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Leaving Out a Legend

Tim Dougherty | Thursday, May 11, 2006

The Shirt 2006 was almost one of the best ever. The 100-plus years of Tradition – The Shirt’s theme – converging with the hope of an unforgettable season to come (my last as an undergrad) on Pat O’Brien’s timeless prophecy in Knute Rockne All-American: “This is the day and you are the team.” Down right inspirational – it literally gave me chills to think of the possibility of seeing my life’s fulfillment mere months away. But like a loss in next year’s record, it had one fatal blemish, and The Shirt fell short – shockingly so.Frank Leahy’s .864 winning percentage is Division I college football’s second highest career mark, behind only Knute Rockne’s .881. His lads’ 39 game unbeaten streak (37-0-2) from 1946-1950 remains Notre Dame’s longest ever and ninth in Division I history. No list of all-time college football’s greatest coaches that omitted his name would be credible, much less a list of great Notre Dame coaches. The same goes for any shirt that uses the likenesses of Fighting Irish coaches to boast its proud Tradition and refuses to acknowledge the special place Leahy holds in shaping the very Tradition of Notre Dame an enduring reality for each person who has ever dreamt of those gold helmets shining in the sun.Unfortunately, The Shirt Committee didn’t get the memo.Knute Rockne, The Four Horseman, Ara Parseghian, Lou Holtz, and Charlie Weis unmistakably deserved to be on The Shirt. Although the committee’s “system” (see http://theshirt.nd.edu/current.html) has some truth to it, under The Shirt 2006’s theme of Tradition, that “system” omitted the absolute most important reason why those four coaches belong on The Shirt. Knute had three of them, Ara two, Lou one, and Weis – well, according to the committee’s interpretation of Rockne’s immortal words at the 1928 Army game, this coming fall should be his first. Leahy, on the other hand, led all Notre Dame coaches with four consensus national championships. While Rockne certainly started the Tradition, Leahy is truly the one who made it perennial, from his dominance in the late 40’s to his All-American grandlad Ryan Leahy (’96), who donned the blue and gold the last time (1993) the Irish could look at themselves in the mirror and say they were without question the best team in the country. Without Leahy, Notre Dame is the University of Chicago on prayer-oids – or Boston College (whom he left to return to Notre Dame) at best. The absence of Leahy’s image on this year’s shirt is an absolutely unforgivable affront to the 87 wins he earned and the 23 consensus All-Americans – including four Heisman winners – he produced in the 11 years of service and Tradition he gave to Our Lady’s University. In the end, The Shirt is closer to Jake La Motta than The Gipper. It coulda been a contender.It shouldn’t take a giant statue outside of Notre Dame Stadium to prove my point, but it is there nonetheless. For the millions of fans who walk around the stadium next year staring into the tens of thousands of The Shirt’s scampering around the stadium on game day, their only visible reminder of Leahy’s place in ND Tradition will be that hefty hunk of bronze outside the East Gate. At least Jerry McKenna knew something about Tradition.