I like sports, including football.
I like history, always have.
I like Notre Dame with a passion; ask any one who knows me or any of my students.
So, I thought I would change things up just a bit.
Last month we reviewed the book Notre Dame and the Game That Changed Football, by Frank Magio, which focused on Jesse Harper and the famous 1913 game between the Fightin’ Irish and Army Black Knights at West Point where the underdog Notre Dame football team defeated the Cadets using the forward pass as we know it in today’s game.
A couple of weeks ago I had a business trip out west where there were no free movies on the airplane that caught my attention or at all, where I had a 5 hour layover in Newark due to plane malfunction, and so on. This allowed me to finish reading The Forgotten Four, by Donald J and Mark O Hubbard.
Earlier this year I had completed and wrote about Notre Dame and the Game That Changed Football which was really more about Jesse Harper than the football game against Army in 1913 wherein ‘a small little college in rural Indiana shocked the powerful Army team by using a new tactic, the forward pass, to route Army 35 – 13 and shock the world’. I knew little about Jesse Harper. I know a lot more now.
While that book was a very good read, it title was misleading because only a small portion of the book was about that particular game.
I can say the same about this book, The Forgotten Four: Notre Dame’s Greatest Backfield and the 1953 Undefeated Season; misleading title yet a very good read for fans of Notre Dame, of Notre Dame Football, Frank Leahy, and of college football in general.
The books title and its cover leads one to think that it is about Lattner, Worden, Heap and Guglielmi during the 1953 undefeated season of the Notre Dame football team.
While there is a significant portion about those four student athletes, the book is more about the overall general landscape of both the University of Notre Dame and of college football in the late 1940′s and early 1950′s, about Frank Leahy during the last few years in his Head Football Coach position with the Fighting Irish, about the many, many players on the 1953 team.
In fact, no more than 1/4 of the book, a little less by page count, is about the undefeated 1953 season.
Yet, it was a very, very good read. I don’t know why authors of books about Notre Dame football have to intentionally or otherwise, use inaccurate titles of their books.
As you can tell by the above picture of the book’s cover, I purchased a copy which included some autographs. It was the same price as an un-autographed copy; how could I resist! I purchased it at the Hammes Bookstore on the campus of the University of Notre Dame last fall during my second trip ever.
Likely there was a book signing event on campus during a home football Saturday of the Fighting Irish where these were extras. Pretty cool. An autograph from; a starting fullback on an undefeated Fighting Irish football team; a two time Maxwell Award winner, a Heisman award winner and two time All American; and a two time letterman and halfback on the 1952 and 1953 Notre Dame Football teams. Wow!
Now, there were a lot of different information which I learned about the players on the football team that I never knew, some of which included:
- Bobby Joseph, Lattner, Worden and Heap took a tour of RKO Studios during the 1951 season ending game in Los Angeles against So. Cal, where they met Marilyn Monroe, Robert Mitchum and Barbara Stanwyck. Apparently, Ms. Munroe turned down the lads’ offer of tickets to the game against So. Cal. later that day because she had a date with an old baseball player who it turned out she would later marry. Yet, according to the book she drove the lads back to the hotel.
- Two years later, when the 1953 Irish returned to L.A. to play the Trojans, Ralph Guglielmi ended up on a date with Debbie Reynolds.
- Johnny Lujack came back to Notre Dame as a part time backfield coach in the early 1950′s as did a few other Notre Dame football stars
- All four of the 1953 starting backfield were drafted in the 1st round of the NFL, something apparently which has never happened before or since
- Six of the Irish linemen from the 1953 teams played at least 9 years as a pro
- Johnny Lattner received a career ending injury after his one all pro year with the Pittsburgh Steelers
I also learned a lot of different information about the state of college football and about the Irish football teams during that era, including:
- In the late 1940′s and early 1950′s Notre Dame would announce its captains for the following year at its season ending annual football dinner, something similar which happened this past year when two team captains were named by Brian Kelley.
- During the ceremony of naming the team captain, a shillelagh would be passed from the departing to the new captain.
- For the 1952 game against the #5 ranked Texas Longhorns in Austin, Frank Leahy requested of the then Athletic Director if the Irish could be on the same sideline as the Longhorns and even requested a certain half of the field which happened to receive more shade….both of which were granted!
- The 1951 team reminded me the 2007 Irish where it was very depleted of players, both quality and quantity.
- The 1953 Irish ended up ranked #2 in the country to Maryland even though:
- The Irish defeated the Sooners in Norman, Oaklahoma which the Sooners defeated Maryland by a shutout in a bowl game
- The Irish played 6 teams which were ranked in the top 20 the year before while Maryland played only 2
- The (undefeated by the way) Irish played 3 teams in 1953 ranked in the top 10 while Maryland’s highest ranked opponent in 1953 was Alabama which ended up outside the top 10
- The NCAA instituted a single platoon system in 1952 and 1953 due to the Korean War, meaning that a player had to basically play both ways (on offense and defense). It also allowed freshman to play. Both were due to the fear that many college football players would leave for the armed forces and they compromise college athletic teams.
Lastly, I did think that the book portrayed Frank Leahy poorly, focusing on the bad and not on the good. I found that disappointing. I don’t want sugar coating, but I also don’t want to read the reverse either. Why the book took this stance I’ll never know.
All in all, a very good read about that the late 1940′s and early 1950′s in college football and Irish football. It is a little long winded in the first third yet it is a book I will go back to in the future to re-read.
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