This week I decided to let my dad pick his favorite Notre Dame football rivalry game and he picked the Notre Dame Fighting Irish vs. Pittsburgh Panthers 1964 match-up. It was his senior year. Notre Dame was playing against the team from his hometown, in his hometown (on their homecoming), on a blindingly sunny November day, and it was a huge win for the Irish (who went undefeated that season ... until they faced USC). But first, lets talk about the history of the Notre Dame vs. Pitt rivalry. The series began in 1909. Notre Dame leads the series 48-21-1. The longest game in Notre Dame history happened to be a Notre Dame vs. Pitt game, when they met in 2008 and Pitt defeated Notre Dame (by a field goal) in a record four overtime game. The last time the Irish beat the Panthers was in 2018 at Notre Dame Stadium, 19-14. And the Panthers currently play at Heinz Field, home of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Okay, on to the 1964 Notre Dame vs. Pitt game. Here’s an excerpt of the game summary from the 1964 Notre Dame Football Review, written by Bill Cragg.
A Yard is a Yard is a Yard
Heard outside Pitt stadium: “You see more people you know at a Notre Dame game than you do at a wake.” Inside, this statement came near to being prophetic as an Irish wake was perilously close to reality during the second half. Fortunately, Irish skies prevailed, and Notre Dame left the Panthers in their wake, but barely, 17-15.
Early in the fourth quarter, the crisis of the game was passed when Fred Mazurek, in a fourth and one situation, was stopped cold on the Irish sixteen by Jim CarroII and Tom Regner. After this, the game was played at Pitt’s end of the field, and their sputtering last-minute dramatics were finally snuffed out when Tom Kostelnik jumped on Mazurek’s reckless lateral with only seconds remaining.
After Pitt’s opening kickoff bounded over the end line, the Irish came on strong and running. Joe Farrell, Nick Eddy, and Bill Wolski took turns powering the ball to the Pitt 36. From the 34, John Huarte fired a bullet to Phil Sheridan for 11 yards, and a first down on the Panther 23. Back to the running, Farrell hit for five, Wolski drove for three, a face-mask penalty took Notre Dame to the Pitt 8, and Eddy spun himself down to the two. Two plays later, Farrell slammed into the end zone. Joe Azzaro converted, and with 9:07 left on the board. Notre Dame led 7-0.
Following the kickoff Notre Dame forced Pitt to punt and took over on their own 7. After Nick Eddy gained only two yards in two carries, John Huarte rolled back into his own end zone, and floated a pass to Eddy all alone on the Notre Dame 35. He in turn paralleled the boundary chalk, full speed ahead, for a record-breaking 91-yard touchdown pass. Azzaro made good on his kick, Notre Dame led 14-0.
Later in the quarter. Notre Dame was maneuvering in their own territory when Pete Andreotti fumbled the ball into the arms of Generalovich on the ND 31. From here, Mazurek and McKnight provided the running, and seven plays later, McKnight barrelled over the goal line from the one. He also cracked over right tackle for a two-pointer, and with 9:07 on the board, Notre Dame led 14-8.
After the kickoff, Notre Dame mounted an attack which thrived on some long gainers: a fumbling, stumbling catch by Phil Sheridan on the fifty, a 14-yard run by Farrell to the Pitt 32, and another pitch to Sheridan on the Pitt 14. The attack stalled, and with 49 seconds left in the half, Joe Azzaro kicked a 30-yard field goal which gave the Irish 17 points which they would have to make good as it breathtakingly turned out.
The third quarter was all Pittsburgh. Pitt revved their running game into high gear, and again Mazurek and McKnight were at the throttle. Methodically plodding down the field, they managed to eat up the clock and the very heart of Notre Dame’s specialty, rushing defense. This time-consuming assault ran out the third quarter, but on the first play of the fourth, McKnight banged the right side of the Irish line, slid off, and slipped into the end zone. Jim Jones converted, and with almost 15 minutes left to play, Notre Dame had a thin 17-15 lead.
Shortly thereafter came the moment of truth, the highwater mark of Pittsburgh’s desperate cause. Notre Dame held, and for the rest of the quarter, Jack Snow’s punting kept Pitt within their own territory. In retrospect, the Irish probably had as many great moments as in their previous six games. Unfortunately, not enough of these great moments were spent in scoring. But then every great team needs at least one squeaker. It builds character and advances the cause of humility.
Our family loves the Notre Dame vs. Pitt rivalry. My dad’s first Notre Dame game was against Pitt, in Pittsburgh, when he was 7 or 8 years old. He says the thing that most stands out in his mind from that game was the leather helmets that Notre Dame wore, with the black cross on the helmet. And my son’s first Notre Dame game was also against Pitt, in Pittsburgh, in 2003 when he was 7 years old. So that’s become somewhat of a tradition in our family. Does your family have a favorite rivalry game?
Cheers & GO IRISH!
Oh ... and if you have some spare time on your hands, I was on the Big Flo and O show this week ... you can check it out here.