Shake Down the Thunder: The Creation of Notre Dame Football

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9780805018745: Shake Down the Thunder: The Creation of Notre Dame Football
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Beginning with the humble origins of the Notre Dame football program in the nineteenth century, Shake Down the Thunder traces the evolution of the team to its status as a preeminent football power - winning national championships and attracting huge crowds to its games from coast to coast. In the process, Notre Dame has been hailed as the paragon of college football, and its history has gained almost mythical proportions. This is the true story of what happened during its formative years, the reality behind the myths.
In writing Shake Down the Thunder, author Murray Sperber had what no other writer about Notre Dame has ever had: the use of Knute Rockne's voluminous private correspondence, which sat unopened in the university library's basement since his death. Drawing on these letters and other extraordinary archival materials, Sperber fully explores the Notre Dame sports tradition, including the background of its most famed victories and the darker side of its past. Sperber reveals the mixed stories that make up the institution's history - stories of both its unflagging devotion to high standards and its coaches' less respectable deal-making and entrepreneurial ventures. Chronicling Notre Dame's struggle as a Catholic institution in an era of rabid anti-Catholicism, this account of the rise of a college football team also reflects the changes in the country's social fabric and shows how Notre Dame's power reached beyond the field to elevate the status of Catholics in America.
Shake Down the Thunder introduces the real personalities behind Notre Dame's icons, illuminating individuals such as Jesse Harper, George Gipp, Father John O'Hara, Elmer Layden, Frank Leahy, and Grantland Rice, but at the heart of the book is the greatest mythic figure of them all: Knute Rockne. A national celebrity first as a player and then as a coach, Rockne established the direction of the football program in a university struggling to maintain its academic identity, and truly made the team what it is today. Sperber exposes the startling profits Rockne personally reaped from the business of college sports, the origins of the fabled Four Horsemen, and the rightful author of the "Win One for the Gipper" speech.
Both social history and sports history, this book documents as never before the first half-century of Notre Dame football and relates it to the rise of big-time intercollegiate athletics, the college sports reform movement, and the corrupt sporting press of the period. Shake Down the Thunder is must reading for all Fighting Irish fans, their detractors, and any reader engaged by American cultural history.

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About the Author:

Murray Sperber is Professor of English and American Studies at Indiana University and author of Beer and Circuses: How Big-Time College Sports is Crippling Undergraduate Education, Onward to Victory: The Crises that Shaped College Sports, and College Sports Inc.: The Athletic Department vs. the University.

From Kirkus Reviews:

Sperber (English and American Studies/Indiana University; College Sports Inc., 1990) does in this exceptional, exhaustive history of Notre Dame football what he does best: dash myths and penetrate to systemic corruption and hypocrisy, all the while maintaining an implicit love for collegiate athletics. Using a cache of previously unexamined correspondence and athletic department files dated 1909-34, Sperber starts with the school's origins in the 1840's and continues through 1941. He attributes Notre Dame's football success in part to the independence it gained through its repeated rejection by the Western Conference and by the school's ``unique culture of athleticism.'' Included are fascinating anecdotes about the scheduling and playing of the great Michigan and Army games (the latter of which, contrary to legend, came about because the cadets had become ``pariahs'' by flouting standard eligibility rules); the ``Fighting Irish'' nickname, the fight song, the cheers, and the mascot; the making of the film ``Knute Rockne--All-American''; the Catholic school's battles with the KKK and other ``anti-papists''; and the corruption of journalists, officials, and coaches like ``Pop'' Warner, who frequently pocketed gate receipts. Sperber addresses what he calls Notre Dame's ``historic dilemma...the tension between its athletic prominence and its academic aspiration.'' Most telling is his look at the Knute Rockne myth. Sperber finds Rockne to be a man so concerned with ``the decline of American masculinity'' that he had no qualms about publicly humiliating those he saw as less than ``he-men.'' As the record and the testimony show, Rockne wasn't universally mourned when he died in that 1931 plane crash. His greatness as a coach, however, and as a football innovator, are given their just due here, though also placed in a realistic historical perspective. Quite an achievement: a monumental work of scholarship in both sports and social history. (Eight pages of photographs--not seen). -- Copyright ©1993, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

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