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Nov 18, 2010

Army v. Notre Dame: More than a Game

Clashmore Mike refuses to back down to Army's mule in Yankee Stadium
(Notre Dame Archives, 1947)

This Saturday when the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame meet the Black Knights of the United States Military Academy in New York City, they will be continuing a tradition that is not only central to the identity of both schools, but to the overall history of our nation.  The awe-inspiring history behind this rivalry is far too vast to fit into a single article, but a quick overview should shed some light on its relevance for the casual fan:

Army v. Notre Dame in New York:

1913 – In the first-ever meeting between the small, unknown school from South Bend and the fearsome football giant from West Point, the Catholics made a name for themselves by practically reinventing the game.  Quarterback Gus Dorais led an offense that was the first of its kind, relying on what was until that point known as a trick play (the forward pass).   His favorite target?  You may have heard of the undersized end named Knute Rockne who hauled in a 25 yard touchdown pass for the first score in a 35 – 13 win for Our Lady’s team.  As they say, the rest is history…

The 1913 upset of a thousand lifetimes initiated an annual rivalry that was played in West Point every year until 1923 when the overflow of fans forced the popular matchup to Brooklyn, where the yet to be named Four Horsemen led Notre Dame to a 13 – 0 victory on Ebbets Field.

1924 – The pivotal game in Notre Dame’s first national championship season was relocated once again as the crowds continued to grow, this time to the Polo Grounds in New York City.  The spectacle of a Notre Dame backfield, the likes of which had never been seen, as they galloped to a 13 – 7 victory in front of a record 60,000 fans inspired Grantland Rice of the New York Herald-Tribune to write the most famous piece of sports journalism in history.  It’s opening stanza:

“Outlined against a blue-gray October sky,
The Four Horsemen rode again.
In dramatic lore they are known as
Famine, pestilence, destruction and death.
These are only aliases.
Their real names are Stuhldreher,
Miller, Crowley, and Layden.”

1925 – In the aftermath of the 1924 game, the national championship, and Rice’s poetic praise, the series was finally moved to a worthy venue inside Yankee Stadium.  The black Knights carried the day 27 – 0 in the first of many games to be played there.

1928 – Locked in a scoreless tie at half-time, now head-coach Knute Rockne delivered what has since transcended sports and popular culture as the Golden standard of all locker room speeches when he told his boys to go out there and “Win one for the Gipper.”  The Fighting Irish did just that, stalling Army at the half-yard line as time ran out on a 12-6 victory.  Not only did Rockne’s speech propel Our Lady’s loyal sons onward to victory, but it also launched a budding actor named Ronald Reagan into stardom some years later.

1944 – Top ranked Army, dominant during the WWII era, embarrassed #5 Notre Dame by running up the score 59 – 0.

1945 – Army delivered the second straight slaughter of the Fighting Irish by the score of 48 – 0.  The Fighting Irish would not forget the two-year 107 – 0 domination by the Black Knights.  At the end of WWII, when Leahy and his lads returned from active duty to rejoin their team, the old ball coach reminded them that Army may have beaten up on the boys over the past two years, but the men had finally returned.

1946 – “The Game of the Century” – The matchup between #1 Army and #2 Notre Dame, both 6 – 0 at the time, still stands as quite possibly the most hyped college football game in history.  Over $5,000,000 was placed in bets on the game (a lot for what ended up as a push – especially considering it was 1946).  Mind-blowingly, the game featured four Heisman winners (Blanchard ’45 and Davis ’46 for Army; Lujack ’47 and Hart ’49 for ND) on the field at the same time.  As the fates would have it, the actual game failed to live up to expectations and ended in a 0 – 0 tie.  The score was much more meaningful than it now seems though, as it signaled the Post-War arrival of the Fighting Irish.  After going toe to toe for four quarters with the mighty Black Knights while literally the entire sports world tuned in, Leahy’s lads knew they could play with anyone.  In fact, they wouldn’t lose another game for four years, picking up three National Championships and two Heisman Trophies along the way.

