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Who will be victorious?

Lee Marsh | Friday, November 19, 2010

The Notre Dame-Army game has an unparalleled history.

In 1913, unknown Notre Dame made news when it defeated powerhouse Army 35-13 with the forward pass, a little used gimmick perfected by quarterback Gus Dorais and his wide receiver Knute Rockne. Working as lifeguards at Cedar Point the previous summer, the two developed their new offense on the sands of Ohio’s northern shores. A key play was a long touchdown pass to Rockne, who had been faking a leg injury until the Army defense neglected to cover him altogether.

In 1924, against a blue-gray October sky, celebrity sportswriter Grantland Rice penned his famous lines about Notre Dame’s defeat of Army behind an illustrious backfield — Stuhldreher, Miller, Crowley and Layden. These Four Horsemen led the team to the school’s first national championship. The $52,000 prize from the 1925 Rose Bowl, Notre Dame’s first bowl appearance, paid for the construction of Dillon Hall. The Irish’s trip to the West Coast led to the beginning of a rivalry with USC.

In 1928, Notre Dame and Army were tied 0-0 at halftime. The team was having a down year and coach Knute Rockne sensed a need for motivation. He told his players the story of the greatest player he ever coached, who’s life was cut short by a tragic case of pneumonia. The Irish returned to the field determined to win one for the Gipper, and held off a last minute drive from the Cadets to preserve a 12-6 victory.

In 1944 and 1945, Notre Dame lost to Army by a combined score of 107-0. Most of the stars of the 1943 Irish national championship team had enlisted in the military and were fighting overseas. Even Hall of Fame coach Frank Leahy joined the war effort, temporarily leaving his position to serve in the Navy. The younger players left behind struggled against the Cadets, but with the Allied victory in late 1945, a loaded 1946 roster returned bent on payback.

In 1946, No. 2 Notre Dame met No. 1 Army in Yankee Stadium in a “game of the century.” The matchup featured eight players who would be named All-Americans that season, as well as eventual Heisman Trophy winners Doc “Mr. Inside” Blanchard (Army), Glenn “Mr. Outside” Davis (Army) and Notre Dame’s Johnny Lujack. Lujack, the legendary T-formation quarterback, actually made the most famous play of his career on defense, toe-tackling Blanchard near the end zone to preserve a 0-0 tie. Coach Leahy wanted a touchdown so bad that he passed up a sure game-winning field goal chance — a decision that haunted him the rest of his career. Nonetheless, Notre Dame was voted No. 1 in the polls at the conclusion of the season, the school’s fifth national title. No meeting between Notre Dame and Army had ever meant so much — and none has compared since. With all their history on the line, the teams played to a scoreless tie.

It’s 2010, and this Saturday the Fighting Irish and the Cadets meet again in Yankee Stadium. Is it the powerhouse matchup of ‘46? No, it’s not. Will the game played on the field reach the heights of the postwar classic? It probably won’t. But this is two of history’s biggest names on the biggest stage. This is Notre Dame vs. Army. This is college football.

Lee Marsh

alumnus

Class of 2010

Nov. 17