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What Leahy didn't see was that his team was wearing down. The two months of spring practice ("Goofy," says Brennan. "You started with snow on the ground, and you ended in June") and the brutal fall practices, with their two-hour scrimmages, had sapped the players' strength. "After the Purdue game there was almost a mutiny," says Brennan, who would succeed Leahy in 1954 and coach the Irish for five years. "Our captain, George Connor, went to Leahy on behalf of the team and said, 'Look, you've got to start backing off on the practices.' Then Warren Brown, the sports editor of the Chicago Herald-American, told him the same thing.
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 during the Iowa game. At Baker Field in New York City, Columbia had upset Army 21-20. Notre Dame players, who had wanted to be the ones to halt West Point's four-year undefeated streak, kicked at the ground in disgust.
Nonetheless, 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 opening 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 a 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 to cut the margin of defeat to 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."
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. Then they beat out undefeated Michigan in the polls for the national title. There was speculation about how Notre Dame would have done against a pro team. "It's too bad football can't have a world series, with the winner of the two major professional leagues meeting for the right to tackle Notre Dame for the championship," The Newspaper Enterprise Association's lead sportswriter, Harry Grayson, wrote. "Notre Dame, in this observer's opinion, would beat the best of the pro teams."
Leahy died in 1973, at age 64. In 11 seasons at Notre Dame he produced six unbeaten teams and four national champions. His '46 and '47 teams were the best, though, and who can argue that they weren't the best of all time?