1969 – After a 23 year drought, Yankee Stadium witnessed its favorite historic matchup once again, this time between # 15 Notre Dame and unranked Army.  The 0 – 0 score at half-time triggered talks of the ghosts still lingering from the Game of the Century, but the Fighting Irish opened the floodgates in the second half en route to a 45 – 0 victory.

2010 – Saturday’s return to Yankee Stadium marks the continuance of a tradition that transcends sports.  Both teams will honor a shared history that changed the college football landscape forever.  For Notre Dame fans, returning to New York presents a unique opportunity to honor the birth not only of the forward pass (thanks Rock), but also of the never-say-die spirit that formed the identity of the university we all know and love.  Finally, as you board the train on your way to the Bronx this weekend, give special thanks to the past generations of immigrant New Yorkers who gave rise to our fiercely loyal fanbase by adopting Notre Dame as working-class America’s favorite university.

Nov 17, 2010

Irish Creed Exclusive: Fighting Irish in the Ring

Four years before he led the Fighting Irish to their first national championship on the gridiron, head football coach Knute Rocke started a tradition that has since taken on a life of its own and become a central part of the Notre Dame experience.

Two Notre Dame men fight during a recent Bengal Bouts tournament

Beginning in 1920, boxing quickly became a favorite pastime for the collection of “tough gentlemen” that exemplified the ideal student at Our Lady’s university.  In 1931, boxing coach Dominic “Nappy” Napolitano brought the burgeoning popularity of the sport in line with the mission of service that Notre Dame had inherited from the Congregation of Holy Cross.  Since then, the annual amateur boxing championship known as the “Bengal Bouts” has trained countless Notre Dame men to become fighters in the name of charity in order to fund Holy Cross Missions that provide education and serve the poor in Bangladesh.  The official motto of the Bouts, a quote from Nappy himself, boldly states: “Strong bodies fight, that weak bodies may be nourished.”  In today’s world of sports, where little if anything at all remains sacred, Notre Dame Boxing represents competition in its purest form.  Each year, a new band of fighters contribute their blood, sweat, (not tears), tenacity, and toughness, not in the name of glamour, but out of the deep respect they have for everything at Notre Dame worth fighting for.

Throughout their history, the Bouts have not gone without recognition.  Described as “what boxing can be like at its honest best” by SI columnist Bud Schulberg in 1955, the tournament has seen its fair share of talented fighters along with the occasional guest appearance from the likes of Mohammad Ali and Rocky Marciano.  A long line of distinguished champions has come out of Notre Dame, and many have gone on to great accomplishments at the next level. 

Recent Notre Dame alum Mike Lee, a Bengal Bouts captain in 2008 and 2009 and three-time champion, has already amassed an impressive resume as a professional fighter during the short time since graduating in 2009.  He was crowned as the Chicago Golden Gloves Champion that same year, and has since earned a 3-0 record with two KOs as a 175lb Light Heavyweight.  He is currently trained by Ronnie Shields, who once worked with the likes of Evander Holyfield, Mike Tyson, Pernell Whitaker, Arturo Gatti, and Juan Diaz. 

On November 13, Mike defeated Keith Debow by KO as an undercard to the Super Welterweight World Championship in Cowboys Stadium on a night which featured an impressive victory by the biggest name in boxing right now, Manny Pacquiao.  I recently had a chance to ask Mike about his impressions of the fight and his days at Notre Dame:

TheNDleprechaun:  What fighting experience did you have before boxing at Notre Dame, and how did the Bengal Bouts influence you as a fighter?

ML:  I was brought to a boxing gym in Chicago when I was 16 but most of my boxing career began once I got to Notre Dame.

TheNDleprechaun:  What did it mean to play such a prominent role within a tradition that began during the days of Knute Rockne? 

ML: Being a part of the Bengal Bouts was incredible and becoming a three-time champion was an honor because the program has had so many great fighters and a strong tradition that I'm just glad to be a part of.

TheNDleprechaun: What one moment stands out as the highlight of your boxing career at Notre Dame, and in your career in general?

ML: The highlight of my Bengal Bouts career was winning the 175lb championship my junior year. I fought another Bengal Bouts captain who was the best fighter I had faced so far, so winning was a big deal for me.  Coming out in front of over 75,000 people in Cowboys Stadium was a dream come true and honestly pretty difficult to describe.  I remember feeling really loose, relaxed and strong.  I came out to "Good Life" by Kanye West and just fed off the energy of the crowd.  Fighting in front of large crowds in the JACC at ND definitely prepared me for moments like that.

