July 5, 2013
By Matt Winkeljohn
– THE BASICS
Enrollment: 11,733 (8,371 undergrad)
President: Father John I. Jenkins
Athletic Director: Jack Swarbick
School Colors: Old gold and navy blue
Nickname: Fighting Irish
Stadium: Notre Dame Stadium
Watering hole you must visit: B.D. Riley’s Irish Pub & Restaurant.
Restaurant you must visit: Rosie’s Sunny Italy, or Parisi’s Ristorante Italiano.
Things to see while there: The Sacred Heart Basilica, “Touchdown Jesus” (a multi-story mosaic/mural on the side of the library that is visible from the stadium), and the Grotto to Our Lady of Lourdes, a century-old replica of the original in Lourdes, France. All are on campus.
Greatest former athletes: Football players Joe Montana, Angelo Bertelli (HT), Bob Golic, Leon Hart (HT), “Rocket” Raghib Ismail (HT), Tim Brown (HT), Joe Theismann, George Bednar, Ross Browner, George Gipp, Jerome Bettis, Paul Hornung (HT), John Huarte (HT), Alan Page, Johnny Lujack (HT), William Shakespeare (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Shakespeare_(football)), baseball players Cap Anson and Carl Yastrzemski, basketball players Austin Carr (NCAA Tournament record 61 points in a game), Adrian Dantley, Bill Laimbeer, Kelly Tripucka, Orlando Woolridge and Skylar Diggins. HT = Heisman Trophy winner.
Greatest sports accomplishments: Eleven national championships in football, most recently in 1988. Sixteen NCAA championships in other sports, including eight in fencing (men’s, women’s and combined).
IN A CLASS ALL THEIR OWN
Much about Notre Dame football is unique and glorious, even if the Irish’ loss to Alabama in January’s BCS national championship game was their only dalliance with a potential national title since 1993. Their last title came a quarter century ago, in ’88.
No school has more former players and coaches (48) in the College Football Hall of Fame, which was in South Bend, Ind., before closing in late 2012. It will re-open in Atlanta, near the Georgia Aquarium, late next summer.
Ohio State and Notre Dame have each produced seven Heisman Trophy winners, more than any other school, and the Irish have cranked out more unanimous All-America players (33) than any program.
That contract through which NBC televises all Notre Dame home games? One of a kind, as the Irish have the only program in the nation with a network contract to themselves.
And how many programs have had a more fabulously-named, ultra-successful coach who met a more tragic ending than Knute Rockne?
The Irish were 105-12-5 under Rockne (1918-’30) with national titles in ’24, ’29 and ’30. His .881 winning percentage is highest in NCAA Division I history. He was killed in a plane crash at age 43.
Coach Frank Leahy played on Rockne’s last two national championship teams. He later forged the second-highest winning percentage (.864) in college football history (107-13-9) as a coach, although his record was better at Boston College (20-2, .909) than at Notre Dame (87-11-9, .855).
With Leahy coaching the Irish from 1941-’43 and ’46-’53, Notre Dame won national titles in ’43, ’46, ’47 and ’49. Only a tie with USC in ’48 stood between a four-year run of championships (it would have been five straight for Leahy, who served in the U.S. Navy in ’44-’45 in World War II).
He retired after the ’53 season while still under contract for what was said to be health reasons. The signature in that script – which came under question years later when Leahy suggested he left coaching because he felt underappreciated – was his collapse in ’53 at halftime of a 27-14 home win over Georgia Tech and coach Bobby Dodd’s Yellow Jackets.
Six of Leahy’s 11 Notre Dame teams were undefeated. Before that, his second Boston College team went without a loss.
Notre Dame’s other national championships came in ’66 and ’73 under Ara Parseghian, ’77 (Dan Devine) and ’88 (Lou Holtz).
The Irish are joining the ACC in all sports except for hockey (which the ACC does not contest) and football, in which they will play five ACC opponents per season while maintaining an independent schedule.
A VIEW FROM UP CLOSE
Notre Dame play-by-play man Don Criqui has been doing this a long time, and “this” goes beyond Irish sports. The man has serious perspective as a broadcaster, much of his time having been spent working for networks. We chatted with him.
Q: Who are some of the best college football players you’ve seen?
Criqui: “Tim Brown was fantastic. Joe Montana didn’t get a chance to play regularly until he was a senior, but he stands out just because of the way he won games. The best receiver I’ve ever seen was the guy at Georgia Tech [Calvin Johnson]. Just being on the field before the game, he was such a physical specimen; he had an incredible wingspan. He’s still doing amazing things in the NFL.”
Q: Are Notre Dame fans excited about joining the ACC in sports other than football, or is there a wait-and-see approach?
Criqui: “They’re very excited. The quality of the sports that they have out there … I think it’ll be great in the ACC. And they feel the academic standards are great in the ACC. I think basketball is a big part of it, too, and the [Notre Dame] women are very good.”
Q: Given that the Irish are not a football member of the ACC (Notre Dame will play five ACC opponents per season), will Notre Dame help the ACC more or will the ACC help Notre Dame more?
Criqui: “I don’t know if you can measure that. Now, this is … [more] exposure. It’s kind of interesting, when Notre Dame joined the ACC, the next day [the ACC] announced that it was going to renegotiate its TV package. [The Irish] are a lightning rod, and they draw eyeballs. They’ll play everybody in the ACC at least once every three years.
“Notre Dame is like Tiger Woods in golf; if they’re in your conference, revenue goes up. Notre Dame is a part of the whole. It’s a two-way street indeed. When Notre Dame plays Duke or North Carolina in basketball, interest goes up [in all parties]. The ACC is a powerhouse.”
Q: Which ACC opponents are most likely to inspire interest?
Criqui: “The Boston College thing has developed into a good rivalry as they’re the only two major Catholic universities playing Division I football. They’ve played Georgia Tech a lot of times. Everybody wants to play Notre Dame for two reasons; to sell out the stadium and to be on TV. They’re more famous than they want to be. They wish they could dial it back.
“They will always play Navy because Navy kept Notre Dame open during World War II.” [That is a reference to the fact that in the early 1940s Notre Dame’s enrollment took a dive, but the Naval Academy opened an officer training facility on the Notre Dame campus and poured enough money into Notre Dame to, in a unique way, ensure that the teams keep playing].
Editor’s note: Notre Dame-Navy have played every season since 1927. Notre Dame will resume, in a roundabout and irregular way, games with another opponent who held a special place in the Irish’ football history. Miami has played Notre Dame 25 times, with some fairly epic contests as they met every fall but one between 1971 and 1990.
Q: Was that whole “Rudy” thing crazy? Hollywood made a movie about a Notre Dame walk-on [Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger] getting in on the last play of a blowout game and sacking the quarterback on the final play against Georgia Tech in 1975. Overkill?
Criqui: “I never knew who he [Ruettiger] was until many years later. They threw in a lot of walk-ons. The game was little out of hand, as I remember, but I didn’t know who he was. He was one of those guys who plugged away. His story developed, and his story was boosted by [the movie] “Hoosiers.” The same guy who wrote Hoosiers [Angelo Pizzolo] suggested it.”
Q: Can you name a great Notre Dame football tradition that ACC fans may find interesting?
Criqui: “Well, there are many, but in Parisi’s any Friday night before a game you’re going to find some of the old alums like Regis Philbin, and Dick Vitale in there. It’s not fancy.”