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'Twas a famous victory
It was a good victory, even over an Oklahoma team that had its second unit decimated by injuries in the weeks of practice leading up to the opener and was therefore ill equipped to cope with Notre Dame's superior size and depth in the second half. And it was a victory that set Notre Dame fans from Puget Sound to Omsk talking about the return to the days of Rockne and Frank Leahy which, of course, is what Notre Dame fans talk about after every winning game. But they should be cautioned about raising their hopes too high.
For one thing, it was a disservice to Oklahoma to call this year's Sooners a "comeback team." Perhaps they will come back from last year's 3-6-1 record, the worst at Norman in 37 years, but what Oklahomans have learned to call a good season is still a schedule or two away. The residue of several cautious recruiting years, when the Sooners were under NCAA probation, remains to plague Coach Bud Wilkinson. It is to the sophomores and freshmen of 1961 that Oklahoma must look, and this can be a pleasant view. Although sophomores made up most of the injury-riddled second team on Saturday, the same sophomores were undefeated as freshmen a year ago and will return for two more seasons, much healthier, it is hoped. As for the members of this year's freshman crop, five days after reporting for practice they scored four touchdowns against the varsity in a scrimmage.
Another factor for Irish fans to consider is the season that lies ahead. Notre Dame must yet face Purdue, Southern Cal, Michigan State, Northwestern, Navy, Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Iowa and Duke, a representative schedule for the Chicago Bears. And, finally, Joe Kuharich has nothing, really, with which to match the teams that went through five undefeated seasons for Leahy, winning three national championships for that controversial genius in the postwar years.
Fables and the fabled
In the Leahy days, Notre Dame had a seemingly endless supply of passers who could throw a football through the nickel slot on a parking meter at 30 yards and linemen capable of throwing opposing ball carriers with equal accuracy for only slightly shorter distances. Irish halfbacks came equipped with wings and the fullbacks ran over people without even noticing a bump. Some of the names frighten you even today: Johnny Lujack, Emil Sitko, George Connor, Jim Martin, Bill Fischer, Terry Brennan, Ziggy Czarobski and Marty Wendell, all of the 1947 team; Leon Hart, Bob Toneff, Jim Mutscheller, Jerry Groom, Bob Williams, Frank Tripucka, Ralph Guglielmi, Johnny Lattner, Paul Hornung, Al Ecuyer, Nick Pietrosante, Menil Mavraides, Frank Varrichione, Don Schaefer, Pat Bisceglia, Dick Lynch, just to mention a few dozen. Some of these later played for Brennan, but they were recruited under the Leahy regime, and Kuharich can be pardoned for wishing that a few had been left over for him, too.
Strangely enough, however, Kuharich is under little or no pressure, win or lose—which is not what one hears on the street corners outside of South Bend. There exists in America a great deal of misinformation about Notre Dame. Part of it stems from alumni who attended Waterford Normal or South Georgia T&T or P.S. 61 and have never been within 500 miles of the Golden Dome. They are Notre Dame alumni, nevertheless, and they are happy to tell you what they think. What they think is that Notre Dame has to win. Look at what happened to Terry Brennan.
Today everyone on the Notre Dame campus loves Terry Brennan. He was a wonderful young man, intelligent, trustworthy, loyal, etc. The only trouble, they will tell you in retrospect, is that maybe he wasn't a very good coach. And some people defend even his coaching skills. "It could have happened to anybody," says Moose Krause, the athletic director. "Terry came in after Leahy's great years and there had to be a letdown. Why, even Rockne had a bad year in '28 and Leahy had one in 1950. Terry just got caught in the cycle."
"Naturally, we would like to have a winning football team," says the Rev. Edmund P. Joyce, executive vice-president of the university and chairman of the faculty board in control of athletics, "but it is not so important as all that. I can understand the attention the football team has received, because of its record in the past, but you must remember that Notre Dame is a great academic institution and it has been for many years. If boys on the football team develop well, do good work in class, keep the game in its proper perspective as part of campus life and also win, that is wonderful. But if they lose, yet answer those other requirements, then we can hardly be disappointed.
"Alumni?" asks Father Joyce. "They remain interested but they allow us to run the school."