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Throwback Thursday: Notre Dame Football Firsts - Pitt 1909

The first meeting between the two teams came with a great amount of anticipation.

The Notre Dame offensive line lines up against the Pitt defensive line at the line of scrimmage. The Notre Dame Fighting Irish football team defeated the Pitt Panthers 42-30 on Saturday, November 7, 2015 at Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Ron Pradetto

My off-season series of “Notre Dame Football Firsts” continues this week with the first meeting between Notre Dame and Pitt -1909.

So far I’ve covered USC, Stanford, Navy, Purdue, the first Spring Game at Notre Dame, and Michigan State. This week I’m going to take a look back at Notre Dame’s first matchup against Pitt in 1909.

Notre Dame and the Pittsburgh Panthers have played each other 71 times with Notre Dame winning 49 times, Pitt winning 21 times, and one tie game. The first game between the two teams was on October 30th, 1909, and the “Catholics” beat the Panthers by a score of 6-0. (The 1909 season was the first year that the Pitt students and alumni adopted the Panther as their school mascot. Notre Dame was either called the “Catholics” or the “Gold and Blue team.”)

In the following excerpt from the South Bend Tribune, the first meeting between the two teams came with a great amount of anticipation.

“Greatest football critics to look over Notre Dame,” the South Bend Tribune announced in a headline a few days before the matchup at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh. Those in attendance would include Walter Camp — the former player, coach at Yale and Stanford, and sportswriter who became known as “the father of American football” — and Walter Eckersall, the former University of Chicago quarterback who juggled a dual career as a Chicago Tribune sportswriter and a game referee.

Notre Dame arranged a special wire to campus for the occasion. “The students will collect on Cartier field and the telegrams will be read to them as they come over the wire,” the Tribune reported.

Notre Dame was lead by head coach Frank “Shorty” Longman, 26, who was a Michigan native and had played football at the University of Michigan from 1903-1905 under Fielding H. Yost. Longman then was the head football coach at the University of Arkansas from 1906-1907, the College of Wooster (Ohio) in 1908, before coaching at Notre Dame from 1909-1910.

Football rules in 1909 were different from what they are today. The field was 110 yards long, the teams were given three downs to gain ten yards, and touchdowns were worth five points instead of six.

Notre Dame scored the only touchdown of the game, scored by Lee Mathews, on a forward pass early in the game. Don Hamilton kicked the extra point, and that was the only score of the game by either team.

We all know what a dangerous sport football is, even with all the technology we have today, but the 1909 season was one of the most deadline season in the history of college football. “Eleven killed on football field (this season),” announced a headline in the Nov. 1 Tribune. Three deaths had occurred that weekend, including that of Eugene Byrne, a West Point cadet who had his neck broken in a game against Harvard and died the next day. West Point canceled the rest of its season. “Byrne’s death starts again the discussion as to whether the game should be abolished by the universities of this country,” the Tribune reported.

You can also check out my previous ND vs Pitt Throwback Thursday to see why ND-Pitt is one of my family’s favorite rivalries.

Next week I’ll take a look at Notre Dame vs. Army, 1913.

Cheers & GO IRISH!