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TERENCE P. JEFFREY: When Yale Crushed Notre Dame — In Football

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When Knute Rockne started at end for the Notre Dame football team in his sophomore, junior and senior years, the team never lost a game.

Then, in 1914, Rockne graduated and became an assistant coach to head coach Jesse Harper.

“Rockne while at Notre Dame was known as one of the most fearless players that ever wore the gold and blue,” the South Bend News-Times reported when Rockne’s assistant coaching job was announced. “He had few superiors when it came to breaking interference and nailing the runner. He was also adept at the forward pass, the play upon which Coach Harper builds so much of his offensive work.”

In fact, in Rockne’s senior year, when Notre Dame travelled to West Point to play Army, he and Notre Dame quarterback Gus Dorais made a significant impact on the way East Coast teams viewed the game.

“Notre Dame’s Open Play Amazes Army,” read the headline on the New York Times story about Notre Dame’s 35-13 victory.

“The Westerners 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 thirty yards at a clip,” said the Times. “The Eastern gridiron has not seen such a master of the forward pass as Charley Dorais, the Notre Dame quarterback.” (RELATED: TERENCE P. JEFFREY: No Matter How Hard They Try, Government Hall Monitors Can’t Take Our Freedom To Drive)

“The Cadets were completely routed and outclassed by the Westerners,” reported the New York Sun. “Beautifully executed forward passes were largely responsible for the Army’s undoing.”

 “Dorais, one of the best quarterbacks ever seen here, did the throwing with either Rockne, Pliska or Finnegan on the receiving end,” said the Sun.

Notre Dame’s long winning streak continued through the first two contests of Rockne’s assistant coaching career. In the first game of the 1914 season, they beat Alma College 56-0. In the second, they beat Rose Polytechnic 103-0.

In the third game, the Fighting Irish were scheduled to play Yale in New Haven. The Bulldogs had a 3-0 record at that point—but some newspaper headlines suggested they were nervous about taking on Notre Dame.

“Yale Fears Contest With Notre Dame,” said one headline in the Bridgeport Evening Farmer. “Yale Eleven Expects Hard Test in Notre Dame Game Saturday,” said the headline in the Chicago Daily Tribune.

As it prepared for the game that week, Yale made its practices private. “Yale Drills Secretly for Notre Dame,” said a headline in the Bridgeport Evening Farmer. “Yale has reached the conclusion that the game with Notre Dame next Saturday will prove one of the most significant meetings of the season between the East and the West and yesterday began scrimmaging practice by driving the first and second eleven through fifteen minute periods. Throughout the entire drill the gates were closed, indicating that Yale takes the visit of the westerners seriously.”

When the Notre Dame team boarded a train on Thursday morning to head to New Haven, they were swarmed by fans. “The entire Notre Dame student body escorted the men to the train and cheered them to the echo as it pulled out,” reported the Anderson Herald.

The Hartford Daily Courant suggested that the game itself would turn into a passing contest.

“The expectations are,” the paper said, “that Yale will use its newly acquired open plays, especially its double and triple passes, as well as its numerous forward pass formations, and test them out against the Notre Dame combination, supposed to be the highest exponent of the forward pass, by virtue of the sensation they created last fall when they defeated Army 23 to 13.”

But then it began to rain in New Haven.

“Unless there shall be a decided change in the weather before tomorrow afternoon the chances are the spectators at the contest between the Irish and the Blue will not witness the forward passing game,” the Indianapolis Star reported on Friday.

“And there is every prospect that the rain will continue over tomorrow, which must mean that either Notre Dame or Yale must demonstrate a superiority at ‘straight’ football,” the paper said.

Yet neither the Irish nor the weather could stop Yale from scoring.

“Yale Crushes Notre Dame’s Vaunted Team,” said a Sunday headline in the New York Sun. “Excels Westerners Even in Open Playing,” said a subhead. The final score was 28-0.

“The best the Notre Dame football eleven, coming East with a reputation for gridiron might, could do against the Yale team this afternoon was come close to the Elis’ goal line on a couple of occasions,” the Sun reported.

“The New Haven team left no doubt of its superiority,” it said.

Thus, concluded Knute Rockne’s first trip East as a college football coach. 

During Rockne’s years as the head coach at Notre Dame, the Irish would play a number of games on the East Coast—including against Princeton, Penn, Rutgers, Army and Navy.

But he never again got the chance to play Yale.

Terence P. Jeffrey is investigative editor for the Daily Caller News Foundation.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller News Foundation.

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