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Now & Then: Football

Marissa Frobes | Wednesday, September 1, 2010

As the student body prepares for the first football weekend of the year, it’s the perfect time to grow nostalgic and discuss seasons of old. To our generation, that includes probably around five seasons, if that.

An era that is so far off the radar still produced some photography and stats worth looking at. Early-20th century Notre Dame football is documented in full detail in books, magazines and yearbooks housed in the Hesburgh Library. This football is prehistoric, pre-Knute Rockne and basically pre- what we know to be American football.

This week, Notre Dame is worrying about Brian Kelly’s premiere as the new head coach. The Irish faithful are anxious to see how Dayne Crist will play as starting quarterback, and if freshman Tommy Rees will end up in the game at all.

Athletics Director Jack Swarbrick might have to orchestrate coaching changes, but in 1907, athletics manager T. Paul McGannon had bigger problems to mull over. Notre Dame was initially only scheduled to play two games, and the team had no shoes or uniforms. He came through in the clutch for those issues — they played eight games total in some ancient gear.

And at least Brian Kelly is a tenured head coach. Robert L. Bracken was the assistant coach for the 1907 team — an authority position he acquired after graduating in 1906. Editors of “The Dome” yearbook of 1908 assert that he was qualified after playing “his full three years of varsity football.” Not to mention he was a member of the “All-Indiana” team while in school — a veritable accomplishment in a world decades before the first Heisman Trophy was awarded. But how would most Americans react today if a graduate instantly began fronting their favorite NCAA football team?

The University of Notre Dame of 1907 regarded their players differently, too. Those on the roster today are glorified stars in the bubble Notre Dame assumes in South Bend.

But the athletes were taken a bit less seriously in 1907. In the yearbook, players have a short dedication where their performance during the season is described vaguely. Capt. “Cally” Callicrate “was so consistently good.” Quarterback William Ryan was a “good punter, a drop and place kicker, and a good all-around man.”

But we also learn that Callicrate loved to play checkers, and another player liked to play “policeman.” They had lives outside of football.

That’s not to say this team wasn’t successful. The Notre Dame football team of 1907 walked away from the season undefeated, scoring 137 points in eight games with only 30 points scored against them. Sure, the competition was not as stiff — their first opponent was a team of “Physicians & Surgeons”— but they also played Purdue. And won, 17-0.

Maybe if the Notre Dame community takes this look back to the past as a way to remember the raw, basic joy people feel watching and playing football, without all the glitz and glamour of the NBC broadcast and the pressure of 80,000 fans in the stands, Notre Dame football can mimic their successful season. Maybe?

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

Contact Marissa Frobes at mfrobes@nd.edu