On that day, who knew?
Notre Dame football, who knew what it would be?
The end, Rockne, the Norwegian, who knew he'd amount to anything?
Army had a running back. Good-looking kid from Kansas, 174 pounds. He had played some linebacker. But on that day in 1913, he didn't suit up. Bad knee, his career over. By then, never much at bat, he had also washed out in baseball. Some time later, Ike Eisenhower said, "When I was a small boy in Kansas, a friend of mine and I went fishing. I told him I wanted to be a real Major League baseball player, a genuine professional like Honus Wagner. My friend said that he'd like to be President of the United States. Neither of us got our wish."
For that matter, there was nothing inevitable about college football itself. It had killed so many people it might deserve to die. With minimal protection of leather headgear and primitive pads, the game's brute force, applied in massed running formations, had caused broken necks, skull fractures and deaths by the dozens for years. Teddy Roosevelt, the president in 1905, had a son playing at Harvard. T.R. believed football was one of those muscular rites of passage that could make boys into men. So football's leaders changed the game's rules for him.
That day, Nov. 1, 1913, history was on the move again.
This time it moved by train.
The myth-making that grew out of Notre Dame-Army games came later, the Four Horsemen in '24, the Gipper in '28.
A Notre Dame student publicist named George Strickler had seen a movie, "The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse." At halftime of the Notre Dame-Army game at New York's Polo Grounds, Strickler mentioned the movie to America's most famous sportswriter, Grantland Rice. The next morning's New York Herald-Tribune carried a Rice column that began, "Outlined against a blue-gray October sky, the Four Horsemen rode again. In dramatic lore, they are …" Notre Dame 13, Army 7.
Four years later, either before the Army game or at halftime, or not at all, Rockne invoked a death-bed plea by George Gipp, a Notre Dame star who had died young. The facts remain in doubt. The legend was born in a 1940 movie, "Knute Rockne -- All American."Rockne tells his team that Gipp's last words were: "Rock, sometime, when the team is up against it -- and the breaks are beating the boys -- tell them to go out there with all they got and win just one for the Gipper …" Notre Dame 12, Army 6.
What's undeniable, and better, is the truth of the first Notre Dame-Army game 100 years ago this week.
A Notre Dame party of 20 men, including 18 players, rode 24 hours on the Lake Shore Railroad at a fare of $687.40 to play Army at West Point. Notre Dame was guaranteed $1,000 for the game. It was the 1913 version of a 21st century powerhouse -- Army was undefeated -- believing it could buy a victory over a cupcake willing to be hammered for a payday. The game happened only after mighty Yale had backed off the Army schedule, leaving an open date just when Notre Dame's new, ambitious and inventive coach, Jesse Harper, had written Army asking for a game.
In the Midwest, no one wanted much to do with Notre Dame. It had gone 44-3-5 in the previous seven seasons, mostly against people named St. Viator, St. Bonaventure, Adrian and Morris Harvey by scores such as 116-7, 74-7 and 69-0. The haughty Western Conference (now the Big Ten) avoided Notre Dame; cynics believed the Western teams acted on two biases: They didn't like Catholicism and they didn't like losing.
So Harper, up from Wabash College in southern Indiana, decided to go national. He scheduled not only Army, but Penn State, Christian Brothers in St. Louis and Texas -- all on the road, all in one month, 5,200 miles of train rides for four games that would change Notre Dame's identity forever.
But on Nov. 1, 1913, who knew?
In fact, Jesse Harper may have known. He had played at Chicago for one of the game's innovators, Amos Alonzo Stagg. At Wabash, Harper had installed an offensive system that took advantage of the most dramatic rule change following Teddy Roosevelt's intervention -- you could throw the ball. You could throw it and not lose it on an incompletion, as the rules once said. You could throw it as far as you wanted, not just the 20 yards once allowed.
Charles Emile (Gus) Dorais was ready. So was Knute Kenneth Rockne. The summer of '13, the Notre Dame quarterback and end worked as lifeguards on an Ohio beach. There on the sand, they mostly worked on throwing the ball and catching it.
Harry Cross, a reporter for The New York Times, was not Grantland Rice striking the purple keys of his typewriter. But what Cross saw at West Point that day in 1913 was the foundation of all that would come. He was thrilled. His first paragraph:
"The Notre Dame eleven swept the Army off its feet on the Plains this afternoon and buried the soldiers under a 35-to-13 score. The Westerner flashed the most sensational football that has been seen in the East this year, baffling the Cadets with a style of open play and a perfectly developed forward pass which carried the victors down the field 30 yards at a clip. Football men marveled at this startling display of open football. Bill Roper, former head coach at Princeton, who was one of the officials of the game, said that he had always believed that such playing was possible under the new rules but that he had never seen the forward pass developed to such a state of perfection."
He went on:
"The Eastern gridiron has not seen such a master of the forward pass as Charley Dorais, the Notre Dame quarterback. A frail youth of 145 pounds, as agile as a cat and as restless as a jumping-jack, Dorais shot forward passes with accuracy into the outstretched arms of his ends, Captain Knute Rockne, and Gus Hurst, as they stood poised for the ball, often as far as 35 yards away.
"The yellow leather egg was in the air half the time . . . All five of Notre Dame's touchdowns were the result of forward passes. They sprang the play on the Army seventeen times and missed only four. In all they gained 243 yards with the forward pass alone."
The next week Notre Dame beat Penn State 14-7. It then won in St. Louis 20-7 and defeated Texas 30-7.
Notre Dame finished the season 7-0.
The next spring, 1914, Columbia College, in Dubuque, Iowa, asked Harper to recommend a coach. He called in Dorais and Rockne. "Either of you would make a fine coach," he said. "However, it's only a one-man job. Which one of you would like to have it?"
The buddies decided to flip a coin.
Dorais won and took the job in Iowa. Rockne stayed in South Bend as a chemistry teacher and unpaid assistant to Harper.
Four years later, Harper quit coaching to be the school's full-time athletic director.
Rockne became Notre Dame's coach.
The rest, you pretty much know.
Notre Dame leads the overall series 38-8-4 and won the most recent meeting 27-10 at Yankee Stadium in 2010. Army's last win came in 1958. Though the schools have been in talks to renew the series, no future dates have been scheduled.