1946 tie highlights dominating decade
By MIKE CONNOLLY
Editor's note: Notre Dame's journey to achieve designation as the 20th century's greatest college football team is marked by 10 milestones, one in each decade. The Observer examines these moments in a 10-part series that appear on Fridays.
In 1946, Frank Leahy returned to the Notre Dame sidelines after serving two years in the armed forces and immediately brought the Irish back to the place where he'd left them in 1943 — the top of the college football world.
From 1946 to 1949 the Irish won 36 games and never lost. Only two ties blemished the Irish record in the post-war 1940s. Notre Dame won three national titles in that span — in 1946, 1947 and 1949. 1948 saw Notre Dame with a record of 9-0-1 finish second to undefeated Michigan.
With all the winning in the 1940s, it may be surprising that the most famous and most important game of the 1940s was not an Irish victory but instead a 0-0 tie to Army in 1946.
With many of top Irish players serving in the armed services in the 1994 and 1945 season, the Cadets had crushed the Irish — 59-0 in 1944 and 48-0 in 1945. The Cadets went undefeated in both seasons and captured two straight national titles.
These defeats served as the rallying cry for the Irish before the 1946. "Fifty-nine and 48, this is the year we retaliate!" echoed across campus as the game grew closer.
The student body mailed postcards to Army head coach Earl "Red" Blaik and signed them SPATNC — Society for the Prevention of Army's Third National Championship.
The battle for Army's third national championship or Notre Dame's first title since 1943 was waged on Nov. 9, 1946, in Yankee Stadium. Although tickets weren't publicly available until Aug. 1, the game had been sold out since June.
Over 74,000 people packed Yankee Stadium for the game that would feature four Heisman trophy winners — a feat never before or ever since seen on a college gridiron. "Mr. Inside" Doc Blanchard won the Heisman for Army in 1945 while his teammate "Mr. Outside" Glenn Davis kept the trophy in West Point in 1946. 1947 Heisman-winner John Lujack and 1949-winner Leon Hart led the Irish attack.
Even with the explosive offensive fire power, the game would be dominated by the defenses. The Irish neared the Cadet goal line only once all afternoon. In the second quarter, Notre Dame used sweeps to the right side to move the ball to the 4-yard line. In the shadow of their own goal post, however, the Cadet defense dug in and stopped the Irish advance. When a fourth down run to the left was stuffed, the ball turned over to Army and the game remained scoreless.
The Cadets put together a scoring drive of their own in the second half. Blanchard who earned his nickname of "Mr. Inside" by banging the ball between the tackles, broke toward the center of the line before bouncing outside and breaking free of the Irish defense. As Blanchard scampered down the sideline towards what appeared to be a certain touchdown, Lujack sped across the field for Notre Dame. The future Heisman winner dove and tackled the past winner for a game-saving touchdown at the Irish 37-yard line.
While Lujack's tackle saved a sure touchdown, the Cadets were still were in striking distance of the Irish end zone. Army moved the ball down to the Irish 12-yard line and the Army called for a halfback-option pass. Davis got the ball and looked for an open receiver. Future Irish head coach Terry Brennan, however, stepped in from of Davis' pass at the 8-yard line and intercepted the ball to preserve the scoreless tie.
All Sports Stories for Friday, October 1, 1999