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."

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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.
"We practiced only once on Good Friday-from about six a.m. to 11 a.m. Afterwards, I dragged myself into the locker room and I was bleeding, exhausted, and beaten. I couldn't move. Another player came in and threw down his helmet and said, 'Now I know exactly how Jesus Christ felt one thousand nine hundred and forty-two years ago today.'

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A Notre Dame lineman recalls:

Summer practice continued with two sessions a day. A typical day would be breakfast followed by the morning practice session on Cartier Field from 9 to 11 a.m. After lunch we had a team meeting at 12:30 p.m. in the Law Auditorium for about 30 to 45 minutes. The team stayed in Sorin Hall until school started, then the players would move into their regular halls for the school year. You could find most of the players lounging on the lawn in front of Sorin until the afternoon practice started at 3 p.m. as it was too hot during the day to stay in their rooms. During the school year the practices would begin at 3:30 to accommodate those who had a 2:15 p.m. class.
Everyone welcomed that break between sessions when you could stretch out on the lawn and maybe even doze a little if the aches would permit. I will never forget the day when a group of us were on the lawn relishing just doing nothing when someone in the group said, "Do you see what I see?" It was Terry and Jim Brennan with their golf clubs slung over their shoulders on the way to the Notre Dame golf course to get in a fast nine holes before the afternoon practice started. We could not believe they had the energy to voluntarily play golf when they could have rested between the brutal sessions. Yet, there was no mistake. It was Jim and Terry, and they were headed for the golf course. One of the linemen quipped, "Those backs must not be doing what we're doing. I think I'll ask to be switched to the backfield."

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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.'"

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One day in practice, Adams really tested the strength of his
unique helmet. Adams made a bet with one of the other tackles that he could run through the seven-foot wooden fence that surrounded Cartier Field. As Wally Ziemba, the center coach, tells the story, "Adams took about six or seven strides and, with that huge helmet went headfirst through the fence, shattering about seven of the slats. 'The crazy thing is the bet was for 50 cents--I don't think Adams ever collected."

 


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