Rakes Report #160: I told you these are the shadows of the things that have been. That they are what they are, do not blame me! (Christmas Giving Guest Essay)

I would like to begin by thanking everyone who has donated to and/or shared the Christmas Giving campaign so far. We’ve already exceeded $6,800, which is really just incredible. With such a strong start, I want to toss out a final stretch goal for the week: Ian Book is sitting at 8,500 career passing yards per ESPN, which is too round a number to pass up so we’re going to take a shot at hitting it. Additionally, if you were interested in the holiday shirts — available this month only, with all December proceeds for all designs going to the CFH — those are available here.

In an attempt to provide you with some bonus midweek Christmas Giving content and also mix it up with a different voice I am thrilled to present a retrospective from a longtime Friend of the Report, Matt Storin. Matt was editor of The Boston Globe from 1993 to 2001 and later an associate vice president and adjunct professor of journalism at Notre Dame, where he was stuck with me and some other members of the extended Rakes family in a couple of classes.

I very much enjoyed reading his look back at the seasons leading up to Ara and think you will as well as it certainly puts the current run of success in clearer perspective. The Class of 1964 shares a bond with those of us who saw 3-9 our senior year along with the survivors of the Class of 2017 who went out with 4-8. Without further delay, everything below is Matt Storin. Thanks to him for writing this and to all of you for reading.

In the 114 years that Notre Dame has fielded a football team only 18 of them failed to post a winning record.  I was there as a student for four of those seasons.  In fact, I was a student manager all those years, and head manager my senior season, 1963.

Only two ND classes have failed to see a winning season, mine (1964) and the one before mine (1963).  This was Notre Dame’s darkest era on the gridiron, five consecutive years:

1959: 5-5

1960: 2-8

1961: 5-5

1962: 5-5

1963: 2-7

It gets more poignant when you consider that this era followed the 1940s when the Irish had lost a total of seven games in 10 seasons, followed by five years in the ‘50s when they lost only five games. The word I’d apply to the feelings of students in my time would be “unworthy.”  We were not only not “The Greatest Generation” that had won a war, but also, we couldn’t keep up a great legacy that was the pride of Catholic America.

And remember, this was being endured at an all-male institution where cars, beer, and women were mighty scarce.  It was the place where fun went to die.

Our coach through my junior year was Joe Kuharich, an imperious kind of guy who had a losing record in the NFL both before and after his four years of coaching his alma mater.  In April 1963, he suddenly announced he was leaving ND for an administrative position in the NFL. I learned one of life’s lessons that day regarding how we might regard ourselves compared to how others regard us.  We had all been called to a meeting in what is now Hurley Hall and Coach Kurharich solemnly gave his team the news and urged them not to be discouraged by the sudden change.  He didn’t realize that most of the team despised him. He said Hugh Devore, then the popular freshmen team coach, would be coming over to meet with them. With that, he walked out the door. A few seconds went by and then the whole team burst out laughing. Like I said, one of life’s lessons.

Devore was a very nice man who was overmatched by the job. Plus, he had inherited Kuharich’s assistants, some of who were not happy. I recall walking out to practice before our second game of the season, a road game against Purdue, with Bill Daddio, a Kuharich holdover. I asked how he thought out chances would be that Saturday in West Lafayette. Daddio, a football lifer, barked, “It’ll be slaughter on 10th Avenue,” alluding to a famous Richard Rogers song from the ‘30s. As it happened, we lost 7-6 because Devore did not follow Daddio’s advice to have our kicker, John Huarte, attempt a field goal.  “Tell him Huarte can kick it from here,” Bill kept telling me from the pressbox over a headset.

Daddio was not an exception. Other coaches routinely disparaged Devore in private. It was not a happy situation. Yet, of our seven losses, four were by one touchdown or less.

Yes, against Purdue, John Huarte was our kicker. He played sparingly at quarterback. Frank Budka was quarterback for our two wins against USC and UCLA, but hadn’t played at Purdue. On the bus ride home, when we suddenly hit a bump, Frank yelled from the back of the bus, “That’s the most action I’ve had all day.” The next week Devore started Frank against the Trojans. After the win, Hughie said, “This is what I was saving him for.” There may have been a collective rolling of eyes on that one.

