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Throwback Thursday: Notre Dame Football VS Pittsburgh, 1944

The well diversified Irish attack kept the courageous Pitt eleven on the defense most of the game...

Photo taken by Lisa Kelly, October 2019

For this week’s Throwback Thursday post I’m going to go way back to the 1944 match-up between the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the Pittsburgh Panthers. But before I do that, here are a few stats for you. Notre Dame and Pittsburgh have faced each other 70 times. Notre Dame has won 48 games, Pittsburgh has won 21 games, and the two teams have tied once. Notre Dame’s largest margin of victory was in 1944 (58-0), and Pitt’s largest margin of victory was in 1936 (26-0). Notre Dame’s current win streak is two.

On September 30th, 1944, Notre Dame traveled to Pitt Stadium to face the Pittsburgh Panthers in front of 46,069 fans. Notre Dame’s acting head coach for the 1944 season was Edward C. McKeever. McKeever, a Texas native, spent his freshman year at Notre Dame before transferring to Texas Tech, where he was featured as a halfback on the 1932-33-34 teams. During these three seasons, Texas Tech won 30-of-35 games played. After graduation, he became backfield coach at Tech under Pete Cawthon. In 1939, he went on to join Frank Leahy at Boston College as Leahy’s backfield coach and first assistant. When Leahy left BC for Notre Dame in 1941, McKeever came with him. During Coach Leahy’s illness in 1942, McKeever ran the team for three games. When Leahy took a leave of absence from Notre Dame in May of 1944, in order to accept a commission as lieutenant in the United States Navy, McKeever was named his successor for the duration.

The following is a description of the Notre Dame vs. Pitt game from the December 7, 1944 edition of The Scholastic, written by George Krauser.

Operating in the same “T” formation that carried the Blue and Gold banner to the top of the 1943 pigskin throne, the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame, with Coach Ed McKeever in the driver’s seat, hit on all cylinders as they completely demolished the Pitt Panthers before 60,000 spectators at Pitt Stadium in the Steel City. The Irish opening eleven was supposed to have quite a struggle on its hands in the form of the experienced Panther squad, but it took only one half to deflate the buoyant hopes of the Pittsburgh eleven.

The heavy Red and White forward wall received a thorough going over from the hard-charging Irish linemen and the fast flying Notre Dame backs. The well diversified Irish attack kept the courageous Pitt eleven on the defense most of the game and frequent fumbles brought on by the pile-driving tackles of the green-clad defenders hurt the Pitt cause no end.

Notre Dame quarterbacks, Frank “Boley” Dancewicz and Big Joe Gasparella, threw pigskin lightning at the Panther defense, pitching five passes that were good for six-pointers. Bob Kelly, the sensational right half from last year’s champs, crossed the double stripe four times and added two extra points to count for 26 points in the 35 minutes he played, and established himself as one of the nation’s leading backs. George Sullivan and John “Tree” Adams played two terrific games at the tackles, the “Massachusetts Marvel” proving a bulwark on defense and Big John opening up gaping holes in the left side of the Red and White line for the Irish backs.

Captain Pat Filley, Fred Rovai, and Johnny Mastrangelo plugged up the guard posts in every capable fashion, and Bill O’Connor and Bob Skoglund performed well as flankmen. In the backfield, besides Dancewicz, Kelly, and Gasparella, “Chick” Maggioli and Elmer Angsman, at left half and fullback, respectively, turned in some fancy runs to show future promise.

The 1944 season was only ten minutes old when Bob Kelly took a 14 yard pass from Dancewicz and scampered 22 yards for the initial Irish tally. For the remainder of the period the score stood at 6-0, but in the second quarter Kelly crossed the Panther goal two more times. The first score was a result of a 13 yard Dancewicz to Kelly aerial and the second came when the Chi Flyer carried over from the 5 to climax an 81 yard march. Kelly’s conversion brought the halftime lead to 19-0 and the rest of the contest proved to be a Pitt nightmare.

In the third quarter Kelly broke over right tackle and raced 85 yards to touchdown territory. Then Dancewicz hit O’Connor in the end zone from the Pitt 8 and Gasparella and George Terlep hooked up in a 65 yard touchdown pass. The fourth TD of the period came when Gasparella quarterback-sneaked over from the Panther one. The final two markers were chalked up on Steve Nemeth’s one yard plunge and Gasparella’s 22 yard pass to Mark Limont.—George Krauser

Harry Keck, Sports Editor, Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph: “Lightning struck the Pitt football team and stunned more than 50,000 spectators at the Stadium yesterday as the Notre Dame football team staged a track meet at the expense of the Panthers to roll up a 58-0 margin in a game which was expected to be close.”

Wilfred Smith, Chicago Tribune: “Sure, and it was a great day today for the Kellys. And it was a great day for all the other followers of the Irish in this crowd of 55,000 as the Notre Dame lads, led by Chicago’s Bob Kelly, who scored the first four touchdowns, smothered a hapless Pittsburgh team, 58 to 0, in the opening game of a campaign to defend the national college football championship.”

What say you? Will the Irish running game be full speed ahead this week against Pitt? Or will they struggle as they did last week against Louisville? Is this an easy win for the Irish? Or will it be a fight to the finish? Please, share your thoughts!

Cheers & GO IRISH!