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The Dynasty Builder
Paul Zimmerman
September 20, 2006
IN HIS PURSUIT OF PERFECTION, FRANK LEAHY BUILT AN UNSTOPPABLE IRISH JUGGERNAUT IN SOUTH BEND AND ARGUABLY TWO OF THE GREATEST COLLEGE FOOTBALL TEAMS EVER TO PLAY THE GAME
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September 20, 2006

The Dynasty Builder

IN HIS PURSUIT OF PERFECTION, FRANK LEAHY BUILT AN UNSTOPPABLE IRISH JUGGERNAUT IN SOUTH BEND AND ARGUABLY TWO OF THE GREATEST COLLEGE FOOTBALL TEAMS EVER TO PLAY THE GAME

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The Irish were national champions. They had terrorized the college football world--well, all of it except second-ranked Army, whose unbeaten streak now stretched through three seasons. But Notre Dame would have one more shot at the Cadets, in South Bend the following year. That game would be the last in a 34-year Notre Dame-Army series, whose cancellation by West Point would become a sore point with the Irish.

ONLY THREE Notre Dame starters would graduate in the spring of 1947, and Leahy sounded a rare note of optimism when he told the Chicago Sun-Times in March, "We should be in very good shape next season." By September he was back in form: "Army will come out here undefeated on November 8," he said. "As for us, who knows? No telling how many games we'll have lost."

The preseason forecasters, unfazed by the pessimism, were saying that this Irish squad might be the greatest collegiate team ever assembled. "Intercollegiate football will be divided into two groups in 1947, Notre Dame and The Rest," Tom Siler wrote in Pic Magazine. "The best games will be the intrasquad scrimmages at South Bend."

When the Eastern sportswriters visited South Bend in the preseason, the first thing Leahy complained about was a lack of size and speed in his backfield. "Instead of halfbacks, we have nine small fullbacks," he said. How about Terry Brennan, a gifted, versatile back who would often line up as a flanker and had led the Irish in scoring and receiving in '46?

"Heart alone," Leahy said. "He hasn't the speed or physique of a great halfback."

Then what about Sitko? Now there was a guy who could fly. "For 50 yards," Leahy replied. "After that, his legs tighten up and tacklers get him from behind."

Coy McGee?

"He ran well in one game."

And so on, right down to Leahy's announcement that Zalejski would be lost because of a knee injury. "A terrible blow," the coach said. Terrible. Only 15 backs left.

The start of the season revealed a new wrinkle in the offense. The Irish were opening things up. They were throwing the ball: 204 yards in a 40-6 win over Pitt, 184 in a 22-7 victory over Purdue, two teams that had loaded up to stop Notre Dame's fearsome array of runners. The Boilermakers' seven-man line held the Irish backs to 89 yards. That simply had to be addressed. The defense was not a problem. It never was.

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