Postcard views of Notre Dame

 

A rare postcard from 1909 features coach Frank "Shorty" Longman, star back Red Miller and the rest of the famous team which defeated Michigan.
 

Here is the story of Notre Dame’s first victory over Michigan in 1909. The text is an excerpt from John Kryk’s excellent book, Natural Enemies: The Notre Dame - Michigan Feud. In an Irish Legends exclusive, John has added some trivia and interesting facts about the rivalry.

 

Harry "Red" Miller of Notre Dame (far left) breaks into open field in the monumental 1909 game at Ann Arbor. Miller led the way as Notre Dame beat Michigan for the first time in nine tries, 11-3.

Natural Enemies: The Notre Dame-Michigan football feud
Chapter 6
Red-letter day, '09

Eleven fighting Irishmen wrecked the Yost machine this afternoon. These sons of Erin, individually and collectively representing the University of Notre Dame, not only beat the Michigan team, but they dashed some of Michigan's fondest hopes and shattered Michigan's fairest dreams.

With that flowery lead, E.A. Batchelor of the Detroit Free Press popularized a moniker Notre Dame teams would later come to embrace-and aptly summed up the greatest athletic achievement to that point in Notre Dame history.

At long last, the "Fighting Irish" recorded their first victory over the Wolverines, by a score of 11-3 on November 6, 1909. The fact it came against one of Fielding Yost's greatest teams, and was a ruinous loss for him and Michigan, made it all the sweeter for Notre Dame.

For what must have seemed like forever, Notre Dame had the mid- western summit plainly within view, but eight previous swipes could not topple the well-perched Wolverines. This year, a direct hit was
scored by these 11 fighting Irishmen: linemen Howard (Cap) Edwards, George Philbrook, Ed Lynch, Sam (Rosey) Dolan, and Ralph Dimmick; ends Lee Matthews and Joe Collins; halfbacks Harry (Red) Miller and Billy Ryan; fullback Pete Vaughan; and quarterback Don Hamilton.

Ironically, it took a former Wolverine to ensure the victor wasn't Mich-again. Frank (Shorty) Longman, a fullback on Yost's Point- A-Minute teams of 1903-05, was Notre Dame's new, roughneck coach. He knew how to beat the master. And he had the players to do it, as most of the previous year's squad returned.

For eight weeks Longman had been carefully preparing his players for this day. The Irish were 4-0 when they arrived in Ann Arbor, having defeated Olivet, Rose Poly, and Michigan Agricultural College before raising a lot of eyebrows back East a week earlier with a 6-0
win at Pittsburgh.

Michigan assistant coach Prentiss Douglass had scouted the Pitt game and came away impressed with Notre Dame, especially with its offense, but he still was of the opinion the Wolverines were two touchdowns better.

That's exactly what Longman was hoping for. He had tricked the Michigan scout by not using any of his pet pass plays-short ones over the line-and by virtually ignoring halfback Red Miller, upon whom he would depend so much against Michigan. Longman's deception didn't end there. He had sent out "bear stories" (ruses) all week about how battered and listless his players were in their preparations for Michigan, and he told the South Bend Tribune that Notre Dame didn't scrimmage once on account of player shortages.

Longman was just borrowing from the master's playbook here. He wanted to beat Michigan as badly as did any Notre Dame player, because none of Yost's Wolverines had ever come back to beat the old man as coach of another team. Dan McGugin at Vanderbilt and Al Herrnstein at Ohio State had come close, and many others who got their jobs at Yost's referral craved the opportunity. But Longman knew he had a great shot, and he pulled out all the stops to make history.

The master was not entirely fooled by the pupil's ruses, however. The Michigan varsity worked heavily on defensive play all week in preparation for the vaunted Irish offense. Yost had originally viewed Notre Dame as just a tough tune-up for Michigan's final two opponents, mighty Penn and eventual Western Conference champion Minnesota. But he was now wary of the Irish threat. "We've got to work as we have never worked before," he told the Ann Arbor Daily Times News. "Notre Dame is coming up here Saturday with a bunch of men that have had more football experience than any of the players on our team. They are almighty strong. Saturday's contest will be as hard as either the Pennsylvania or Minnesota games."

The Wolverines had beaten Case, Ohio State, and Marquette before traveling to Syracuse the day Notre Dame was in Pittsburgh. The Orangemen were supposed to have presented a stiff challenge, but Michigan surprised the eastern folk by crushing Syracuse 44-0. That spawned comparisons of these Wolverines to their Point-A-Minute predecessors.

