The team responded with three straight shutouts: 31-0 over Nebraska, 21-0 against Iowa and 27-0 over Navy. The only sour note was the news that came over the wire and was announced on the public address system during the Iowa game. At Baker Field in New York, Columbia had upset Army 21-20. Notre Dame players, who had wanted to be the ones to halt West Point's four-year unbeaten streak, kicked the ground in disgust.
The Notre Dame-Army game still produced a record crowd in South Bend. There was a bitter undertone on the Irish side, a resentment of the Cadets for abandoning the series. It was a nasty, windy day. Army's kickoff was a shank out-of-bounds. The next one was a line drive that Brennan had to take a step backward to catch. "The kick got there ahead of the coverage," Brennan says. "I took a few steps up the middle and froze the first four guys. I saw a crack, made my break, and I was gone." Ninety-seven yards, touchdown.
The rout was on. The cold and wind limited the Irish to 28 yards passing, but Leahy unleashed a merciless set of backs: Brennan, the darting Sitko and the bruising, slashing 190-pounder, Mike Swistowicz. The new wrinkle was Martin on end-arounds, picking up 47 yards on five carries. "I've never seen such a bunch of speedy, hard-driving backs," Army coach Earl Blaik said after his team's 27-7 defeat. So much for Leahy's preseason moaning about having nine small fullbacks.
The following week Northwestern gave the Irish their closest battle of the year, scoring a late touchdown before losing 26-19. "I never felt that we were in trouble," Lujack says. "We never trailed in the game." Or in any game during 1946 and '47.
Next, Tulane came to South Bend with its great fullback, Eddie Price, and fell 59-6. The Irish scored 32 points in the first quarter.
Before Notre Dame's season finale, against Rose Bowl-bound USC in Los Angeles, the city was hit by a rainstorm. "I think the Trojans have a good chance of upsetting Notre Dame," said UCLA coach Bert LaBrucherie, whose Bruins had lost to USC 6-0. "They've beaten favored Notre Dame teams in the past."
"Everything points to a Southern Cal victory tomorrow," Leahy said. "I'll be the happiest Irishman in Los Angeles if we can win by a single point."
How about 31? Sitko, whose legs supposedly tightened up after 50 yards, broke the game open with a 76-yard touchdown run on the opening play of the second half, and the Irish went on to win 38-7. "I was watching a telecast of the game," says Mike Hudson, who was then a Palo Alto High student and would go on to be a UPI desk editor. "They had this very pro-USC announcer doing the game, and on Sitko's run there was only one guy left between him and the goal line—Gordon Gray, the safety. The announcer kept saying, 'Can Gordon Gray make the stop? Can Gray make the stop?' It was hilarious. Notre Dame had an absolute mob of blockers downfield, and Connor just left the pack, knocked off Gray and returned to the group, and when Sitko crossed the goal line, everyone was still looking around for people to block."
"One thing Leahy always liked." Connor says, "was linemen who could run."
The Irish beat out undefeated Michigan in the polls for the national title. There was newspaper talk about matching the teams in some kind of charity game, but it was just talk. "It would have been interesting," Brennan says. "Two distinct systems, our T formation versus their single wing, one unit against Michigan's offensive and defensive platoons. I often wondered how we'd have done under that system. Maybe we'd have been even better."