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10 Memorable Notre Dame Games at Yankee Stadium

December 3, 2012
1944 (AP)

1944 (AP)

The Golden Domes.  The Touchdown Jesus.  The Gipper.  The Grotto.  “Play Like a Champion Today.”  “The Four Horsemen.”  There is something about the tradition and excellence of Notre Dame football that is woven into the fabric of American sport.  When you think of college football, invariably you think of the Fighting Irish.

There was a time when the nation’s most recognizable football team played in its grandest venue, a home to its greatest franchise.  A Notre Dame/Army football game became as much of a late autumn tradition in the Bronx as a Yankees/Dodgers Subway Series, and the fans of America’s greatest city reveled in both.  Notre Dame and Army played a total of 23 times at the Cathedral in the Bronx, including every year between 1931 and 1946.  At the height of the Irish/Cadet rivalry in the 1940s, the sacred outfield patrolled by Joe DiMaggio turned into a gridiron, a battleground that often determined the National Champion.  The annual game in the Bronx helped decide college football’s king from 1943-1946, with Notre Dame bookending two Army championships.  Jeff Steffy, an Army captain and lineman in the 1940s remembered,

There was no more famous place to perform any sport than Yankee Stadium, and there was no rivalry bigger than Army and Notre Dame.  Many years, it was the national championship game.

The sold-out Stadium would throb with excitement, roars ricocheting off of the fabled facade after a bullet from Johnny Lujack or Angelo Bertelli or a long run by Creighton Miller or Emil Sitko.  The Irish were so popular in New York during the pre and post-war years that the term “subway alumni” was coined for those residents of the 5 boroughs who did not attend Notre Dame, yet vehemently supported her most recognizable sons.

On January 7th the Fighting Irish will play the University of Alabama for a chance to win their record 12th National Championship, and first since 1988.  In honor of Notre Dame’s incredible season, and its connection to the Bombers, here is a list of the 10 most memorable Notre Dame games at Yankee Stadium.

*     *     *     *     *

#10 | vs. Army11/20/2010

In the first installment of the historic rivalry held in the Bronx in 41 years, the Irish won 27-3 in front of a sold-out crowd of over 54,000.  It was the 50th time the two adversaries had met and the 23rd time in the Bronx.

The fanfare surrounding the contest was a unique melding of Notre Dame tradition and New York City culture.  Prior to the game, a legion of Notre Dame fans packed St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue for a mass led by Notre Dame president, Rev. Ron Jenkins.  A pep rally was held at Lincoln Center.  The “Play Like a Champion Today” sign was imported from South Bend and hung in the Yankee clubhouse, not far from where quarterback Tommy Rees dressed in Derek Jeter‘s locker.  Just before kickoff, Yankee manager Joe Girardi addressed the team from the video board in centerfield, imploring them to, “Just close your eyes and soak in the moment.”

The Cadets led 3-0 after the 1st, but the Irish responded with 17 in the 2nd, holding Army’s triple-option offense scoreless the rest of the way.

#9 | vs. Army | 10/29/1938

In the 25th anniversary game of the teams’ first matchup in 1913, the Irish won 19-7.  Prior to the game a full corps of 1,846 cadets marched into the Stadium to give 79,000 a memorable sight.

#8 | vs. Army | 11/13/1926

In their 2nd ever matchup in the House that Ruth Built, both powerhouses came into the game undefeated at 6-0-0, but the Irish outlasted Army 7-0 in front of 72,000.

#7 | vs. Army | 11/13/1937

The Irish won 7-0 after a botched fake punt and reverse by Army gave Notre Dame the ball on the 15-yard line, setting up their only score.

#6 | vs. Army | 11/6/1943

Led by Heisman Trophy winner Angelo Bertelli, the Irish beat Army 26-0 en route to a 4th National Championship.

#5 | vs. Army | 11/11/1944

In Notre Dame’s most lopsided loss in the rivalry, the #5 Irish fell to the #1 Cadets 59-0.  Army would go on to claim the National Championship.  The annual matchup between the schools had become so renowned that GIs in WWII could weed out German soldiers that had infiltrated their ranks by asking them the score of the 1944 game.

#4 | vs. Army | 11/30/1929

On their way to a 2nd National Championship, Knute Rockne’s boys bested Army 7-0 in front of 79,408, the largest attendance of the series.

#3 | vs. Army | 11/13/1937

A disappointing season for Notre Dame was somewhat salvaged when Wayne Millner blocked an Army punt in the final minute that was recovered in the end zone to give the Irish a thrilling, 13-12 victory over the undefeated Cadets.

#2 | vs. Army | 11/9/1946

In a matchup that was hailed as “The Game of the Century,” #1 Army clashed with #2 Notre Dame to determine the best team in college football in 1946.  The two powerhouses stifled the other’s vaunted offense to end in a 0-0 tie.  The most memorable play of the game was Johnny Lujack’s game-saving tackle on Army’s Doc Blanchard that helped preserve the stalemate.  Both teams finished the season undefeated, but Notre Dame would be given the National Championship.

#1 | vs. Army | 11/10/1928

In a fabled moment that may be as much myth as truth, Notre Dame coach Knute Rockne, in the bowels of the Stadium, rallied his boys with his fabled “Win one for the Gipper” speech during halftime.  George Gipp was one of the finest players in college football history, but just two weeks after becoming Notre Dame’s first All-American, he contracted strep throat and died in December of 1920.  Rockne inspired the troops by imploring them to play for their fallen classmate.

Well, boys… I haven’t a thing to say.  Played a great game… all of you.  Great game.

I guess we just can’t expect to win ‘em all…  I’m going to tell you something I’ve kept to myself for years.  None of you ever knew George Gipp.  It was long before your time.  But you know what a tradition he is at Notre Dame.

And the last thing he said to me, ‘Rock,’ he said, ‘sometime, when the team is up against it, and the breaks are beating the boys, tell them to go out there with all they got and win just one for the Gipper… I don’t know where I’ll be then, Rock,’ he said, ‘but I’ll know about it, and I’ll be happy.’”

The inspired, albeit undermanned, Irish went out and defeated Army, 12-6, in the Cadets’ first loss of the season.

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