It frequently happens in a football game involving Notre Dame that all anyone can see after a while are these clusters of golden helmets, bouncing and swooping about, feasting on something indistinguishable. Like, for example, an opponent. Suddenly, shock waves seem to be leaping from the helmets to the Golden Dome itself, then up to Heaven, and then down to the scoreboard, and a cold truth becomes plain to everyone. The Fighting Irish are playing the game all by themselves.
Through the years Notre Dame has probably played more football games against itself than any other college team. And not just in the old days against all of those Ohio Northerns and Almas and Haskells. Nowadays the Irish have Navys and Pittsburghs and Northwesterns mixed in with their more physical enemies. These games aren't really scheduled as shakedown cruises, of course, but that is what they have become since Ara Parseghian brought Notre Dame back to the glory it relished under Knute Rockne and. Frank Leahy.
Notre Dame loses opening games only about as often as it has an Elmer Layden or a Terry Brennan or a Hugh Devore for a coach. Rockne never lost one. Neither did Leahy. And neither has Ara, who began his eighth season last Saturday in South Bend in the same old predictable way—with a laugher.
Actually, last week's game against Northwestern was possibly Notre Dame's toughest opener since Purdue in 1966, a day when Ara unveiled Terry Hanratty and Jim Seymour and started prowling for a national championship, which he got. Northwestern had played a pretty good game against Michigan the week before and was still considered a Big Ten contender. And it was known that Notre Dame did not have a Terry Hanratty or Joe Theismann or even a John Huarte around. A lot of beef, yes. But no one to drive the herd.
What happened, naturally, as it usually does when a have faces a have-not, is that one of those cute cheerleaders from St. Mary's could have played quarterback against Northwestern. And if she had, grinding, muscular, deep and resourceful Notre Dame might still have won by the same score: 50-7.
It was a football game for only 15 minutes, and only then because Northwestern had managed to drive for a touchdown with such tools as a fake punt and a pass-interference penalty. Thereafter, the imposing Notre Dame defense took over and the only remaining suspense was which of the golden helmets would intercept the most passes, or which ponderous Notre Dame lineman would mortally wound Northwestern's Quarterback Maurie Daigneau before he could release the ball.
It turned out that the Irish secondary stole seven passes and returned them for a total of 185 yards and two touchdowns, not to mention the scores that these thefts set up. Notre Dame stole everything but the apostrophe that might once have been in Daigneau's name.
Notre Dame might have swiped even more passes if such nimble thieves as Ken Schlezes, Mike Crotty, Clarence Ellis and Ralph Stepaniak had not kept bumping into each other going for the ball. As it was, Schlezes wound up with three and Crotty with two, including a 65-yarder for a touchdown.
All in all, the senior-flavored Notre Dame defense gave the junior flavored Notre Dame offense the benefit of such continually splendid field position—roughly, the Northwestern 40-yard line—that the question of who the Irish quarterback should be, or could be, or will be, or ought to be, was impossible to determine.
"I still don't know," said Ara Parseghian later. "We might have two or three all year."