The brotherhood between Notre Dame and Navy is one that deserves recognition and respect from all fans of both schools. As a preview of the 2010 edition of a continuing saga that began in 1927, I hope to shed some light on the historical significance of the bonds we share:
|Frank Leahy after returning from active duty in the Navy|
during WWII, where he proudly served
God, Country, & Notre Dame
The Second World War proved to be pivotal in the evolution of Notre Dame. Those who returned home from the war reentered society as All-American heroes. At Notre Dame, the “Fighting Irish” became national icons due to their commitment to the war effort and their domination on the football field.
The wartime era brought sweeping changes to Notre Dame. The draft depleted enrollment numbers and consequently forced the administration to request transfers of over 1,000 midshipmen from the Naval Academy to attend Notre Dame through the newly created V-7 Naval Training Program. In addition, the naval ROTC unit expanded dramatically and newly constructed naval drill halls appeared across campus. By the start of the 1943-1944 academic year, over 85 percent of the students on campus were Navy trainees.
Not only did the war alter the physical appearance of campus, but it also brought uncertainty to a football program that lost players and coaches to the draft. Most importantly, though, it cemented the already strong commitment to American values at Notre Dame. In turn, the public came to view the university as a prominent symbol of American patriotism.
On a page labeled “For God, Country and Notre Dame” in the 1944-1945 volume of The Scholastic, a tribute was made to the “Notre Dame men who made the supreme sacrifice for our final victory” by listing all 272 individuals associated with the university who had died or gone missing during the triumphant war effort. Through the life-stories of these brave individuals, American society came to associate Fighting Irish Football with those remarkable Notre Dame men who had served their country honorably during the war. For all those men returning to play football at Notre Dame after the war, the name “Fighting Irish” now symbolized an American fighting spirit, especially to all those who had fought for the honor of God, Country, and Notre Dame.
The post-war era saw Notre Dame put together the most dominant dynasty in the history of college football. Coach Frank Leahy was already known as a legendary figure due to his prior successes as a coach and the respect he earned nation-wide when he voluntarily joined the war effort by enlisting in (you guessed it) the Navy. Returning to play for him were several of his dominant players from before the war who came back from active duty with years of eligibility remaining. In addition to his former players, a horde of fresh football recruits joined Leahy’s ranks after becoming attracted to Notre Dame because of the widespread recognition that military men with ties to Notre Dame Football had gained during the war.
In 1943, star quarterback Angelo Bertelli’s season had been cut short by active duty with the U.S. Marines. Though he had only competed in six games, he was awarded the Heisman Trophy while on active duty overseas. Future Notre Dame recruits undoubtedly remembered this remarkable episode while deciding which football offer to accept after returning home from war. Thus, when Leahy ended his tour of duty in 1946 he essentially returned to two full teams of talented players. Under his direction, the Fighting Irish would go on to win 39 straight games, claim four National Championships, and produce another Heisman winner. John Lujack, who had been Bertelli’s replacement during the second half of the 1943 season, returned to Notre Dame in 1946 after service in (you guessed it again) the Navy and was recognized as the most prolific player in all of college football in 1947.
The success stories of Bertelli, Lujack and Leahy represented just a few of the many that came from the home of the “Fighting Irish” during this period. As both football stars and noted veterans, the most visible heroes of the day at Notre Dame were doubly considered to be All-Americans. The Fighting Irish had become America’s team, and Notre Dame was now America’s school.
|Angello Bertelli, the epitome of an All-American,|
receives his Heisman Trophy while on active duty
in the Pacific.
All information and photos researched through the Archives of the University of Notre Dame