Beause of each team's showing thus far, this was the first Michigan-Notre Dame game to arouse national interest. Walter Eckersall of the Chicago Tribune, considered the leading expert on western football, rated the game as not only the day's most important in the West, but on equal footing nationally with the Dartmouth-Princeton clash. The fact legendary Walter Camp chose to attend-among several other prominent eastern experts-was proof positive Notre Dame-Michigan had truly arrived.

Among the 6,000 fans at Ferry Field, hundreds were rooting for the
Fighting Irish, even though an official excursion by Notre Dame students was canceled the day before. Back at Notre Dame, telegraph returns were read to the mass of pupils that had gathered on the campus gridiron.

Shortly after two o'clock, the teams rushed onto-get this-a dry, sun-swept field. Perhaps that old Ann Arbor jinx Notre Dame used to grumble about was actually secreted somewhere behind the rain clouds of autumn, because such was nowhere to be found on this beautiful day.

Early in the first half, though, Michigan again was raining on Notre Dame's parade.

After the Irish marched to the Michigan 20, Billy Ryan's 30-yard field goal attempt from placement was blocked, and Wolverine end Stan Borleske fell on the ball. Several possessions later, Michigan right halfback Dave Allerdice threw up the first of only two forward passes attempted by the Wolverines this day, and Ryan intercepted for Notre Dame-but right away he fumbled and Borieske recovered on the Notre Dame 20. One play later, Allerdice drilled a field goal from placement snapped from 20 yards out, and Michigan led 3-0 with 18 minutes having elapsed.

"Notre Dame was suffering from stage fright," wrote Harold Titus of the Detroit News-Tribune "But it didn't take long for this scare to lose itself in the heat of the contest. Edwards, the big captain-tackle, pleaded. And his team responded."

Especially Red Miller.

The speedy halfback snared momentum for Notre Dame after fielding a Dave Allerdice punt. "Miller was racing along, right down the sidelines," wrote Titus. "A Michigan man dove and missed his flying legs. Another grabbed at his waist and was shaken off. But Borleske was coming. It was a long, sensational dive-over five yards-and his right shoulder crashed into the Notre Dame man's knees." Borleske, Michigan's sensational left end, made the tackle but did not get up. With the crowd shouting his name in unison, Borleske was eventually helped off the field, his collarbone broken and his season finished. Jamie (Okie) Rogers, a little-used sub, took Borleske's place at left end. The Irish correctly smelled a weak spot.

With about 10 minutes left in the first half, it was Miller time again. The redhead put on one of the most spectacular individual displays in series history by almost single-handedly marching the Irish from midfield down to the Michigan two-yard line. "Quarterback Hamilton had me carry the ball about 10 succesive times," Miller remembered, "which almost exhausted me and forced me to beg him not to go it again."

Hamilton obliged and called on Pete Vaughan to finish off the drive. Two line smashes bent the Michigan forward wall ever so slightly, Vaughan bringing the ball to within inches of the Wolverine goal- with third and final down coming up. (They had three downs to gain 10 yards at that time.)

"Six thousand people were silent," Titus wrote. "Up in the bleachers, Hamilton's voice could be heard, snapping out the signals." Vaughan again got the call, and he charged toward the right wing before disappearing under a heap of bodies stacked around one of the goalposts. Did he make it? No one could immediately tell.

"Then the players disentangled themselves," Titus continued. "They stood up in a close circle and none but they could see where the ball had stopped. Referee Ralph Hoagland elbowed his way through the panting, padded players.

"A Notre Dame sub was holding Longman. The Notre Dame coach had thrown aside his coat. His hat, crumpled and broken, laid somewhere on the sidelines.

"Then the knot of players gave way. Yelling, dancing like madmen, the Notre Dame players ran down the field. [Vaughan] laid with his back on the goal line and hugged the ball to his chest. And the ball was across the chalk mark."
Touchdown!

Legends grow with time, and for years thereafter, Notre Dame freshmen were annually regaled with the story of how Pete Vaughan hit the Michigan line so hard, the goalpost left an imprint on his jersey. It wasn't long before it was the story of how Pete Vaughan not only knocked over the goalpost, but did so with his head. Day-after newspaper accounts mention nothing of the kind. [check "Shenanigans" for Vaughan's own account of the famous touchdown plunge. -ed.]

