Notre Dame coach Ara Parseghian (R). | Photo by John Dominis/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images
The Miracle Season That Saved Notre Dame
In case you haven’t guessed, I like to read. And I read a lot of Notre Dame related material. But a lot of times when I buy a Notre Dame book, I’m already currently reading something else, so I pass it along to my dad to read first. What’s important about this you ask? Well, more times than not, when the book comes back to me, it has colored sticky tabs down the side pointing out all of the REALLY important stuff that you need to pay close attention to. I love having an engineer for a dad!
This week I decided to dust off my (dad-read-first) copy of Jim Dent’s “Resurrection” for this week’s Throwback Thursday post. What is “Resurrection” about, you ask? The book chronicles the 1964 Notre Dame Fighting Irish football season, which was one of the greatest comeback seasons in the history of college football, and also known as the first season in the “Era of Ara. I particularly enjoyed this book because it was my dad’s senior year at Notre Dame, and so many of the stories I had already heard from him, which made it fun to hear them again from another perspective.
Here are a couple of my favorite excerpts from the book … I hope you enjoy them!
This first one gives a little lead up to the 1964 season, by explaining what happened the season before in 1963.
“Week after week during the 1963 season, Snow and Huarte stood on the sideline and witnessed one of the most futile passing offenses in the country. They felt like a couple of ghosts. Meanwhile, Notre Dame averaged just 60 passing yards per game, encouraging opposing defenses to stack the line to thwart the running game. Huarte and Snow watched quarterbacks Sandy Bonvechio and Frank Budka miss open receivers time and again, and when the quarterbacks hit receivers, they normally dropped the ball. During those frustrating times, Snow would walk up to Huarte and pound his fist on the quarterback’s shoulder pads. ‘God, John, we could have made that play,’ Snow would say. ‘If they would just give us a chance. Maybe someday, Johnny.’”
“In the final minutes of the Michigan State game, Snow and Huarte were biding time on the bench when (Notre Dame head coach) Devore sat down between them. Bonvechio was having a terrible game, and the Fighting Irish were trailing 12-7. Devore had promised Huarte that he would start the Michigan State game, then changed his mind minutes before kickoff. At this point he needed a comeback in the worst way. ‘Look guys,’ he said. ‘The offense needs a boost. If I put you guys in the game, will you promise me that you won’t screw up? Will you promise me that you’ll win the game?’ They both looked at the coach incredulously. ‘Eat shit, Hughie,’ Snow said. Snow walked away, followed by a silent Huarte. Notre Dame lost 12-7”
This next excerpt explains the wealth of talent that Parseghian had to begin his tenure at Notre Dame as head coach.
“For years, the Chicago newspapers had blamed the Notre Dame decline on a breakdown in the pipeline between the Windy City and South Bend. They wrote that the top prospects were choosing the bigger state schools that welcomed females and did not turn out the dorm lights at 10:00 pm. Many of the highly ranked recruits were going where they could drive a convertible across campus with a pretty coed in the passenger seat. To the contrary, Notre Dame was fairly well-stocked. You could still count fifteen Chicago players on the roster. The biggest surprise to Parseghian was the quality of the sophomore class, the ones recruited by Devore. They new head coach was already counting on three or four from that group to be starters in 1964, and a few others would play key roles.”
Here are some examples of the talent that Parseghian was able to develop into an overnight success story on the field.
“After fifteen minutes of light drills, Parseghian stood in the middle of the practice field and blew his whistle. ‘Okay everyone, this is it!’ he yelled. ‘Everybody buckle their chinstraps. It’s time to play some football.’ The first-team offense lined up against the second-team defense. On the first snap, quarterback John Huarte used his quick feet to motor backward as he sidearmed a bullet over the middle to Jack Snow, running a quick post. Snow caught the ball on the dead run, split two defensive backs, and broke into the open field. Touchdown! ‘How is it possible that Jack Snow seems to be getting faster and faster?’ Parseghian asked Tom Pagna. ‘I am wondering the same thing,’ Pagna replied.”
“Now it was the first defensive unit’s turn to tangle with the second-string offense. Quarterback Sandy Bonvechio had no sooner taken the snap from center when he was grabbed from behind by a pair of arms that were long enough to be tentacles. Page whipped him to the ground and then fell on him. As Page rose from the ground, he felt a forearm driving into his midsection, a powerful punch delivered by defensive line coach Joe Yonto. It was an expression of pure joy. Yonto yelled, ‘Alan Page! Alan Page! At Notre Dame, you’ll be all the rage!’”
“During the summer, Parseghian had entered Notre Dame Stadium to catch a glimpse of the ‘voluntary’ workouts. He was amazed as he watched the 235-pound (Pete) Duranko walk across the field on his hands, then start up the steps of the stadium, all the while singing the ‘Victory March’ in Polish. He climbed all fifty-five of the stadium steps to the top. Not once did Duranko slow down for an extra breath. He did not grunt. He was barely sweating when he reached the top. It was an effortless trip and one of the greatest physical feats that Parseghian had ever witnessed.”
And of course there was Father Lange’s gym.
“The gym where he (Jack Snow) was doing all of his weight-lifting was not located in one of the athletic complexes. It was a spartan 20×25-foot room situated in the back of Brownson hall, far from public view. The cramped room was filled with free weights, barbells, dumbbells, and the sounds of grunting men. It was run by one of the most remarkable men ever produced by Notre Dame—Father Bernard Lange, C.S.C., a.k.a. the ‘Strongman Priest.’”
“Father Lange has been both a contemporary and close friend of Knute Rockne. While Rockne won a record number of games in the 1920s with his charm, guile, and wit, Lange built the Notre Dame players into physical specimens. He drilled Rock’s boys like a Prussian field marshal, motivating with a combination of fear and Teutonic discipline. In the early 1920s, he was ranked as the fourth strongest man in the world.”
“Resurrection” is definitely one of my favorite books on Notre Dame football, but I’m sure that’s mostly because it took place during my dad’s senior year, and Coach Parseghian and the team he lead to victory that year (9-1), has a very special place in my heart. If you’ve never read this book before, I highly recommend that you check it out. It will not disappoint.
Next week I have some original content for you! I interviewed a former Notre Dame athlete a few weeks ago, and his story should be ready for you next week!
Until then … Cheers & GO IRISH!