Resurrection: The Miracle Season That Saved Notre Dame

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9780312650179: Resurrection: The Miracle Season That Saved Notre Dame

Jim Dent, author of the New York Times bestselling The Junction Boys returns with the remarkable and inspiring story of one of the biggest comebacks in college football history.

In the 1960's, Notre Dame's football program was in shambles. Little did anyone know, help was on its way in the form of Ara Parseghian, a controversial choice for head coach―the first one outside of the Notre Dame "family." It was now his responsibility to rebuild the once-proud program and teach the Fighting Irish how to win again. But it was no small task.

The men of Notre Dame football were a bunch of unlikelies and oddballs, but Parseghian transformed them into a team: a senior quarterback who would win the Heisman Trophy; a five-foot-eight walk-on who would make first team All-American; an exceptionally rare black player, who would overcome much more than his quiet demeanor to rise to All-American, All-Pro, Hall of Famer, and to the Minnesota Supreme Court. Parseghian would change everything, from the uniforms and pads to the offensive strategy. It would be a huge gamble against great obstacles. But Ara Parseghian had that look in his eye....

New York Times bestselling author Jim Dent chronicles one of the greatest comeback seasons in the history of college football. Once again confirming his position as one of the top sports writers in the country, Dent brings the legends of Notre Dame football to life in an unforgettable story of second chances, determination, and unwavering spirit.

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About the Author:

