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Army-Notre Dame Lived Up to Billing in 1946

November 10, 1996|ED SCHUYLER JR. | ASSOCIATED PRESS

The placard in the windshield of a car circling Yankee Stadium advertised a $3.30 end-zone ticket for $200.

That was a lot of money in 1946, but the ticket was an easy sell on that Saturday, Nov. 9. After all, it was for the annual game between Army and Notre Dame, the most intense intersectional football rivals of that pre-television era.

The No. 1 Black Knights of the Hudson, coached by Earl "Red" Blaik, vs. the second-ranked Fighting Irish, coached by Frank Leahy, remains arguably the most anticipated game in college football history.

"We'd like to think it is," says Johnny Lujack, Notre Dame's quarterback.

And one that lived up to its billing.

Attendance was a sellout of 74,000, the demand far greater. Notre Dame had to make $500,000 in ticket refunds.

"The stands were so jammed with Army and Navy brass that insignificant one- and two-star generals had to slink along back passageways," columnist Arthur Daley wrote in The New York Times.

"Fifty-nine and Forty-eight! This is the year we retaliate!" was the chant heard during Notre Dame practice sessions, in reference to Army's 59-0 trouncing of the Irish in 1944 and the 48-0 beating in 1945.

Returning for Army were Doc Blanchard, the Heisman Trophy-winning fullback, and halfback Glenn Davis, known as Mr. Inside and Mr. Outside. Davis would win the award later that year.

Several other members of Army's national championship teams of the previous seasons were back as well.

"Army had a lot of talent," recalls Terry Brennan, then an 18-year-old Irish halfback and later head coach at Notre Dame. "But we had a lot of veterans, and Army didn't intimidate those guys."

Several Notre Dame players, including Lujack, who had started against Army in the 1943 game, had served in World War II. Leahy was back after two years in the Navy.

Going into the game, Army had a 7-0 record and a 24-game winning streak. The Cadets had outscored their first seven opponents, 208-55. The Irish had outscored opponents, 177-12, and were 5-0.

The two teams were more evenly matched than even those numbers would suggest.

Army got inside the Notre Dame 33-yard line six times. The Irish got to the Army 32 and also to the Cadets' 3-yard line, where they were stopped on fourth-and-1 in the second quarter.

The final score was 0-0.

"I thought it was dull as hell," Blanchard remembers. "Of course, we thought we were going to beat them."

Says Lujack: "I really don't like watching the film of that game."

"All the way through it, people were expecting something to happen," Brennan recalls.

No points, but lots of scoring threats and lots of heroes. A ton of drama.

The two top defensive players ended up being the quarterbacks, Lujack and Army's Arnold Tucker. Both played the whole game in this era of two-way football.

"I played 60 minutes, and I wasn't sure I was going to play any," recalls Lujack, who injured his right ankle in practice the Wednesday before the game.

Lujack's biggest play came after Blanchard ran 22 yards to the Notre Dame 36 in the third quarter. The open-field tackle saved a touchdown and became a piece of Notre Dame lore.

"I've told him that if I hadn't been hurt, I would have run over him," Blanchard says. "I had a real bad knee. I hurt it early in the season and I played hurt the whole season."

Lujack discounts any notion that he saved the game.

"You were back there," he says. "You were supposed to make the tackle."

Besides his tackle of Blanchard, Lujack also tackled Tucker in the open field after a 30-yard run to the Notre Dame 30, Army's longest run of the game. Tucker made three of the four interceptions of Lujack's passes.

"They were the only guys open," Lujack says about the pickoffs.

Following Lujack's tackle of Blanchard, Army got to the Notre Dame 15, where Tucker passed on first down.

"I know I intercepted inside the 10," Brennan remembers. "The next play I took it wide to about the 30."

Brennan returned the interception from the 5 to the 8-yard line. On the next play, he turned in Notre Dame's longest run of 22 yards.

Its longest pass play was 25 yards from Lujack to Bob Skoglund in Notre Dame's march that almost ended in a touchdown.

With third down on the 4-yard line, Lujack sneaked for a 1-yard gain. Then he pitched out to Bill Gompers, who was kept from turning the flank by Davis and knocked out of bounds by Hank Foldberg for no gain. Davis was clipped on the play, but Army refused the penalty and took the ball.

As Daley wrote, "Nobody scored any points. But nobody in the huge Yankee Stadium throng asked for his money back."

Whenever the game is discussed, there is second-guessing about why neither team attempted a field goal.

It could have been a matter of pride.

"Our field-goal kicker, Fred Early, wasn't even in pads," Lujack says. "Our coaches would have had to thought they could score."

"I don't recall we ever kicked a field goal," Blanchard says. "They felt they could beat us. We felt we could beat them."

Both teams ended the season undefeated, and Notre Dame was named national champion.

Seven weeks after the scoreless battle, the 33rd game of a series that began in 1913, the two schools released a joint statement saying the series would be interrupted after the 1947 game.

One reason given was that Army wanted to achieve greater flexibiltiy in scheduling intersectional opponents.

The statement also said it was "the conviction of the authorities of both schools that the Army-Notre Dame game had grown to such proportions that it had come to be played under conditions escaping the control of the two colleges, some of which were not conducive to wholesome intercollegiate sport."

Notre Dame won the 1947 game 27-7 at South Bend, Ind. The two schools have played 13 times since then.

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