1968 opened with hope for a Notre Dame resurgence. Resurgent indeed were the NVA and the Viet Cong. In late January they launched the Tet offensive in South Vietnam. It was NOT a drill. Back in the USA, there was, well, divided opinion on the Vietnam War. The best basketball team in Indiana was the wunderkind Irish frosh, Carr, Jones, Hinga, Pleick, Meehan, and, lurking over at Holy Cross, Sid Catlett. Frosh were not yet eligible for varsity play. In early March, LBJ beat Gene McCarthy in some priorities, but the beleaguered LBJ dropped out of the race before March ended. A Democratic donnybrook then ensued.
Spring practice opened at Notre Dame, and Heisman candidate Hanratty looked sharp. Observers thought that the backup QB, Joe Theisman, had potential and would surely succeed Hanratty in '69. The running game was shredding Notre Dame's defense. The debate ensued. Was the rushing attack so great or the defense that porous. In fact, BOTH were true.
In April, a Southern preacher from Atlanta traveled to Memphis to give a speech and lead a rally advocating living wages for the garbagemen of Memphis. After his speech, he went back to the Lorraine Hote.. He went out on to the balcony to relax. And then, Martin Luther King was shot and killed. In June, Presidential candidate Bobby Kennedy was overnighting at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. He was shot and killed. In June, the S&P 500 closed above 100 points for the first time. Really. The Democratic convention in Chicago was contentious, noisy, violent and bloody.
The Irish opened by trouncing Oklahoma in a potent offensive display, 45-21. Folks worried about the Irish D. Purdue and the nettlesome Mike Phipps arrived the next week and validated the fretting over the Irish D. The Irish could not cover Bob Dillingham, and the Boilers shredded Notre Dame, 37-21. After a road win at Iowa the irish came home to easily rout Northwestern and Illinois, before traveling to East Lansing. The silver-haired leprechaun, Duffy Daugherty, was ready, and the Spartans prevailed 21-17. The Irish stood at 4-2 and were out of the national championship picture. And we didn't go to bowl games (Yet!)
Nixon won the election. He was not like Ike. But Ara rallied the Irish. The defense stiffened, and the running game was good for over 300 yards a game. For the year, Gladieux totalled 713 and Ron Dushney 540 as the top two irish rushers, and the team still totalled 3000 yards. Even when Hanratty got hurt, Theisman showed mettle and potential as a replacement. The Irish ripped off three in a row before the only November blemish, a quirky 21-21 tie with USC in the Coliseum. The record was 7-2-1 1969 looked promising. And so did Austin Carr.