Ryan's conversion was off the mark, so Notre Dame led 5-3 with a few minutes left before half.

When Michigan finally secured possession again, it had time to run only two plays, the last of which was a lame pass from Allerdice that Lee Matthews intercepted.

The fired-up Irish stormed off the field, having completely dominated play. The short passes were befuddling the Wolverines, and the end runs were killing them. As near as can be deduced from newspaper play-by-play accounts, the Irish amassed almost 200 total yards to Michigan's 45. If it hadn't been for two missed field goals the Irish would have been comfortably ahead.

No one need guess what fiery orations Yost and Longman-perhaps the fieriest orators in football-peppered their players with at half- time. Titus's Detroit News-Tribune account provides the details: Yost hurried his men to the field house and there, mounted on a bench, roared at them while [trainer] Keene Fitzpatrick went over their steaming bodies.
"Git 'em low, I tell you. Git 'em low! Fight, fight, FIGHT!," Yost roared, shouted, emphasizing his words with extravagant gestures. And out on the field Longman was talking to his men.

"You've got only 35 minutes more, boys!," the photographers heard him say. "You've got 'em beat. It's Michigan you're playin'-Michigan. Yost's team. Now be good boys and hold 'em. Think of it! The chance of a life- time! Yost-Fielding Yost, the man I played for. Can you understand?!"
They understood perfectly. According to one treasured tidbit of Notre Dame folklore, a player stood up and pleaded, "What's the matter with you guys? You're all Irish and you're not fighting worth a lick." Some writers eavesdropping along with the photographers jotted down the expression, and that's likely how EA. Batchelor of the Detroit Free Press got the idea for the term "fighting Irishmen."

To be sure, the Irish would have to fight like hell to hold on to their 5-3 lead in the second half. Longman instructed quarterback Hamilton to play more conservatively, forgoing the passing game and limiting the number of end runs.

Meanwhile, Yost decided to utilize the great Allerdice to maximum effect. Throughout Yost's 25 years as Wolverine coach, he loved to employ his coveted "kicking game"-a strategy of patience, defense, and opportunism.

The idea was this: By punting the ball away immediately, and forcing the other team and its weaker punter to boot it back right away, Michigan would gradually gain yardage on the exchanges until the foe was pinned deep in its own end. The Wolverines would keep trading kicks until the opponent inevitably coughed up the ball (it was Yost's belief, and experience, that any team eventually buckles under the pressure of constantly playing in the shadow of its own goalposts). Then the Wolverines would discard the ultraconservative approach for the other extreme, uncorking a wide and wide-open variety of trick scoring plays. And because the Yostmen would have been conserving their offensive energy, they'd be fresher than their opponents and more likely to convert the miscue into points.

Of course, the Yost strategy would fail if the Michigan defense could not stop the Irish. But in the second half the Wolverines, so thoroughly shredded in the first 35 minutes, stiffened. Notre Dame was able to pick up only the odd first down before punting. Michigan booted the ball back almost exclusively on first down, and gained a little better field position each time-exactly as designed.

Yost's strategy appeared to pay off with about six minutes remaining and Notre Dame still leading 5-3. After Red Miller returned Allerdice's 11th punt of the half to the Irish 25, Ryan fumbled a pitchout from quarterback Hamilton. Albert Benbrook, Michigan's towering All-America guard who played a magnificent game, recovered at the 15-yard line.
The Yostmen had their break.

On first down, left halfback Joe Magidsohn crashed off Philbrook for three. Then Magidsohn slashed for six. That brought up third and one on the six, the ball directly in front of the goalposts.

What to do: go for the first down, or attempt the go-ahead field goal now? The Notre Dame players appeared exhausted, having burned so much more energy in running off so many more offensive plays than Michigan-about 60 to Michigan's 20. A gain of one measly yard would give the Wolverines three cracks at a touchdown from within the five-yard line.

"The Michigan rooters saw victory," Titus wrote. "The big bleachers shook as thousands of feet stamped on the heavy planking. Down on the field, the Michigan men were holding a consultation."

Quarterback Wasmund was discussing options with Benbrook, Allerdice, and veteran tackle Bill Casey. Wasmund suggested they go for it by crashing Magidsohn into the line again. Benbrook and Casey were hesitant, not entirely sure they could whip the Irish linemen on this most crucial play. Allerdice then suggested they go for the sure field goal (he was accurate up to 45 yards). And that's what quarterback Wasmund called-much to the outrage of Yost and most of the spectators, as a converted touchdown would have given Michigan a 9-5 lead, instead of 6-5 with a field goal, and thereby forced Notre Dame to come back and score a touchdown to win.