JIM DENT, a long-time award-winning journalist who covered the Dallas Cowboys for eleven years at the Dallas Times Herald and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, has written seven books, including Twelve Mighty Orphans, and The Junction Boys, the New York Times bestseller and ESPN movie that remains a fan favorite to this day. Dent lives in Texas.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter 1
TOUGH IRISH KID
Snow was blowing sideways on a Chicago morning in December of 1963 when Tony Carey aimed the ’53 Chevy into the parking lot at Marshall Field’s department store. His fingers drummed the steering wheel to the beat of “Louie Louie.” His mind drifted back to Notre Dame and the trouble that had gone down.
Carey’s mood reflected the low, gray clouds rolling off Lake Michigan. Life should have turned out better. No one ever expected him to get kicked out of Notre Dame, even for one semester, and as a result, his football career almost crashed. In three years in South Bend he had yet to suit up for one game. How could this happen to a tough Irish kid from the south side of Chicago?
Not long ago, Carey had greatness written all over him. In 1960, he quarterbacked Mount Carmel High to a 28–7 victory over archrival St. George in the Chicago Catholic League championship game, and the Caravan proceeded to win the overall city title by defeating Taft High as Carey won Most Valuable Player honors. He could still feel his cleats digging into the thick grass at Soldier Field; his ears remained filled with the cheering of 80,000 fans. You could fill a dozen scrapbooks with the stories they had written about Tony Carey.
Once upon a time, Notre Dame had been the passion of his life. The Fighting Irish existed in his genes. His father, Robert, had competed on the Notre Dame track team and graduated with a law degree from the university in 1926. His brother, Tom, had played quarterback for legendary coach Frank Leahy in the early fifties. So how was it possible that this grand old football program had gone straight into the toilet? How in the name of Knute Rockne had an American brand name bigger than General Motors become yesterday’s news? It seemed that no one cared anymore. The nine national championships, the five Heisman Trophies, and the Four Horse men were memories and nothing more. It could be said that the Notre Dame program was suffering through a period of Famine, Pestilence, Destruction, and Death.
Word from the Chicago newspapers was that Notre Dame would soon depart from the ranks of big-time college football to join Stanford, Northwestern, Army, Navy, Vanderbilt, Rice, and others of a lesser football heritage in a conference certain to inspire mediocrity. Collegiate powers like Michigan State, Iowa, Wisconsin, Purdue, and USC would be crossed off the schedule. It would be a quasi-Ivy League existence instead of an annual chase for number one. Good-bye Frank Leahy. See you later, Johnny Lujack. Forget about those rollicking Saturdays at Yankee Stadium in the twenties, thirties, and forties, when Notre Dame versus Army captured the imagination of an entire nation. Ignore the fact that Rockne and Notre Dame had once salvaged college football’s reputation as a scandal-ridden blood sport. Quash the notion that Notre Dame in the twenties had single-handedly transformed college football from a lowly outsider into an American institution.
That frosty morning in ’63, Tony Carey, his life going nowhere, shifted the Chevy into neutral and gazed at the gathering storm. Not once had he felt so alone. Never could he remember being on the outside looking in. Giving up was getting closer than hanging on. Oh, he probably would return for spring practice in March, hoping to jump-start his career, but his focus at this time was pursuing his diploma and preparing himself for law school.
Then it hit him. Why had the music stopped? Carey looked down at the radio now silent in his dashboard. He heard static and then a voice: “We interrupt our regular programming to bring you this news bulletin.”
Carey would say for decades that he did not remember climbing onto the hood of the ’53 Chevy that day, but in a matter of seconds, he was dancing and yelling. Snow was sticking to his flattop. His high-top, rough-suede hush puppies, a.k.a. Polish gym shoes, were getting soaked. People were watching him. Still, nothing was about to calm that piston inside his heart.
“We are back! We are back!” he yelled.
A new coach was coming to Notre Dame. The football program would have a fighting chance. It would be a huge gamble against great odds. But the man they were talking about on the radio had that look in his eye.
Chapter 2
BLUEPRINT FOR DEFEAT
Given the glorious past of Notre Dame football, it seemed preposterous that a powerful force would set out to tear it all down. Actually, it was the work of two people, and both were insiders.
The fall of Notre Dame football was set in motion in 1953. The reason was simple: President Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh hated the term “football factory.” Fair or not, this was how Notre Dame was perceived across America. Father Hesburgh was driven to change the entire scheme and to clean up the image. To him, the sins of the institution had begun under Knute Rockne back in the 1920s. The Roaring Twenties was the decade of excess, and Notre Dame football was the epitome of that overindulgence.
For years, Father Hesburgh had studied the football program and wondered how it could have gotten so out of control. How could a brutish game come to overshadow an entire university? So at the end of the 1953 season, about a year after he ascended to the office of the presidency, the priest set out to dismantle the factory. Academia would be number one.
Father Hesburgh, starting in the early 1950s, fought the odds to transform the university into the “Harvard of the Midwest.” If football had to suffer, so be it. His closest friend and leading supporter in this quest was Father Edmund P. Joyce, who recently had been elevated to the title of executive vice president and chairman of the faculty board in charge of athletics. Together, the two men began their crusade. They slashed athletic scholarships and started to rein in the program. First, they had to do something about coach Frank Leahy, a rogue who had built his own fiefdom while bending many rules. Fathers Hesburgh and Joyce could have cared less that Leahy had been college football’s most successful coach over the past two de cades.
When Fathers Hesburgh and Joyce set out to fix the university’s reputation, they dumped the old Notre Dame thinking that was the foundation for this relentless pursuit of championships. Regardless of the amount of glory it shined upon the university, football was about to take a fall.
Father Joyce was quick to support this philosophy. “Naturally, we would like to have a winning football team,” he said, “but it is not so important as all that. I can understand the attention that the football team has received, because of the past, but you must remember that Notre Dame is a great academic institution and it has been for many years.”
Had they forgotten that Notre Dame was nothing more than a remote outpost out on the cold Indiana plains when Rockne took over as coach in 1918? If not for football, Notre Dame would have remained a forgotten sectarian college. When Notre Dame and Army met in the legendary 1913 game at West Point, the Cadets admitted they had never heard of Notre Dame—could not even pronounce it. Army players simply referred to the team as the “Catholics.”
It was Rockne who spread the Notre Dame fame far and wide in the twenties. Who could forget the visage of Pat O’Brien playing the Rock in the movie Knute Rockne: All American. “Pass that Ball! Run that Ball! Fight! Fight! Fight!”
Since the beginning of time, it seemed, Notre Dame had been all about the old pigskin. Why else would a campus statue of Father William Corby with his right hand held up be called “Fair Catch Corby?” Why would everyone shout “We’re No. 1!” when they set eyes on the statue of Moses with his forefinger pointing to the sky? Why else would the Sacred Heart Church be the place where students and alumni alike went to seek forgiveness for beating Iowa by only two touchdowns?
Needless to say, this overhyped notion did not sit well with Father Hesburgh. He was still disturbed over the troubling issues from the 1920s when players were not required to attend classes. Halfback George Gipp might have been the greatest player of this era, but he was a heavy drinker and a gambler who bet on his own team. During a tongue-lashing from Rockne at halftime of the 1919 Army game, Gipp supposedly said, “Ah, don’t worry, Rock. We’ll win in the second half. I’ve got five hundred bucks bet on this game.”
Gipp had played professionally on Sundays under an assumed name, just as Rockne and others had done during their playing days at Notre Dame.
In the 1930s, after Rockne perished in a plane crash in Bazaar, Kansas, Notre Dame football leveled off for a few years, then sprang back into the national consciousness when Frank Leahy took over in 1941. Six undefeated seasons, three national championships, a thirty-nine-game unbeaten streak, and four Heisman Trophy winners matched the standards that Rockne once set. No one could deny Leahy his place among the greatest coaches of all time.
For all of his upside, though, Leahy could be an embarrassment. His petulant behavior was well chronicled as he coached his players to fake injuries in order to save time-outs. That little trick not only incensed opponents but the Notre Dame alumni as well.
Father Hesburgh’s dim view of Notre Dame football began to take shape when he was promoted to executive vice president and athletics chairman in 1949. That is when the priest and the coach started to tangle. Father Hesburgh got his first tour of the factory and quickly came to know Leahy and his greedy deeds. He did not like what he saw. Notre Dame might have enjoyed the greatest run in the history of college football, but things had to change.
Father Hesburgh’s appointment to head of athletics was made by Notre Dame president Father John J. Cavanaugh, who had originally hired Leahy in 1941. Cavanaugh was not aware at the time of h...

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