The game was over exactly 48 minutes before it started. Indeed, many of the 59,075 fans who always jam Notre Dame Stadium—virtually every game since 1966 has been a sellout—were still in the parking lots last Saturday drinking Bloody Marys and shaking down some pregame thunder while the real drama was going on inside, largely unnoticed even by those who were in their seats early.
Down on the 45-yard line on a sun-splashed afternoon, Purdue's splendid senior quarterback, Mark Herrmann, was testing his sprained right thumb. He had injured it in practice on Tuesday when, after throwing a pass, his hand hit the helmet of an onrushing defensive player—an occupational hazard for quarterbacks. That little pop sounded like a cannon shot to the other Boilermakers, because if Herrmann isn't exactly a one-man team, he'll serve as a good example until one comes along.
So there he was early Saturday afternoon gingerly throwing 20 passes to see if he could play. Each pass was more wobbly and more awful than the previous one. He also took two gentle snaps from the center and two harder ones. The Purdue team doctors glumly shook their heads, and Herrmann, with whom the decision ultimately rested, said softly, "I can't take a snap and I can't put any zip on the ball. I'd be throwing it up for grabs at anything more than 15 yards." Boilermaker Head Coach Jim Young replied evenly, "I'm real sorry, Mark." And that was the ball game.
Forty-eight minutes later, Purdue, Herrmann-less for the first time in the 35 games since Mark enrolled, ran onto the field and played real sorry, losing to Notre Dame 31-10. It was the season opener for both teams, and Purdue found out immediately that dreams do die first. For the Boilermakers and their fans had dreamed of an undefeated season (gone), a Heisman for Herrmann (now an iffier proposition because he missed what is likely to be Purdue's only network-TV appearance of the season) and a Big Ten championship (maybe, but iffier, too).
What Purdue found out is exactly what it feared: without Herrmann, it's an average football team. What Notre Dame found out is that the Irish sure are lucky. Surprise, surprise! Asked if he was disappointed when he lined up and saw Herrmann wasn't at quarterback, Bob Crable, Notre Dame's stalwart linebacker, said, "Heck no. That was a relief." The Irish also were fortunate that Purdue—unquestionably in shock, what with having to do battle in South Bend without its general—proceeded to play poorly in both its offensive and defensive lines, failed to sustain its offense and exhibited a terrible kicking game. In sum, the Boilermakers played emptyheartedly much of the afternoon. Said Young of the Irish, "They were the better football team. Notre Dame dominated too many areas of the game for a single player to make the difference."
The Purdue nightmare came into focus last Wednesday morning. The doctors scheduled X rays for Herrmann at 9:30 a.m.; Young arrived at 9 a.m. and paced. Six views were taken. There was no fracture but there was serious damage and sustained swelling. Herrmann had doctors' appointments each day at 9 a.m., noon and 6 p.m. "We did our best," said Dr. Gary Prah. "It wasn't good enough." On Friday, Young came to grips with the necessity of playing the cards you are dealt, so he sat with freshman Quarterback Scott Campbell on the bus ride north from West Lafayette. But even as late as Friday night, hopes remained high that Herrmann would be O.K. Then came the shattering reality of Saturday. "When I grabbed the football, I couldn't squeeze it," said Herrmann.
Only a week before, Young had shaken his head in admiration when Herrmann, in a scrimmage, hit on 10 of 14 passes and had four drops. Last month, when the Purdue football world was a sunnier place, Herrmann said in his home in suburban Indianapolis, "I feel so much responsibility. They're looking for me to be the guy, and I want to come through for them. And I'm really confident in my ability. I'm as good a passer as there is around." It's not bragging if you can back it up; with a full season to go, Herrmann already is the Big Ten career leader in yardage (6,734), attempts (941), completions (530) and touchdown passes (48).
There was a certain irony, because Purdue had won last year's game 28-22, when Notre Dame's starting quarterback, Rusty Lisch, was out with an injury. After that game, Irish Coach Dan Devine had said, " Purdue comes into South Bend next year. Our team will be ready. It's going to be a physical game, and I'll tell you this right now: Notre Dame is going to win the physical contest." That quote was enlarged and hung in the Purdue dressing room, over the water fountain and at the entrance to the showers. As it turned out, Devine was right.
Around Notre Dame, everybody always expects a miracle and usually gets one. Saturday's miracle was Quarterback Mike Courey, who in three years had completed eight of 15 passes for 141 yards; against Purdue, he drilled 10 of 13 for 151 yards. So was it fun? "Fun? It was a riot," said Courey. "Heck, I don't throw the prettiest ball. I just do the best I can and hope for the best."
It was easy to see Courey's confidence grow. In the first quarter he got his team close enough for Harry Oliver to kick a 36-yard field goal. Then, with only 42 seconds to play in that quarter, Devine called for sophomore Tight End Rob McGarry to line up in the backfield. Courey faked to Tailback Phil Carter, spun and pitched out to McGarry. On his first carry at Notre Dame, McGarry went two yards for a touchdown.