Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Greatest Rivalry

It's nice that the first football game in the new Yankee Stadium will be a revival of Army v. Notre Dame. This was once the greatest rivalry in college football--any football. And the fact that it was mostly played at the Stadium was one factor in making it such a great contest. Actually, ND won most of the games. But the competition started off with a bang in 1913 on the Plains at West Point where the most celebrated early forward pass was thrown and caught by ND--caught by Knute Rockne, later ND's coach and probably the most famous coach in football history.

The game moved to Ebbets Field and then the Polo Grounds and then in 1925 to the Stadium where it remained for almost every year in the next two decades. It's hard to believe that after World War II, when the 1945 and 1946 games decided the national championship, the two schools discontinued the series because it had become too big. Can you imagine any so-called academic institution doing that today?

There were a few renewals but Army more or less has fallen down to where it even schedules Ivy League teams. Navy maintained the rivalry with ND over more than 30 years when the Middies failed to win, but now they have a two-year streak going. That's because the Irish aren't what they were either. The Subway Alumni--a term coined for the mobs supporting ND who stormed the Stadium for the Army game every year--will still turn out but the only hands-up scoring signals have often come only from Touchdown Jesus out there in South Bend.

Everything you ever heard of in college football happened in this series and usually at the Stadium. Davis and Blanchard--Mr. Outside and Mr. Inside--versus Johnny Lujack in '46. The Four Horsemen in '24. Rockne's speech--whether pre-game or, as tradition holds, at half-time, in '28 where he exhorted his eleven to win one for the Gipper. And it all began with that forward pass--long heralded as the first but now just the most famous early one--from Gus Dorais to Knute Rockne in '13 as they led an unknown ND club to their unexpected triumph at West Point.

It won't be for anything resembling a national championship and it won't even be close to that level of play at the Stadium Saturday but perhaps there will be a future for these two ancient rivals to renew the competition more regularly. People will still come out because of their names. And the game that was eliminated because of becoming too big a deal may eventually come to stand for the maintenance of a tradition, whatever the significance of the game. Get out your raccoon coat and flask.

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