TheNDleprechaun:  On the same day that your Fighting Irish upset Utah in Notre Dame Stadium, you were rocking the Blue and Gold along with a Notre Dame flag during the biggest fight of your life. What influenced you to rep your alma mater like that on Saturday?

ML:   I have always worn the blue and gold gear from head to toe for all my professional fights. Notre Dame was such a huge part of my life and the amount of ND fans and alumni who have supported my career so far has been amazing, so it's just my way of showing my appreciation. Plus the gear looks great, so that doesn't hurt.

TheNDleprechaun:  Glad to see that you’re staying Gold and Blue through and through.  Finally, what are your plans for the future?

ML:  I plan on having a huge year next year, continuing to learn and get better every fight and finish out the year 10-0 and highly ranked in the Light-Heavyweight Division. The boxing world/writers have been very complimentary of my style and performance so far so I plan on keeping that up.

Many thanks to Mike for taking the time to catch up with Notre Dame nation.  Congrats on your latest KO and best of luck as you continue to represent the Fighting Irish in the ring.  Follow Mike’s career at www.mikeleeboxing.com

Nov 15, 2010

Bringing Down the Horse

#7 Notre Dame defeats #22 USC
in second round of NCAA Championship

Mounting the Trojan Horse
This Saturday, while most of the Fighting Irish faithful were packing marshmallows, shot-gunning beers, and praying to the powers that be for a Senior Day victory; the ladies of Notre Dame futbol were taking it to our traditional football rivals inside the walls of Alumni Stadium. After playing “our most complete 90-minute performance of the season,” (according to coach Waldrum), the Irish left the field with a sound 4-0 victory emblazoned on the scoreboard.

ND began their domination early; with a goal by senior Rose Augustin recorded at 7:12. Just 74 seconds later, senior Lauren Fowlkes struck a low shot from the top of the six, finding the inside of the right post. In the fifty-eighth minute, Fowlkes tallied an assist with a cross to junior Melissa Henderson, who connected with the net on a low shot to the left. Henderson contributed her own assist off another cross from Fowlkes, with a quick flick to freshman Adriana Leon who connected from inside the six. On the defensive end, senior keeper Nikki Weiss managed to shut down the Trojan offense with three saves over 83 minutes, until sophomore Maddie Fox relieved her – the Irish defense remained strong, however, and keeping USC scoreless until the final whistle without Fox registering a save.

This win finds the Irish in the Sweet 16 Round of the NCAA Championships for the seventh season in a row and the fifteenth time overall in the program. The fourth-seeded Notre Dame squad is slotted to face the top-seeded North Carolina Tar Heels in Chapel Hill at 5:00 on the twentieth. The Tar Heels have claimed the NCAA title for the last two consecutive years and hold an all time 12-4-2 record over the Irish. Despite this seeming disadvantage, ND is 3-1 against UNC in Chapel Hill and managed a 1-0 win on their last trip in 2008. After elimination at the feet of the Tar Heels in the Quarterfinals last year, however, the Irish are ready to wreak their revenge. This motivation, combined with their experience and exponential talent, gives Notre Dame a competitive edge over North Carolina – an edge that will hopefully land the Irish in the Quarterfinals, and pave the way to another NCAA Title.

Senior Day Celebration

Notre Dame: 28  Utah: 3
Ask any current Notre Dame senior, and odds are they will tell you how differently they feel about the looming prospect of graduation after Saturday's 28-3 victory over #14 Utah.  When it comes to Notre Dame Football, fair-weather fans have found it hard to sing her glory and sound her fame as of late.  None have been tested more deeply than the loyal sons and daughters of the Class of 2011, who have remarkably remained strong of heart and true to her name despite becoming the losingest class in school history.  Saturday's matchup with Utah was literally their last chance to be part of a meaningful win at home, and our team could not have picked a better time to play inspired football.

