From "Out of Bounds" - Frank Leahy's Practice Session's
What his players remember most are those practices. Warm up exercises and calisthenics seemed like nap-time. Frank Leahy demanded two hours of all-out, full speed, hard-hitting football every afternoon.
Loaded with the deepest talent ever seen on a college team, the high-strung coach could afford the luxury of almost daily scrimmages. Injuries? Leahy never worried about those; he had too many talented replacements sitting on the bench. Besides, he wasn't above asking a boy to play hurt. "We all need a little more Christian Scientist in us," he used to say.
Often, during the roughest scrimmages, the coach would violently shake his head. "Lads," he would whine, "what seems to be our problem? I see no blood. I see no fights. Our Lady on the dome is watching, and she must have turned her back on us in shame." Sure enough, the fights, the blood, the monster intensity that makes for winning football would come in a hurry.
Three of this era's best assistant coaches were nicknamed The Parrot, The Enforcer, and Captain Bligh. If nothing else, that should give you some idea of what it was like to play Notre Dame football in the glory years of Francis William Leahy.
One day in the early forties, the team was being drilled in the stadium. Since the new season was still months away, coaches were not permitted on the field. Instead, the entire staff sat in the press box, with Leahy barking orders at the team through a loudspeaker.
It was a typically tough practice until darkness approached and a thick fog plopped onto the playing field. With even the stands fog-bound and obscured from the players, Leahy's commands took on a surrealistic quality. The disembodied voice seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere; and it had little reference to what was actually happening on the gridiron. Leahy continued as though everything were perfectly normal. In fact, he could not see a thing.
It did not take the players long to figure this out. One by one, and in growing groups, they snided off the field and into the showers. A few fellows remained, yelping and grunting, trying desperately to sound like a whole team. At last, Leahy gave the order to run some laps and quit for the day. The left-over players jogged in small circles near the press box, where Leahy could catch ghost-like glimpses of their fleeting figures.
Practice ended. Leahy never did seem to find out. As Winston Churchill once said, "Never was so much owed by so many to so few."
One player recalls:
"In the spring of '42 we were having long, hard
workouts every day. The other students had already gone home for Easter break, and we were
really looking forward to going. The day before our vacation he called us in and said,
'Lads, I've just received the greatest piece of news. I spoke with Father Cavanaugh and
he's agreed to let us stay at Notre Dame and practice twice a day during the break.' All
of the players were crushed, but no one said anything.
A Notre Dame lineman recalls:
Playing against John "Tree" Adams in practice was no fun. Bob Welch, a reserve guard, recently recalled one particular day playing against him. "It was a very hot summer afternoon in 1944, near the end of a tough practice, that one of the coaches decided that "Tree" Adams and I should go one-on-one. John on offense, me on defense. We went at each other with everything we had. I cannot remember if the whole team looked on, but I do remember that all the linemen were there. John was a better football player than I was, but I was determined to do my best. We were both near exhaustion when Moose Krause, who was calling the hikes, said, and this is exactly what he said, "That-a-boy Welch, you will make Tree an All American.' In spite of myself, I had to laugh and I can remember muttering, 'Yes and I hope I five to see it.'"
One day in practice, Adams really tested the
strength of his