One oddity from this period: From the end of World War II until a win in 1967 (cue O.J. Simpson), USC lost nine consecutive games in Notre Dame Stadium.

Our game with Iowa, scheduled for Nov. 23, was cancelled by the Kennedy assassination, though we traveled out to Iowa City, leaving only a couple of hours after the news broke and before the full impact hit the nation. (I wrote about this day for The South Bend Tribune in 2003.) Our season ended in Yankee Stadium on Thanksgiving, the following Thursday.  And in other ways it ended poignantly that night in a Waldorf Astoria suite with Hughie in tears, commiserating over drinks with his captain, Bob Lehmann, and others.

That 1963 team, from which Ara Parseghian picked up the pieces, included 17 players who went on to the NFL or (then) AFL. John Huarte would win the Heisman as quarterback of the ’64 team. I recall before the Michigan State game telling John he was not on the traveling squad, but he remembers being there, so I guess he talked his way on. In the next two years, Jack Snow and Nick Rassas would be an All-Americans. It wasn’t like Notre Dame was no longer attracting talent. Clearly coaching made a difference. 

But as bleak as those years were, it was still Notre Dame Football and I’ve always treasured the way we were treated by the administration and the fans.  We traveled first class, stayed in excellent hotels, such as the famous Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles and the aforementioned Waldorf in New York. We managers still painted the helmets gold on Friday nights. The players were feted by alumni clubs in every city. I recall that after losing to Stanford in Palo Alto, a bunch of us went out on the town in San Francisco and didn’t have to spend a dime. In my junior year, after losing to USC, we stayed till Monday and enjoyed a visit to Disneyland in Anaheim. Athletic director Moose Krause and business manager Herb Jones were always supportive and encouraging. We had great training table meals after practice, often steak, on the east side of the South Dining Hall. (Something you wouldn’t see today: Our coaches would light up post-meal cigarettes.)

The coaches’ offices were in the northeast corner of the main floor of the Rockne Memorial. Our film sessions (and they were films in those days) were usually in an O’Shaughnessy classroom. I was usually responsible for bringing the film and projector back to the Rockne offices in the morning, using a borrowed car.  One night I couldn’t resist bringing Navy film back to my room in Walsh Hall to show my friends the amazing scrambles by a Navy quarterback named Roger Staubach.

Through good years and bad, football operations have evolved since then, the Gug football offices and indoor practice facility being the most dramatic examples. Back in my day, almost every player lived on campus and slept in his own dorm room the night before a game. Ara began the ritual of sequestering the team on the eve of a game, taking over Moreau Seminary. More recently they’ve decamped to a South Bend hotel

The pre-game Mass was usually celebrated in the Dillon Hall chapel or, when on the road, at a nearby church. When we played at Michigan State that year, who showed up at our Mass but MSU Coach Duffy Dougherty, a practicing Catholic. It was some outlandish gamesmanship on this part. He went up to receive Communion with our players.

Few games were televised in those days, and tailgating was nothing like today. There was a dirt road that would run roughly between Jordan Hall of Science and the Joyce Center today.  A few dozen cars would be allowed to park and party along that road.  That was it. In my four years, few games were sellouts, only two (USC and Navy) in ’63.  Generally, the four upper corners of the Stadium were sparsely peopled.  The Pitt game, as the ’63 season wound down, attracted only 41,306.

Although there had been one or two adult fans who dressed as the Leprechaun in those years, the first students to play the role came along in either ’62 or ’63, though I don’t think they were officially sanctioned at that time.

One strange fact from those dark days: I know of no more loyal or devoted alums than my classmates. We had only 14 victories in our four years, so we appreciate each one now a little more. And now we’ve had 10 in three months.

Once again, thank you to Matt for contributing this — I really appreciate him taking the time to put it together. While I’m repeating myself I wanted to again thank those of you who’ve already donated and drop the link to the GoFundMe again.