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Throwback Thursday: Notre Dame Fighting Irish Football - 1938 Season

A championship year

Elmer Hayden Shaking Hand of Joe Boland

Happy Thursday! This is week four in my series of “unclaimed” Notre Dame Fighting Irish football national championships, and this week I’m looking at the 1938 season. Unfortunately I cannot find the 1938 Notre Dame Football Review in archives, so I found a few stories to share in archives from the September 30, 1938 issue of The Scholastic (Vol 72, No.2).


“The March is On” In Gym Tonight

By P. G. Barreda

Football fever climbs to a record height tonight with the first pep rally of the year as the entire student body throngs around the Notre Dame band in a stirring torchlight parade to the gymnasium. Dan Donavan, prexy of the Students Activities Council, has called for the general assembly at 6:30, immediately after supper. This early hour has been set in order to allow sufficient time for the pep meeting before the second Mission in the Sacred Heart Church at 7:30. As excitement mounts throughout the campus in anticipation of the first football game, cries of “Beat Kansas!” and “Junk the Jayhawks!” are pouring from every student intent on surging that mania, otherwise known as football spirit, to the top flight at tonight’s rally. More than 45,000 football fans are expected for tomorrow’s initial season encounter with the pigskin men from Lawrence, Kansas.

A host of speakers headed by Coach Elmer Layden are scheduled to hit the platform tonight. Every true son of Notre Dame will be on hand to cheer the team to victory in opening the nine-game schedule of the 1938 Irish grid season.

Cheer leaders Johnny Cella, Frankie Farrell and Jerry Flynn, All-American timber in their own capacity, will direct the student throng in the traditional Irish yells and cheers, peppered enough to create the fighting fury of a Notre Dame team backed solidly by 3,000 wild students. The Notre Dame band, under the direction of Joe Casasanta, completes the fever point with the “Victory March,” “The Hike Song,” and “On Down the Line.”

Listen Irish!

You’re hopping right into the fire tomorrow afternoon against Kansas and there isn’t even a frying pan in sight until after the last game with Southern Cal. The football experts have your obituary typed and filed but obituaries still have to be signed on the line—on the goal line.

You’re a young team this year and most of you will be starting your first game for Notre Dame. Some of you will be pulling on gold varsity pants for the first time. Maybe you’re a little worried about what the experts have been writing — that a young team will crumble before Navy and Minnesota and Army.

But you Sophomores are the Freshmen that swung the lanterns and rode Puplis and McCormick and Sweeney across campus the Monday night after those dismal afternoons against Illinois and Carnegie. You’re the same fellows that stole the Navy goat from Dogtown. “NO MEAT TONIGHT. STEAKS TOMORROW!” You juniors and seniors were on the bench when the varsity finally skidded through the mud for nine quick points in that last quarter against Navy. You heard the rest of the squad — 3100 of them — that roared hoarse encouragement from the stands through three blank periods and brought the snow down faster when McCarthy finally slipped into the open from the Navy thirty-three.

You know that the Notre Dame football season was a success right there — not because Notre Dame had won but because a Notre Dame team had shaken off a good beating and came back fighting. You’ll probably take a couple of beatings before the season’s over but you’ll come clawing back too — because that’s Notre Dame football.

There’s something behind Notre Dame football. The students — you’ll see them tonight in the gym. The alumni— you’ll hear them from the stands in New York to Los Angeles. And there are other things. For instance, there’s the story of “Buddy” Keddie.

He was a thirteen-year-old kid living on a farm near Boston, Pennsylvania. He won’t report to Jake Kline in ‘43 because he died this summer. Now there’s a miniature grotto by his grave. Working late at night and early in the morning his father moved ten tons of stone and five tons of sand to build a nine foot replica of our grotto to Our Lady of Lourdes. His reasoning was simple. “Buddy” couldn’t go to Notre Dame; so, he brought Notre Dame to “Buddy.”

This isn’t a mundane plea to go out and win for “Buddy” like they do in the movies. But the fighting spark Notre Dame has found each year in the shadows is ignited by the perfect belief that a thousand “Buddies” have in the “Fighting Irish.” That’s a heritage of Notre Dame teams—and it belongs to you now.—W. C. FAY

Splinters From the Press Box

By Andy Wilson

As you have already heard, Kansas has a tough football team this year. A large minority of experts are picking the Jayhawkers to beat Notre Dame tomorrow, and they have any number of fine reasons.

Very impressive is the fact that Kansas has a letterman for every position, and twenty altogether on the squad. And in spite of this abundance of veterans, Kansas has some sophomores good enough to rate the starting eleven. Outstanding men are Dave Shirk at end, strong on defense, and fine at receiving passes; Fred Bosilevas, Dan Rhule, and Monte Merkel, tackles; Dick Amerine, an outstanding broken-field runner and pass-catcher, at right half; Paul Masoner, quarterback, a good pass receiver; Ralph Miller, a fine passer, at tailback or left half; Bill Bunsen, 195-pound sophomore, at fullback.

As a whole the team is light, with only two men listed at 200 pounds or over. It is a fast team, and with several passers and good receivers should concentrate on going over and around, rather than through the heavier Irish. Last spring Jayhawk Coach Ad Lindsay himself stated that “we want to develop our passing and make a more open game. We have some ends who can catch the ball, and all our passers of last year will again be on hand, with three or four good sophomore prospects.” The Kansas air-attack has certainly had time to develop, and should trouble Notre Dame a great deal (for Notre Dame is still notoriously weak as ever on pass-defense).

Finally this veteran Kansas team is the same that tied Nebraska, 13-13 —and the Cornhuskers were tough enough to hold Pitt to a 13-7 score.

