Postcard views of Notre Dame

Vintage postcard of the 1909 Fighting Irish.
Vintage postcard of the 1909 Fighting Irish.

'Twas an all-star bunch of players,
They were hustlers, also stayers,--
Played the game from start to finish with enthusiastic zest;
They could be, at need, good losers,
But the good old Gold and Blue, sirs,
Was not losing, not exactly; we were
               Champions of the West.
               Scholastic Magazine, Nov. 1909

The following is a description of the 1909 Notre Dame team from Michael Steele's The Fighting Irish Football Encyclopedia:

Victor Place [Notre Dame's coach in 1908] was replaced by Frank "Shorty" Longman, a former fullback for Yost from 1903 to 1905. He had coached at Arkansas and Wooster; at Wooster he had beaten Ohio State, the first time in 18 tries for the small school. In picking Longman, Notre Dame signalled the end of the domination of eastern personnel and methods.

The Fighting Irish had some good players- especially Miller and Vaughan in the backfield and linemen Ralph Dirnmick and George Philbrook. The school also now had its own song, the "Notre Dame Victory March." The scene was set for a good year of football. It should also be noted that this was the first season in which the field goal scored the 3 points known in modern football.

Olivet opened the season, losing 58-0. The Fighting Irish had a big lead at the half but still used an onside kick. Longman also showed a preference for"smash-mouth" football, as his big linemen scored five touchdowns.

Rose Poly befell a similar fate, 60-11. Longman showed that he could combine power with passing by turning loose the towering Philbrook as a receiver. He promptly scored on a 50-yard touchdown pass. Dimmick also scored, but on the ground. Miller scored four times and Vaughan three. Rose Poly did score a touchdown when a Fighting Irish onside kick went astray, and a Rose Poly player snatched it just in time to see Philbrook steaming after him. Notre Dame blocked a field goal try that ended up in a second touchdown for Rose Poly.

A still-improving Michigan Agricultural College lost 17-0 in a well-played game. Dimmick ran in a touchdown from the 20-yard line, and Vaughan scored twice. Then Notre Dame went east to begin a series with Pitt and escaped with a 6-0 win; the issue was settled with the first game-winning touchdown pass in Fighting Irish history -a 35-yarder from Don Hamilton to Lee Mathews. The referees were so objectionable that Pete Dwyer, substitute QB (second team), protested too much, was ejected, and then tried to hit a refeme. They invented a 45-yard penalty to end the argument.

After that, Ann Arbor must have seemed peaceful. But the 5,000 Michigan fans were stunned by a thrilling 11-3 Fighting Irish win. Walter Camp was there, too. Longman had been showcasing a long passing attack, but changed to a patient, short game. He still liked the onside kick, but it backfired when Allerdice recovered the first one and scored a field goal. Vaughan replied with the first Irish touchdown, shocking the fans when at the end of his run, he ran into and demolished the goal posts. Michigan fought back; but a blocked field goal try was recovered by Notre Dame on the Michigan 35-yard line, setting up Billy Ryan's touchdown. A dejected Yost said afterwards, "Those are the worst kind of games to lose. They leave a worm in a man's heart to gnaw and gnaw." Longman introduced Miller to Yost the next day, who (Yost) promptly complained that Miller had called for fair catches too late five times, earning cheap penalties. A week later, Yost changed his tune completely: "...we went into the game caring little whether we won or lost."  He would eventually define it as a "practice game"--even though 5,000 fans came to the proceedings on November 6, and Walter Camp just happened to drop by.

The Fighting Irish high lasted through a 46-0 win over 0hio Northern. Longman turned his tackles loose on tackle-around plays, and Phillbrook and Dolan garnered two touchdowns each. Wabash was dispatched 38-0. Harper [Editors note: Jesse Harper would become ND's first full time football coach and athletic director in 1913] liked what he saw and chose seven Fighting Irish players for his 11 -man All-State squad.

Mounting injuries contributed to a scoreless tie with Marquette to end the season. Vaughan was out; Dolan broke his collarbone early in the game, although he continued to play. The field was a sticky mess, and the referees called a tight game. Still, the team thought Marquette was the best they'd seen all year. Dimmick, Dolan, and Vaughan made All-Western; Dimmick earned honorable mention All-American. Walter Camp praised Miller.

1909. Let it stand with the other great years and other great teams. After waiting 22 years, Notre Dame had finally reached the point that it considered commensurate with its destiny. Although there would be genuine national championships ahead, this was a year to cherish for its special accomplishments.

1909 record: 7-0-1 (.937)
Record to date: 96-30-10 (.742)

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