As I sit here watching bowl game after bowl game, trying to decide which Notre Dame game to throwback to this week, I decided to pick the 1957 Notre Dame vs. Oklahoma game. In this monumental game in Notre Dame football history, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish defeated the Oklahoma Sooners, ending their 47 game win streak.
The Oklahoma Sooners were coached by head coach Bud Wilkinson, and were very clearly the best team in college football at the time. Oklahoma went into the game having won 47 games in a row, and not many people gave Notre Dame much of a chance to be the team to end that streak, but Notre Dame would prove the naysayers wrong that day.
It was Notre Dame’s seventh game of the season, and the Fighting Irish came into the game 4-2, having won their first four games, and then losing the next two to Navy and Michigan State. Notre Dame head coach Terry Brennan had a rock solid Irish defense on the field that day, keeping the Sooners scoreless in the first half, which seemed to drain a great deal of energy out of the Oklahoma offense. The game was scoreless for both teams until the fourth quarter, at which point Notre Dame’s Dick Lynch scored the sole touchdown of the game.
A few years back I had the privilege of speaking with Pat Dolan, who played on Notre Dame’s 1957 football team, and he shared with me what it was like to win such a monumental game.
“Oklahoma was ranked No. 1 in the nation. Notre Dame had been 2-8 the season before in 1956 and headed into the Oklahoma game, the Fighting Irish were 4-2, but were still not on anyone’s short list as being world beaters by any stretch of the imagination. So here was this nobody team from South Bend coming into Norman and we turned their world completely upside down.”
When push came to shove, even though they weren’t the best team out there by any stretch, the Notre Dame Value Stream carried them through the test that was Oklahoma and brought them out victorious.
“When you play for Notre Dame, you think you are capable of anything. That is what our coaches taught us. Go out there, do your best, and good things will happen. And that’s exactly how we ended up doing it.”
Everything about that day was unforgettable.
“It was an incredible situation. Oklahoma was No. 1 and undefeated and no one truly expected us to come in there and pull off the upset. It was absolutely unbelievable. We were supposed to stay overnight in Norman after the game but because of the extraordinary situation they decided to fly us home for the various celebrations that were waiting for us (and to get out of Dodge before the place erupted).”
I can only imagine the Notre Dame days of the 1950s when the team arrived back from those great wins. Just like in Knute Rockne All American, the crowds lined up waiting for Rock and the team to arrive, Pat and the Irish flew back to South Bend with the crowds awaiting their arrival. In the Knute Rockne days the crowds lined the South Shore Line station in anticipation of the team’s arrival. In 1957 the fans lined up at the South Bend airport to welcome the team back from Norman.
“As we were flying back to South Bend, the pilots kept announcing to us what the plan was and what was waiting for us when we got home. The towns below us kept turning their lights on and off in celebration of our big win and they even sang the Fight Song for us on the plane.”
“The airport was loaded with people when we arrived in South Bend, and there was a parade-like atmosphere driving down the streets on our way to campus. When we arrived on campus, the students were waiting to welcome us at the circle. It was unforgettable.”
At the end of my delightful conversation with Pat he asked me if I had ever heard of the Irish Blessing. Well, as an Irish girl, I’m sure I had but I asked to hear it from him all the same. And so I received an Irish blessing from one of Notre Dame’s greats. There truly is nothing like the Notre Dame family. God bless!
May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind always be at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
And rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.
Cheers & GO IRISH! (And Happy New Year to you and yours!)
P.S. As we head into the new year ... what games do you want me to throwback to? I’d love to hear what Notre Dame football games are your favorites!
(This interview with Pat Dolan is an excerpt from my first book “Echoes from the End Zone: The Men We Became.”)