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Throwback Thursday: Notre Dame Football Firsts - Northwestern, 1889

Of the men taking part in the game too much cannot be said.

My off-season series of “Notre Dame Football Firsts” continues this week with the first meeting between Notre Dame and Northwestern, 1889.

So far I’ve covered USC, Stanford, Navy, Purdue, the first Spring Game at Notre Dame, Michigan State, Pitt, and Army. This week I’m going to take a look back at Notre Dame’s first matchup against Northwestern in 1889.

Notre Dame and Northwestern have played each other 49 times with Notre Dame winning 38 times, Northwestern 9 times, and two ties. The largest margin of victory for Notre Dame was 48-0 in 1976, and the largest margin of victory for Northwestern was 35-6 in 1962. Notre Dame’s longest win streak was 14 (1965-1994), and Northwestern’s longest win streak was 4 (1959-1962). The two teams played for the first time on November 14th, 1889, in Evanston, IL, and Notre Dame won by a score of 9-0.

One bit of Notre Dame lore suggests that the Fighting Irish nickname was born during a game against Northwestern in the late 1890s when Wildcat fans supposedly began to chant, “Kill the Fighting Irish, kill the Fighting Irish,” as the second half opened.

The 1889 Notre Dame football team had no coach, and only played one game that season ... this one against Northwestern. Notre Dame had another game scheduled on November 30th against Albion, but it was cancelled.

The following excerpt of the game is from the November 16th, 1889 issue of The Notre Dame Scholastic.


On Thursday last the Notre Dame eleven defeated the Northwestern University, of Evanston, Illinois, by the score of 9 to 0. It was the first game the boys ever played outside of their own grounds, and the result is the more gratifying for that reason. It plainly proves that they can win when deprived of the encouragements and praises of their fellow-students, and even when surrounded by a crowd of spectators who treat them as mortal enemies, as was the case on the 14th.

Evanston had the kick-off, and at 3:07 p.m. Ridgeway opened the game with a long place kick, which was immediately returned by Cartier, and the real playing was begun. Ridgeway again got the ball and tried to take it towards Notre Dame’s goal; but a quiet young gentleman from that University brought him to a stop by sitting on him. Then both sides lined up and the ball again was put in play. The Indiana men gradually forced the sphere towards Evanston’s goal, notwithstanding the strenuous objections of their opponents. They reached the twenty-five yard line and then began to see-saw back and forth, neither side accomplishing anything. During the scrimmages Notre Dame lost the services of their best player, Hepburn, who was obliged to leave the game. S. Fleming took his place and filled it admirably. After they had spent some time in hard playing near the Northwestern goal, Cartier managed to get the ball, and, although surrounded by a number of his opponents, made an excellent field kick, which gave Notre Dame a “starter” of five points. Ridgeway again opened with a place kick and the ball was in play. Here the Evanstonians began to show their strength; they brought the seat of action near their objective goal, and it looked as though they would make a touch-down. If they ever had a chance it was then; but by hard playing the Notre Dames prevented it, and when time was called the score stood 5 to 0.

In the second half, Notre Dame had the kick-off, and Cartier having dribbled the ball the rushline closed in around him, and as a “human wedge” gained nearly 25 yards. Then the playing became harder than ever. They crossed and recrossed the field, and it seemed that neither side could gain any advantage, and the half was nearly closed when Ed. Coady and S. Fleming played the neatest and most successful trick of the game. Ed. got the ball and hid it, and Steve, pretending to have it, set off across the grounds. Three or four of the Northwesterns followed him, and Ed. had a comparatively clear road. He rushed through and made the only touch-down of the game. This was all that was done, and as time was called the boys realized the fact that they had “shut out” their adversaries, and the ‘RahI ‘Rah! ‘Rah! was heartily and joyfully given.

Of the men taking part in the game too much cannot be said. Captain Prudhomme and his assistant, Frank Fehr, put up a phenomenal game, and the victory was largely due to their earnest, resolute efforts. In the rushline everyone played well: Hepburn, while on the field, played better than any of the others. McKeon, Fitzgibbons, Campbell, Flynn and Tom Coady played as though their lives depended on it, and showed the Northwestern men several points in rushline tactics. Dickerson, as half-back, was here, there, and everywhere and surprised the natives in many ways. The points were made by Cartier and Ed. Coady, assisted by Fleming, and they understand the good-wishes and thanks of their fellow-students. Of the Evanston eleven, Harris, Moulding and Ridgeway put up the best game, the last named being a wonder as a full-back.

The teams were as follows: EVANSTON:—Rushers—Hotrous (centre), Wilson, Kelly, Kennicon, Clark, Hayes, Stewart, Chapin. Harris, Quarter-back; Noyes and Moulding, Half-backs; Ridgeway, (captain), Full-back. NOTRE DAME:—Rushers—Fehr (centre), Fitzgibbon, McKeon, Flynn, Campbell, Hepburn, Fleming, T. Coady. E. Coady, Quarter-back; Prudhomme (captain). Dickerson, Half-backs; Cartier, Full-back.

Next week ... Michigan, 1887.

Cheers & GO IRISH!