The football fortunes of Knox College in Galesburg, Ill. were running at less than flood tide during the '60s. From 1960 through 1969 "Old Siwash" lost 70 games, tying three and winning only eight.
Of course, it had been worse—there was the period of 1931-34 when Knox suffered 27 straight defeats. The fact is, at no time in its long membership in the Midwest Conference had Siwash really alarmed its league rivals, let alone such superpowers as Nebraska and Notre Dame. Notre Dame?
Knox did play Notre Dame in football. It was quite a spell back, along about the time George Fitch's fictional fullback, Ole Skjarsen, was punching imaginary holes in opposing front walls At Good Old Siwash, and a lad named Knute Rockne was still in high school. But more than 70 years ago, on Nov. 8, 1902, Knox and Notre Dame had it out at Rock Island, Ill. for the Western "small-college championship."
Though a decade away from any sort of national stature, Notre Dame was still a tough kid on its own block, with a creditable record against Western Conference opponents; in fact, in 1902 the Irish were defending Indiana state champs.
In Captain Lou (Red) Salmon, revered by earlier generations of alumni and fans as the greatest fullback in their history, the Irish had their first All-Western star. Running low, with a high, jarring knee action. Salmon could hit a line so fast and hard it usually took two or three tacklers to stop him; he had given Michigan a rough time a few weeks earlier, though the Irish had lost: this was the only defeat on Notre Dame's record going into the Knox game.
At the time, Siwash was no patsy either, having beaten Northwestern and Kansas, losing only to Chicago 5-0 after soundly outplaying the Maroons. A big, agile line, led by 232-pound George Martin and 210-pound R.R. Franz, operated in front of a small, fast backfield featuring Quarterback Johnny Grogan and Halfbacks Joe Zalusky and Chuck Hopkins. Babe Wilson at end and Henning Ackerson at fullback lent substance to the offense.
Zalusky was Knox's mini-counter to Salmon. A gutty little athlete, Joe not only ran the ball but, like Lou, did all the kicking. At safety he was a tiger on punt returns, as he had proved to Northwestern a couple of weeks before with a 106-yard runback (the fields in those days were 110 yards long).
The week before the game the tide of excitement spilled over the Knox campus to engulf Galesburg. It even got to the school's crosstown rival, Lombard College. Saturday morning a whooping mass of 800 souls was on hand when the team took off for Rock Island. South Bend and Notre Dame, it might be noted, were taking things more casually.
A sellout crowd of nearly 4,000 packed the Rock Island baseball park that afternoon, among them a courageous character perched on a small platform atop a tall pole, high above the bleachers. He was a telephone operator hired to relay the play-by-play back to the offices of the Galesburg Evening Mail via a leased long-distance line.
The game didn't start until 3:15, when Salmon kicked off to the Knox five-yard line. Zalusky returned 15 yards. The first play failed to dent the Irish, but on the second Joe lit out around left end, turned the corner behind good blocking and went 67 yards to the Notre Dame 23 before being brought down.