"But Wasmund dropped back," Titus continued. "Carefully, he patted down the grass. The men on secondary defense poised themselves carefully."

Red Miller picks it up: "I was near the end of the line next to right tackle Ralph Dimmick. I glanced along our line. It was a thrilling tableau. There each man was set, like a tiger about to spring, his body taut, his face grim, his lips drawn back, his teeth flashing, a picture of power and determination. Confidence took possession of me. It was deadly quiet. Then suddenly it was broken. "We're going through!" someone called loudly in a hard, harsh voice I hardly recognized. It was my own."

Michigan's James Watkins, playing in his first and last game at center, snapped the ball back. It was low. Wasmund scrambled to place the ball down properly, while Allerdice swung his mighty right leg into the pigskin.
Thud! Half the Notre Dame line shot through and blocked the kick. The ball bounded all the way back to the Notre Dame 40, where Rosey Dolan fell on it for the Irish.

Just like that, all the fumbles, foibles, and follies that had so plagued Notre Dame in this series were suddenly thrown back in Michigan's face-with equal collective measure.

The Wolverines were dumbfounded. The Irish and their fans went berserk, as Notre Dame not only thwarted what might well have been the game-winning kick, but instantly had great field position with only five minutes left. Barring a turnover, there was little chance Michigan would again get so close to the Irish goal.

The Wolverines' next possession began at their 40 and, astonishingly, they did not open up their offensive arsenal. But Wasmund may have been under instruction not to use any trick pass plays, as Yost had wanted to save them for Penn and Minnesota, whose scouts were surely on hand. The one and only gamble Michigan tried backfired when Allerdice attempted an on-side punt (punts were live balls then, and this was a common means of gaining big chunks of yardage), because the ball was caught by Notre Dame's Billy Ryan, who returned it 18 yards to midfield.

Later, Ryan exorcized the last of the Wolverine demons, recovering a bouncing Notre Dame punt at the Michigan 30-yard line with only a minute or so remaining. On the next play, Ryan broke free around right end, eluded Joy Miller and two other Wolverines, and went the distance for a game-icing touchdown. Converting from placement was-who else?-Ryan.

Final score: Notre Dame 11, Michigan 3. Kid brother had finally got the best of big brother.

While the disconsolate Michigan faithful sang along with the band as it played the school alma mater, "The Yellow and Blue," the Notre Dame partisans screamed with delight as the subs hoisted the 11 stalwart fighting Irishmen onto their shoulders and carried them off the field. Longman, Titus reported, was "bereft of his senses."

So was everybody back at Notre Dame. The students who gathered
at Cartier Field went crazy when the last cable was received. They put on a huge bonfire that night, as school officials and students alike woke up the echoes.

There were plenty of heroes to honor in Notre Dame's titanic victory, including backs Billy Ryan and Pete Vaughan-and linemen Rosey Dolan, George Philbrook, and Ralph Dimmick. But the play of Red Miller was on another level. His was considered the greatest one-man performance on a Michigan football field since the days of Willie Heston. When Miller wasn't shaking off tacklers around end, or tearing through the line, or dashing upfield on punt returns, or leveling Michigan defenders with devastating blocks, he was a demon on defense. "There hardly was a play in the whole game in which he was not the central figure," Batchelor wrote.

The Irish certainly were deserving of victory, even though the Wolverines' strategy almost paid off. But even had Michigan elected to go for broke on the biggest down of all, Longman was of the opinion the Wolverines would not have made it. "I don't think they could have gained an inch," said the Notre Dame coach, adding with his best Yost imitation, "if they had been given 10 downs in which to make a first down, they couldn't have succeeded. They were outplayed and they should have little complaint to make."

The Wolverines themselves did not complain-in fact Red Miller said he had never seen better sportsmen-but Wolverine partisans sure did. Quarterback Wasmund was not exactly the most popular man in Ann Arbor afterward. Allerdice, the captain, had to release a statement the following day in order to explain that the decision to kick the field goal was ultimately his, not Wasmund's.

Yost was perplexed and angered by that decision. "I don't know what Benbrook and Casey could have meant by advising a placekick when we had such a short distance to go for a touchdown and we had just made two good gains."

