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Throwback Thursday: Notre Dame Fighting Irish vs. Stanford Cardinal

Time to chop some trees!

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 29 Stanford at Notre Dame Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

It’s hard to believe, but here we are at the last game of the 2019 regular season. How on earth did that happen so fast? The Notre Dame Fighting Irish squad head to Northern California to face the Stanford Cardinal on Saturday, November 30, 2019. Before I get to this week’s throwback game, lets take a look at Notre Dame vs. Stanford by-the-numbers. (Stats from Notre Dame and Stanford have met 32 times, with Stanford winning 13 times, and Notre Dame winning 19 times. Stanford’s largest margin of victory occurred in 2010 (37-14), and Notre Dame’s largest margin of victory occurred in 2003 (57-7). Stanford’s longest win streak is three years (2009-2011), and Notre Dame’s longest win streak is seven years (2002-2008). And the current win streak belongs to Notre Dame (one). Today I’d like to throwback to the first time the two teams met, in 1925 at the Rose Bowl.

Did you know that in the 1920s the New Year’s Day Rose Bowl game was the unofficial national title game? As a result of this, the first time match-up between the Irish and the Stanford Cardinal was kind of a big deal. Notre Dame was undefeated with a 9-0 record, and Stanford had no losses but one tie with a 7-0-1 record. This January 1, 1925 meeting was Stanford’s first Rose Bowl appearance, (and Notre Dame’s only Rose Bowl appearance), and this game would be the beginning of Stanford’s most successful decade (that is until the 2010s). As the story goes, the Rose Bowl committee had been trying for years to get Notre Dame to head west and participate in their bowl game, but school officials at Notre Dame had been dragging their feet, worried about the effect that playing in a bowl game could possibly have on the school’s reputation. They were worried that by participating in a bowl game, in a sport that was becoming more and more commercialized, that it would negatively impact the school’s academic reputation. Finally, in 1924, the Irish agreed to play in the January 1, 1925 Rose Bowl game against Stanford.

What changed Notre Dame’s mind? Father John O’Hara, who had spent time in South America as a child and had seen how sports and religion could intermingle with each other, thought he could apply this to Notre Dame as well. He thought by showcasing Notre Dame football in an event like the Rose Bowl, he could use this exposure to promote the University, and everything else they had to offer above and beyond football. He eventually won the rest of the administration over, and set out on a three-week publicity tour from South Bend to Pasadena in the weeks leading up to the game.

Notre Dame had the Four Horsemen in their backfield: Harry Stuhldreher, Don Miller, Jim Crowley, and Elmer Layden. But, Stanford had Ernie Nevers, who was thought to be the best player on the field between the two teams. However, football is a team sport, and Stanford as a team wasn’t able to beat Notre Dame (with the final score being Notre Dame 27 - Stanford 10). As reported in the Santa Ana Register on January 2, 1925, Notre Dame was able to outplay Stanford based on the speed of that legendary backfield mentioned above. (And the key stat of the day was: Yards gained on intercepted passes, Stanford 7; Notre Dame 139 1/2. A few other interesting stats include: Stanford’s yards gained from scrimmage was 316 yards, compared to Notre Dame’s yards gained from scrimmage, which was 186. And Stanford had 17 first downs, compared to Notre Dame’s 7 first downs.)

”It is true we got the breaks, but we could have won anyway,” said Coach Rockne, after the game. “It is one thing to get the breaks and another thing to take advantage of them. Stanford played a wonderful game but we won fairly, playing the ball as it came to us, and we hope to be given credit for that.”

”Pop” Warner, Stanford mentor, has a different opinion. “I congratulate Notre Dame on her victory, but we spotted her 21 points,” Warner said. They earned but six points and the statistics show we completely outplayed them except for those fatal errors. Notre Dame has a great team but I think I have a better one.”

Here are a few highlights from the 1925 Notre Dame vs. Stanford:

So ... how big do you think our margin of victory will be over Stanford on Saturday?