top of page

The Man that Built Notre Dame

ND Legends: A Series by Chris Studer

Photo Credit: und.com


As Notre Dame fans we should consider our fan base one of the luckiest. The heroes and legends that have graced the sideline and the field for the Fighting Irish are not lacking in quantity and quality. Maybe since I grew up reading and watching everything Notre Dame, the list is longer than I can easily recite. With that being said I wanted to take a deeper dive into some of these individuals and honor each of them with their own Tribune article.


The first legend I thought that need to be covered is Knute Rockne. Not only was he a player and a coach at the University he is also one of the earliest legends that the school has. Growing up I watched the Hollywood rendition of his life titled Knute Rockne, All American, numerous times. If you have not seen it, I highly recommend the film. While it is an older film it and might be hard to find, I feel it captures the story of the Irish legend very well. From his early years as a young immigrant from Norway growing up in Chicago, all the way up to his final days, we get to know Knute on many levels. But I do not want to bore you with my movie reviews.


Knute Rockne and the Fighting Irish are typically given credit for popularizing the forward pass, it was legal in football since 1906 but had not been widely adopted. Versus a heavily favored Army in 1913 Gus Dorais and Rockne led the Irish to upset victory over the cadets by deploying the strategy to great effect. This alone would have been enough to enshrine Rockne as a Notre Dame Legend. He was just getting started though. Following his graduation in 1914, Rockne taught chemistry and served as assistant football coach at Notre Dame under Jess Harper, until becoming the head coach in 1918.


Rockne's first team went 3-1-2 in a season shortened by World War I, and he began upgrading the schedule and roster the next year. The following two year the Irish went undefeated, being led by George Gipp, an Irish legend who was an electric all-purpose back; to be featured later in our series.


Rockne then began to garner national attention and pursued opportunities that would put the Irish in the spotlight from week to week. He knew that Notre Dame had the potential to become a real powerhouse in college football. But at the time Notre Dame played its home games at Cartier Field which only held 3,000 fans, this would not suffice. With higher aspirations, he worked to create bigger and better brand for the University. He wanted his team to play anyone, anywhere. Traveling across the country to play the stalwarts of thee day, Nebraska, Army, Georgia Tech and Princeton. In 1924 The Fighting Irish would deploy a new shift on offense, its key elements were none other than "The Four Horseman." More specifically Jim Crowley, Harry Stuhldreher, Don Miller and Elmer Layden. These four were unstoppable force tearing through opposing defenses and drawing more and more fans to games. The dynamic backfield was supported by a offensive line dubbed “The Seven Mules.” Behind this new look team Notre Dame won its first national championship that season, capped by a 27-10 victory over Stanford in the 1925 Rose Bowl.


Photo Credit: und.com


While the origins of the new shift have been discussed and disputed, it is widely believed to have come from a football team visit to the Rockettes in New York City, where Rockne drew inspiration from their dance routine to later implement his own version on the gridiron.


All the while Rockne continued to grind out success on and off the field for Notre Dame. On the heels of second national title in 1929 the University would break ground on what is today one of the cathedrals of college football:Notre Dame Stadium. It would be completed the next year with a capacity for over 50,000 fans. For the stadium to stay packed Rockne knew that the Irish had to deliver on the football field. He was constantly working in the off season to schedule the best opponents and fine tune his offensive schemes to make sure the team was ready for the upcoming season. In the late 1920's Rockne was able to secure a match up against one of the west coast powers, USC. That game allowed the Irish to play their last game of the season in a warmer climate and also in one of the biggest markets of the day, Los Angeles. This rivalry has continued till today, to the benefit of both schools and with the Irish leading the series 48-36-5.


During his Notre Dame Rockne would go on to win 105 games, with only 12 losses and 5 ties. Though there were seasons that were tougher than others the coach never stop working. The Irish claimed three national titles during Rockne's tenure; 1924 and 1929 and another in 1930. Unfortunately, the legendary coach would meet an untimely end. While traveling to Los Angeles on March 31, 1931, he was killed when his plane crashed in a pasture near Bazaar, Kan. Knute Rockne was only 43 years old.


In an era when teams are now playing a minimum of 12 games a season and coaches stay on the sidelines well into their 70’s we can only wonder what might have been if Knute Rockne had been able to grace the sideline for several more years. What we do know is that this man worked tirelessly to create a winning program and program that had a national identity. The Irish have gone on to win hundreds of more games, recruit top talent, and continue to build brand, but this was all grounded in the work done by Knute Rockne. Notre Dame Stadium is often called “The House That Rockne Built” and he rightly deserves that credit, but this University owes more than just the stadium to Rocke. He placed Notre Dame on the front page of college football for more than decade with exciting players, big time games, and innovative football, here’s to the current Irish coach doing the same.


Go Irish!

תגובות


Like Our Content?
Enjoyed This Article?
Share Below
The Irish Tribune
The Irish Tribune
Enjoyed This Article?
Share Below
The Irish Tribune
Enjoyed This Article?
Share Below
The Irish Tribune
The Irish Tribune
bottom of page