The Michigan coach took the defeat hard. His ego hadn't been jolted like this since Michigan's 2-0 loss to Chicago in 1905, which ended the Point-A-Minute era.

"What makes me so daggoned mad is that we might have won the game," Yost moaned. "Those are the worst kind of games to lose. They leave a worm in a man's heart to gnaw and gnaw. Oh, I don't know. I'm sick and tired of the whole business; it certainly is discouraging. Although we were outplayed we should have won. I take my hat off to the Irishmen."

No doubt after a forced gulp, Yost even praised Red Miller in post-game interviews. "Wish I had one like him and good-bye Penn and Gophers," he said. "Some of the sting of defeat was taken away by the pleasure of seeing that Hibernian tear 'em up and shake 'em off."
The next day, coach Longman and Miller paid the master a visit. "When Shorty Longman introduced me to Mr. Yost, who had been my idol for years, I was thrilled beyond measure and my heart was beating fast," Miller recalled.

But the volcano that was Yost's wounded pride suddenly erupted. "To my utter amazement and consternation, he greeted me by saying, 'Miller, you were guilty of the most unsportsmanlike conduct that I've ever seen in all my days."'

The coach was upset with the way Miller had waited several times until the last possible moment before signaling for a fair catch of a Michigan punt. The Wolverines were penalized 15 yards each time for interference. The fair catches were perfectly legal, and Miller said the only reason he called for them was because the Michigan ends had been creaming him the instant he had caught Allerdice's high-sailing kicks.
Miller was astounded by Yost's charge.

I couldn't believe my ears. I was shocked. I don't believe I had ever done an unsportsmanlike act in my life. I could not speak for a few minutes.... I finally blurted, 'I really don't know what you're talking about.'
"'You do, too."'

After arguing to no avail, Miller simply walked away.
"I was deeply wounded. I often wondered if he could be right, however illogical it might be. Of every official and coach I met there- after I made inquiry as to whether or not it was unsportsmanlike to signal for a fair catch at the last moment under the circumstances, and invariably the answer was an emphatic 'no.' . . . Later in the light of more mature years I know he was absolutely wrong."

But at the time, Miller was devastated. Yost's accusation "spoiled the victory for me," he recalled.

Soon the Michigan coach would go to far greater lengths to spoil the victory for all Notre Dame people.

 

ND-UM trivia from author John Kryk

1) Before 1978, the two titans of the Midwest Notre Dame and Michigan played only 11 times. That's amazing considering that the two schools are situated only 150 miles apart between Chicago and Detroit. Nevertheless, the Fighting Irish won only two of those pre-1978 games and both times this was the scenario:

A Notre Dame halfback named Miller was the star player as the Fighting Irish posted one of their greatest wins of the era, at Ann Arbor no less. In 1909, Harry "Red" Miller repeatedly tore through, over, and especially around the Wolverines as Notre Dame finally got the best of Michigan, 11-3, at Ferry Field.

In 1943, Creighton Miller, Red Miller's son, repeatedly tore through, over, and especially around the Wolverines as No. 1 Notre Dame crushed the second-ranked Wolverines 35-12 at Michigan Stadium. Red Miller watched the game in the press box, only a few hundred yards from Ferry Field.

2) Harry Oliver had never kicked a field goal longer than 38 yards in a football game in his life when he strode forward on Sept. 13, 1980 to nail a 51-yarder into a suddenly dying wind to give the Fighting Irish one of their most celebrated victories in history, 29-27 over Michigan at Notre Dame Stadium.

3) TRIVIA QUESTION: How many Notre Dame runners under Lou Holtz rushed for 100 yards in a game against Michigan? ANSWER: Zero. Amazingly, the last Fighting Irish player to pull of the feat was fullback Larry Moriarty in 1982.

4) Notre Dame's record against Michigan in green jerseys (or green trim if on the road): 3-2. (1942 L, 1943 W, 1978 L, 1979 W, 1980 W).

5) Notre Dame's record in day games against Michigan at Notre Dame Stadium: 1-4-1. (1942 L, 1978 L, 1980 W, 1986 L, 1992 T, 1994 L).

6) Number of times the Irish have led or tied Michigan at Notre Dame Stadium at halftime: 8 out of nine.
Number of times the Irish have led Michigan at Notre Dame Stadium with 2:00 remaining: 2 out of nine.
Number of times the Irish have defeated Michigan at Notre Dame Stadium: 4 out of nine. (They came back to win in both '88 and '90.)

 

 

 

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