious, marked by the same simple cross.

The long lines soon formed and filled both sides of the entire route, with students mostly awaiting the procession in silence. As the minutes went by, some jumped in place to ward off the cold. Finally, all stood respectfully as the cortege passed.

The vast majority of those invited guests attending the funeral braved the cold to walk to the cemetery. One could spot many familiar faces. There goes Father Jenkins. Coach Holtz. Coach Faust. Muffet McGraw. Alumni head Dolly Duffy. Senator Joe Donnelly.

And after they had all passed by, the students simply turned and began the march back to their dorms. Like paying their respects in the visitation lines the previous day and night, or saying a prayer at the Grotto, they had participated in another part of this historic memorial.

It was then the irony struck: the final journey for Father Ted was one of a just a few hundred yards. When so much of his life had been traveling far and wide, promoting human rights and social justice across America and the world.

Many remembrances of Father Ted included the joke that was common in his later years as ND president: “What’s the different between God and Father Hesburgh? God is everywhere, and Hesburgh is everywhere but Notre Dame.”

Father Edward Sorin

Father Edward Sorin

In that way, Father Ted resembled two other seminal Notre Dame figures: founder Rev. Edward Sorin, and Knute Rockne. If there were ever three men on the go, it was Sorin, Rockne, and Hesburgh.

Sorin would make the arduous journey back to Montreal (and occasionally even to Paris) to continually advocate for Notre Dame, and raise funds for her expansion. Rockne became legendary by leading the Fighting Irish – first as captain of the 1913 squad, then as coach – to play in far-flung locations, his teams getting the nickname “Rockne’s Ramblers.”

But beyond football season, Rockne was always on the move, speaking to a variety of audiences, primarily on the benefits of healthy athletic competition, and teaching his “Notre Dame system” to eager coaches at gatherings from coast to coast. He created a common language of sportsmanship and benefit from athletics that is almost taken for granted today.

Coach Knute Rockne

Coach Knute Rockne

The thread is unmistakable. All three men, in different eras and in different ways, helped make Notre Dame what it is today. And that meant travel, a lot of it.

While the campus of Notre Dame is indeed a special, blessed place, its spirit and mission cannot be confined to 1,200 acres in northern Indiana. The connection is to the larger world; the mission to serve and lead wherever there is a need. Close you eyes and think of your favorite installment of the “What would you fight for?” series of stories.

I was privileged to meet with Father Ted during the research phase for my two books, Loyal Sons and Coach For A Nation. His simple encouragement was, “Do good work.”

His lesson to all of us would add: “Wherever that takes you.”