#tbt: Play-Calling during a pandemic

Author: Thomas Richter

#tbt: Play-Calling during a pandemic

On Sept. 12, Notre Dame students returned to the university’s beloved football stadium to watch this year’s season opener against Duke. This gameday experience, however, was different from any in recent memory. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, there were no Trumpets Under the Dome, no tailgates and no first years participating in (completely optional!) early morning runs across campus. It is easy to think that this pandemic presented an unprecedented situation for Notre Dame football, but in reality, the university has been here before. In 1918, Notre Dame had to cancel three out of its nine football games due to an outbreak of the Spanish flu. But this hitch did not entirely derail Notre Dame’s season that year. The team still finished 3-1-2, and it held intrasquad scrimmages to make up for the canceled games. A November 1918 edition of Scholastic described one of these games.

The Athletic Notes reported that, “Owing to the cancellation of the Camp Custer game, Coach Rockne on Saturday last sent his warriors through a stiff scrimmage against the Freshmen.” To make the game fair, the star players George Gipp, Leonard Dahan and first year Head Coach Knute Rockne, joined the freshmen team. This group proved difficult for the varsity squad to handle. For “in less than three minutes the Freshmen had placed the ball on the varsity’s fifteen-yard line by the aid of the great endrunning of Bahan and
Gipp, who tore the varsity’s line into shreds. Gipp was then given the ball. He fumbled, and Shea, the Freshman guard, picked it up and raced thirty yards for a touchdown. Gipp kicked the goal.” In the third quarter, the varsity side struck back. Their “touchdown came when Lambardo got away on a thirty yard run and crossed the goal line; Lambeau kicked the goal, and this ended the scoring.”  

Although the game ended in a tie, everyone agreed this scrimmage showed that “Coach Rockne was gradually getting his men into shape” for the team’s big game against Nebraska later that month. Notre Dame football is resilient. This history should reassure fans worried about how this season will go during our current pandemic. Who knows, even if football runs into trouble down the road, we might get to see Brian Kelley don pads and a helmet for his own scrimmage against the varsity squad.