On a day when, as Coach Kelly put it, the Fighting Irish "just flat out played," the senior class enjoyed Notre Dame Stadium at its finest.  The team was flying around the field, the crowd was buzzing, and the combination of a marshmallow fight followed by a party on the field capped off a perfect day for the Fighting Irish Faithful.

Marshmallows fly in the senior section at halftime
Coach Kelly was proud of the way his seniors led the team, describing the game as "the culmination of what we've been working on since December," but also just a small step in our overall progress.  Brian Smith spoke for the seniors after the game when he said his goal was to "keep on digging" to ensure that our future teams will have a strong foundation to start from.  Congratulations to the senior football players and every member of the Class of 2011 who can now graduate knowing they were part of what will be a glorious return to the top.

Students pour onto the field after the win
Waking up the echoes inside the tunnel
Banner #12 coming soon...

Nov 10, 2010

Senior Day Reflections

As Senior Day approaches for the Fighting Irish, all of us at Irish Creed are finding it hard to focus on game predictions, football analysis, or other usual matters that now seem so trivial when considering the big picture.  The recent tragedy on our campus has left many of us stunned, forcing us to take a step back and refocus.  As tough it is to put our feelings into words in wake of the shockingly traumatic events that cut our brother’s life short, it is almost equally difficult to describe the uplifting and inspiring ways in which so many of our family members have responded.

The Basillica overflows with thousands of Loyal Sons and Daughters

At a place where such a tremendous outpouring of compassion and solidarity is almost expected, the spirit shared by so many of our students truly hit home at such places as the Grotto, the Basillica of the Sacred Heart, and across campus on the night of the memorial Mass held in Declan’s honor.  Amy Holsinger, a junior at Notre Dame, described that night much more eloquently than we ever could in a post on her blog titled “Declan.”

All of the prayers, emotions, love, and support produced in response to such an awful tragedy stand as proof that the spirit of Our Lady’s University is alive and well, and it lives on through her students.  So many of us have witnessed that spirit in countless ways, from a silent trip to the Grotto, to a song-filled mass shared with dorm-mates, to a slow morning walk around the mist-covered lakes, to the most visible forms across our crowded campus and inside sacred Notre Dame Stadium on a game day.  Here’s to hoping we can all continue to share that spirit with each other and all those who are blessed with the opportunity to be comes witnesses themselves.  As you walk on our campus this weekend, and as you step inside the hallowed halls of Notre Dame Stadium on Senior Day, pause for a moment and recognize the spirit as it fills the air around you.  For all of our seniors, live in the moments shared with friends during your last game day as a student.  It will stay with you for the rest of your lives.

For Declan, for the Class of 2011, and for our entire Notre Dame family, we pray in the name of Our Lady that we may continue to live in God’s grace through the powerful spirit we all share. 

Notre Dame Our Mother,
Tender, strong, and true,
Proudly in the heavens,
Gleams thy Gold and Blue,
Glory's mantle cloaks Thee,
Golden is Thy fame,
And our hearts forever,
Praise Thee Notre Dame,
And our hearts forever,
Love Thee Notre Dame.

2012 Notre Dame Football Schedule

2012 Notre Dame Football Schedule
DateOpponent / EventLocationTime / Result
09/01/12vs. Navy Dublin, IrelandW, 50-10
09/08/12vs. PurdontNotre Dame, Ind.W, 20-17
09/15/12at SpartyEast Lansing, Mich.W, 20-3
09/22/12vs. SkunkbearsNotre Dame, Ind.W, 13-6
Shamrock Series
10/06/12vs. Da UChicago, Ill.W, 41-3
10/13/12vs. TreesNotre Dame, Ind.W, 20-13 (OT)
10/20/12vs. BYU Notre Dame, Ind.W, 17-14
10/27/12at Oklahoma Norman, Okla.W, 30-13
11/03/12vs. Pittsburgh Notre Dame, Ind.W, 29-26 (3OT)
11/10/12at Backup College Chestnut Hill, Mass.W, 21-6
11/17/12vs. Fake Worest Notre Dame, Ind.W, 38-0
11/24/12at U$C Los Angeles, Calif.W, 22-13
1/7/13vs. AlabamaBCS CHAMPIONSHIP
(Miami, Florida)
L, :(