This week is the fourth week in my series on Notre Dame Fighting Irish national title winning seasons, and this week I’m going to highlight the 1943 season and the October 9th, ND vs. Michigan game in Ann Arbor. The 1943 Irish squad was coached by Frank Leahy, and they finished the season with nine wins and one loss (to Great Lakes), and were crowned national champions. They were the fourth Irish squad to win a national title, and it was the first for Frank Leahy. Lead by quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Angelo Bertelli, Notre Dame beat seven teams ranked in the top 13 and played seven games on the road. Below is the Notre Dame vs. Michigan game summary from the 1943 Notre Dame Football Review, written by Bill Carey.
A quick side note before I continue. Who is “Great Lakes” you ask? I found this: The 1943 Great Lakes Navy Bluejackets football team represented the United States Navy’s Great Lakes Naval Training Station during the 1943 college football season. The team compiled a 10–2 record, outscored opponents by a total of 257 to 108, and was ranked No. 6 in the final AP Poll. Tony Hinkle, who coached at Butler University before the war, was in his second season as head coach.
Notre Dame 35 - Michigan 12
Sport headlines christened it the ‘game of the decade,’ and a record crowd of 90.000 flocked into the Ann Arbor Bowl to eye the fray. In the press box was seated the widest radio and newspaper coverage ever to watch and air an athletic event. On the field the two top ranking teams in the land stood face to face.
The Michigan powerhouse was a combination of service transfers from Wisconsin. Minnesota and six other smaller pigskin centers of the Mid-West, plus the backbone of a very strong Wolverine eleven. The starting backfield of Daley (Minn.), White (Mich.), Hirsch (Wise.) and Weise (Mich.) had been duly dubbed the ‘dream quartet’ and threatened to break out in a rash of touchdowns as they had done as individual stars in 1942.
A determined Irish eleven answered the opening whistle in the battle that promised to be for the National Championship. It was the game of the year. Clear in the memory of every Notre Damer was the Michigan jinx that had seen the Wolverine walk away the victor in ten out of eleven previous encounters. The green and gold were a slight newspaper favorite, but even staunch Irish supporters feared the worst.
Creighton Miller snapped the contest wide open in the sixth minute when he churned through left guard, broke off to the right, and legged it 66 yards for a score. Michigan’s human tractor. Bill Daley, bashed his way to a score in the minutes that followed, but Pregulman failed to equalize Bertelli’s point after, and the Irish were never again threatened. Four plays after the kickoff. ‘Angelo the Arm’ faded from his own 30, and threaded the needle-point of Freddie Farley’s arms at midfield. The stubby scatterback galloped the full 50 yards unmolested. Minutes later, Miller sliced into the open on the ND 43 and cleated a zigzag path for the prettiest tally of the year—only to have the play nullified for offensive holding. An unsuccessful drive to the 9, a Michigan punt, a Bertelli to Zilly pass and a four yard plunge by Jim Mello racked up a hard earned six-pointer. The Irish rolled up 172 yards for this single score.
Early in the second half, a 40 yard punt return by Rykovich to the double Blue’s 30 ignited the fuse that exploded when Bertelli plunged over himself. Accurate Angelo speared big number 35 for the final marker, after runs by Miller, Mello and Rykovich had gobbled up 65 yards. Michigan scored on the last play of the game and attempted the try for placement after the final gun.
Miller floated over 159 yards of green in but ten attempts for his- best showing of the year, while the Springfield Rifle completed five of eight passes for two TD’s and 172 yards, scored one himself, set u p another, and pendulumed five attempts through the sticks. The defensive highlight of the afternoon sav/ the Irish reserves blast back the mighty Daley twice in bucks one yard from the promised land.
1943 was also the year that Angelo Bertelli won the Heisman Trophy, Notre Dame’s first Heisman Trophy winner.
Bertelli Wins Heisman Trophy
America’s greatest football award, the Heisman Trophy awarded annually to the outstanding college player of the year, was won by Angelo Bartolo Bertelli of Notre Dame. Bert, who played in but six games this campaign polled 648 votes to walk away from his nearest competitor, Bob Odell of Pennsylvania with 177.
Thus Bertelli has completed the most outstanding record ever compiled in winning the award. As a sophomore in 1941, he was second to Michigan’s Tom Harmon and last fall finished fourth when Georgian Frankie Sinkwich was feted by the Downtown Athletic Club of New York.
The Springfield Rifle, as the nation’s sports writers demonstrated by their vote, was in a class by himself in the national gridiron spotlight of 1943. One of the greatest passers in pigskin history, Ange was the life blood of the Fighting Irish ‘T’ formation. Feeding, faking, flinging—the light skinned Italian was the smoothest operator back of center in the country. Calling plays with deftness and subtlety seldom found in amateur ball, he was a coach on the field. Though his own slender right arm packed the brawniest knockout punch in collegiate competition, Bert magnified its potency by using it sparsely. Dubbed by observers the Magnificent Faker— the buggy whip attack of the Notre Dame ‘T,’ that was born in his quick hands, developed into the most feared in football.
Bert bowed out of collegiate competition at midseason against Navy. A Marine reservist he was called to Officers Candidate School at Parris Island where he now totes a rifle instead of a pigskin.
Bertelli played in 26 games, threw 324 passes for 169 completions with 29 of them touchdowns. His three year average is .522.
Next week ... 1946!
Cheers & GO IRISH!