My off-season series of “Notre Dame Football Firsts” continues this week with the first meeting between Notre Dame and Army, 1913.
So far I’ve covered USC, Stanford, Navy, Purdue, the first Spring Game at Notre Dame, Michigan State, and Pitt. This week I’m going to take a look back at Notre Dame’s first matchup against Army in 1913.
Notre Dame and Army have played each other 51 times with Notre Dame winning 39 times, Army winning 8 times, and 4 ties. The current win streak is held by Notre Dame, and is 15 games (1965-2016). The longest ND win streak is 15, and the longest Army win streak is 2 (1944-1945). Notre Dame’s largest margin of victory over Army is 62-3 (1973), and Army’s largest margin of victory over Notre Dame is 59-0 (1944). The first game between the two teams was on November 1st, 1913, in West Point, NY, and Notre Dame won by a score of 35-13.
In the following excerpt from the Indy Star, Michael K. Bohn details the game that would change the future of college football forever.
“The morning we left for West Point,” Rockne later wrote, “the entire student body of the university got up long before breakfast to see us to the day-coach that carried the squad to Buffalo — a dreary, all-day trip.”
The students saw a severely underfunded and undermanned squad of 11 regulars and eight substitutes. Harper could only afford 14 pairs of football shoes, and many of the players had unscrewed the cleats and wore the shoes on the train. Each carried his own gear as well as a box lunch prepared by the nuns on the university’s cafeteria. They had none of the equipment trunks that the Ivy League teams traveled with and, according to Rockne, their only extra equipment was a “roll of tape, a jug of liniment and a bottle of iodine.”
From Buffalo to West Point, the team traveled in sleeping cars, with the regulars on the bottom bunks, subs in the uppers. They arrived at midday on Halloween, ready to play only tricks on the Army team.
The academy arranged for the Notre Dame players to eat lunch and change into their uniforms in Cullum Hall before a light afternoon practice. As they arrived on Cullum Hall Field, the Hoosiers marveled at the lush gridiron.
“Most of the players visiting the playing field,” recalled Army cadet Willet J. Baird in a widely quoted account, “expressed no end of amazement and joy over the fact that the field itself was very smooth, well-marked, and resembled the appearance of a well-kept lawn.”
On the next day, five thousand people, including the Army chief of staff, Major Gen. Leonard Wood, filled the wooden bleachers. It was a cloudy and cold Saturday afternoon. Admission was free, and many of the spectators simply stood along the sidelines. A mere 11 years and a world war later, the two teams played in front of 55,000 in New York’s Polo Grounds.
In the first quarter, each team probed the other’s defense in a seesaw battle typical of the era’s games. But then Dorais completed a 40-yard pass to Rockne, who caught the ball on the run at the 2-yard line and scored on the next stride. Dorais made the extra point and Notre Dame was up 7-0.
Rockne later admitted to faking an injury on the three plays leading up to his score. When the Army defender began ignoring him, Knute told Gus that the hook was set. “Everybody seemed astonished,” Rockne wrote later of the long pass. “There had been no hurdling, no tackling, no plunging, no crushing of fiber and sinew. Just a long-distance touchdown by rapid transit.”
Dorais completed six straight passes in the first quarter, a remarkable offensive spurt for the time.
Army scored in the second quarter when Vernon Pritchard completed a pass to left end Jack Jouett on the Notre Dame 15, setting up a touchdown a few plays later. The Cadets scored again, but only after four line plunges from the 6-inch line. Halfback Benny Hoge missed the point after, and Army led 13-7.
Notre Dame immediately countered with a four-play, 85-yard scoring drive. Dorais threw to Rockne for 25 yards, halfback Joe Pliska for 35 and halfback Charles Finegan for 20. Pliska then ran the ball into the end zone from the 5-yard line, and Dorais made the extra point. Notre Dame, 14-13.
The first half ended on an Army interception, but Dorais was six for eight in the second quarter.
At halftime, Harper was concerned that the lead wouldn’t hold up. “I told Gus to keep throwing,” the coach said according to Maggio. “We figured it was the best chance we had. Gus could throw the football as well as any man that ever lived.”
Both teams played conservatively in the scoreless third quarter, and Dorais threw one incomplete pass. However, the spunky Notre Dame quarterback ended an Army drive with an interception of a Pritchard pass in his team’s end zone.
The “Westerners” dominated the fourth quarter. “There was no stopping Notre Dame now,” wrote the New York Times reporter afterward. “They had a score thirst which could not be quenched.”
The better-conditioned Notre Dame players scored 21 unanswered points in the final 15 minutes, but Dorais threw and completed only two passes. By that time, he had the Army squad off balance as it tried to anticipate run or pass. Dorais used his big fullback, Ray “Iron Eich” Eichenlaub with great effect late in the game, and Eichenlaub scored the final touchdown.
Notre Dame 35-13.
For the game, Dorais completed 14 of 17 passes for 243 yards, stats quite foreign to the football establishment.
“NOTRE DAME’S OPEN PLAY AMAZES ARMY” was the headline of the New York Times’ game summary on Nov. 2. The unnamed reporter recounted how the Westerners “swept the Army off its feet” and “flashed the most sensational football that has been seen in the East this year.”
The Times related the comments from one of the game’s officials, Bill Roper, a former head coach at Princeton. Roper said that the new rules allowed for improved passing, and Notre Dame had quickly developed the tactic to perfection.
The game didn’t introduce the forward pass to college football, but it gained enough attention to permanently influence the modern game. Further, Harper, Dorais and Rockne helped start the glorious run of Notre Dame football, one that reached take-off velocity in the Roaring Twenties.
Here’s a video detailing this game at West Point between Notre Dame and Army:
And one more:
Next week I’ll look at the 1889 meeting between Notre Dame and Northwestern.
Cheers & GO IRISH!