However it seems to me this Nebraska game has been overemphasized in estimating the Jayhawkers’ ability. Nebraska is their greatest rival, they played in midseason, and Kansas, on the rebound from a 16-0 defeat by Michigan State, was exceptionally keyed up for the game. Indeed the Cornhuskers were lucky to sneak through with a tie in the last three minutes. But the only other noteworthy accomplishment of the Kansans was a 6-3 win over Oklahoma. Altogether, Kansas won three games, tied two, and lost four. Even Wichita, the team that lost to Army, 32-0, last week, trimmed them, 18-7. The Jays won none of their last five games, and ended up in a dull scoreless tie with Missouri.

I think Notre Dame will win tomorrow, and here are my reasons:

The Jayhawkers had a hard 19-18 game with Texas last week; they ran themselves ragged piling up a 19-0 lead and only managed to win out when the stronger, heavier Longhorns failed to kick a single point after touchdown. No team, especially a light team, can stand up under two tough games in a row, and along about the third quarter tomorrow, Notre Dame’s force should begin to tell.

Notre Dame has more weight in the line than Kansas can match. The Irish forwards may have trouble at the tackles, but should be able to make that running attack click. And in spite of what you saw in the Frosh-Varsity exhibition last Saturday, Stevenson and Brown can combine well on passes at any range. There should be a lot of scoring—unless fumbles slow up both teams—with Notre Dame at least one touchdown better than the Jays. The one ominous thing in all the facts-about-Kansas is that note on the visitors’ passing ability; they may pass us silly.

Anyway, we shall see tomorrow. It’s an important game for both teams, being Notre Dame’s opener, and the 400th game to be played by a Kansas team since football was begun out at Lawrence in the ‘90’s.

We must advise those of you who were somewhat shocked at the sour things seen in the Stadium last Saturday not to regard any such exhibition as a genuine display of the varsity’s ability. It might have been that the freshmen were too tough to be easily handled; that number one frosh team seemed capable of giving trouble to almost any team on the varsity schedule. It might also have been that the freshmen knew the varsity plays, knew what to expect. They didn’t have many variations to watch out for, after all, for the varsity was obviously holding back, sticking to about six fundamental plays—one buck, one off-tackle, one end run, one reverse, one pass, one punt.

The varsity, using no deception, thus had to rely on power and blocking. The blocking, though fair, was still erratic, and the offense was consequently sluggish. Certainly the blocking and running and passing will improve and the trick plays will appear as the tight games come along.

And a follow up story from the October 7th issue of The Scholastic, Vol 72, Issue 3.


Eighty-one Irish gridders, playing mid-season ball, romped over a willing but weary University of Kansas eleven here last Saturday to mark the inaugural of their 51st campaign by piling up eight touchdowns and four extra points for a 52 to 0 victory. A record opening day crowd of 45,000 sat amazed as team after team gave fine exhibitions of both offensive and defensive play. As Tom Gallagher, sophomore tackle, said shortly after the game: “Boy, everything clicked today.”

Kansas, using a 6-2-2-1 defense, could not stop the Irish from gaining 456 yards from scrimmage, principally with reverses, and end runs. Not until the last few minutes of play when the last of the Notre Dame reserves were in action did the Jayhawkers threaten to score. Mario Tonelli fumbled on his own 46 yard line. But the drive was checked when Steve Sitko intercepted a Kansas pass on the.34.

After six minutes of play, Notre Dame started the scoring when Tonelli skirted around end for six yards. In the second quarter, Paul Morrison started the scoring drive with a 48-yard sprint on a reverse, followed by a 36-yard run for the second by Ben Sheridan, the sensational left half back on the “second team.”

Toward the end of the period, Ed Simonich cut through the Kansas right guard for the third touchdown. Sophomore Bob Saggau drop kicked the extra point to make the score 20 to 0 at the half.

Soon after the start of the third period, Lou Zontini went over the Kansas’ right tackle for 20 yards and the fourth touchdown. Then a forward pass by Harry Stevenson to Earl Brown, who made a spectacular catch on the goal line, netted 30 yards and another touchdown. The second team returned to the game and Notre Dame returned the kick to the 17 yard line. Two plays later, Sheridan cut back through left tackle, going 13 yards to a touchdown.

On the third play of the fourth quarter Saggau swept the Kansas left end behind perfect interference to rim 51 yards for the seventh touchdown. Again, Saggau was the principal factor in the 54 yard march with which the third team finished the scoring, carrying the ball to the 6 yard line with a 23 yard run. Milton Kepul scored on the next play.

The 52-point total was the highest scored since Drake and Haskell were overwhelmed in 1932.

Notre Dame completed the 1938 season with eight wins over Kansas, GT, Illinois, Carnegie Tech, Army, Navy, Minnesota, and Northwestern, and one loss against USC. Their biggest margin of victory was over Kansas (52-0), and the largest crowd they played in front of was against Army at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx (76,338 fans) .

1938 Schedule Results:

October 1: Kansas - Notre Dame (South Bend, IN) W 52–0 25,615

October 8: at Georgia Tech (Grant FieldAtlanta, GA) W 14–6 26,533

October 15: Illinois - Notre Dame (South Bend, IN) W 14–6 29,142

October 22: Carnegie Tech - Notre Dame (South Bend, IN) W 7–0 25,934

October 29: vs. Army (Yankee Stadium Bronx, NY) W 19–7 76,338

November 5: vs. Navy (Municipal Stadium Baltimore, MD) W 15–0 58,271

November 12: Minnesota No. 2 - Notre Dame (South Bend, IN) W 19–0 55,245

November 19: at Northwestern (Dyche Stadium Evanston, IL) W 9–7 46,348

December 3: at USC (Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum) L 0–13 97,146

Next week ... 1953!

Cheers & GO IRISH!