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Texas vs. Notre Dame history: Part 1, the early years

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The history of the Texas-Notre Dame series from the beginning up to 1954. Part II will pick up the last five games.

via @utexasequipment

The series between the Texas Longhorns and Notre Dame Fighting Irish originated in 1913 at the direction of Theo Bellmont in his first year as director of the Texas intercollegiate athletics program. Bellmont was hired to organize the Texas football program on a professional basis. This meant formalizing the football management which had largely remained in student control from its inception in 1893 to an institutional program under the university's control. The program authority was transferred to the Athletic Director and the Athletic Council for all intercollegiate athletics at the university.

One of the big changes was taking control of football game scheduling. Bellmont made a deal with Notre Dame to play in Austin on Thanksgiving Day for a guaranteed payout of $4,000, a princely sum in those days. He also moved to play games in the big cities, Dallas and Houston. Sewanee was scheduled for Dallas and the University of Oklahoma contest was moved to Houston. Texas had stopped playing A&M on 1911 due to major fall-out over their coach, Charley Moran, and thus there was an opening for the Thanksgiving Day game.

Bellmont would change the face of Texas football in these ways:

  • Upgraded old Clark Field and added a press box and improved the field
  • Instituted the ‘blanket tax' for student season tickets ($5 in 1913)
  • Conceived the Southwest Conference and then helped establish it in 1915 to bring consistent rules, regulations and ethical considerations to football
  • Re-established relations with Texas A&M (sans Charley Moran)
  • Masterminded the building of Memorial Stadium in 1924 and the new Clark Field for baseball
  • Moved basketball indoors to a wooden gym in 1916 (and was one of the two Texas coaches that led the Horns to a 44-game win streak, then the college record)
  • Organized the T-Association for sport lettermen in 1915
  • Started an intramural program in 1916

In his 16 years, Bellmont revolutionized Texas athletics and set the standard for the southwest region's athletic programs and governance. Bringing in Notre Dame was just one of his moves to put Texas athletics on a national basis. Of course, Bellmont Hall is named for him for the enormous contributions he made to the University of Texas.

Dave Allerdice was in his third year as head coach and his team had done well in 1912, but the 7-1 record covered up financial short falls and a feeling from the fans who were missing the A&M rivalry game. The Horns had played Mississippi in 1912 as a make-up for the A&M game, a 53-14 win, but there was some restlessness with the natives. That played some role in Bellmont adding Notre Dame on Thanksgiving to the 1913 schedule. The Fighting Irish, in turn, were trying to upscale their program with a wider range of more glamorous opponents in Penn State, Texas and the all-powerful Army team.

Coming out of 1912, ND had a 108-31-13 (71% wins/total games) record since its start in 1887, six years before Texas began playing. Texas boasted a 114-34-7 (74%) record in 20 years of football. So, on paper anyway, this looked to be a competitive match-up.

The Games

1913 | Notre Dame 30, Texas 7 | Thanksgiving Day | Austin, Clark Field

Texas came into the game with a 7-0 record and a 12-game winning streak. Allerdice was in his second year of five, as long a stand as a coach that Texas had enjoyed. The Horns had blasted Baylor 77-0 (the most they had ever scored to that date), edged OU 14-6 and thoroughly beat the Kansas State predecessor Kansas A&M, 46-0. Altogether they'd given up only 26 points all season, with three shut-outs, while scoring 243. Notre Dame was likewise undefeated, scoring 238 points and allowing only 34. However, the Fighting Irish were favored by as many as 30 points.

Notre Dame had upended powerful Army a month before, 35-13, with the passing of QB Gus Dorais (13-17, 243 yards) to team captain Knute Rockne slicing up the cadets. But their real power was in the running game, with big fullback Ray Eichenlaub (210 pounds) pounding the middle and Dorais racing outside. Coach Jess Harper's team arrived in Austin via a special train three days before the game and stayed at St. Edwards in South Austin. Rockne and tackle Deak Jones actually officiated a St. Edwards game.

Some 7,000 fans showed up, making for a big gate and easily covering the guarantee. However, they were quiet early as the Irish marched right down for a touchdown. Texas countered with a lateral pass play for 60 yards from Paul Simmons to Milton Daniel who passed to Len Barrell, who made some moves and scampered in for the lone TD. Notre Dame drove down for a field goal just before half for a 10-7 lead.

In the second half the Irish power game started wearing Texas down, but could only manage a 13-7 lead going into the fourth quarter. Louis Jordan, Texas' great guard that would be its first All-American, left the game in the fourth completely exhausted. From that point Notre Dame pounded out two more touchdowns and a field goal for the final, 30-7. Dorais passed for 200 yards (10-21) and ND rushed for 339 on 98 runs. Texas ran for only 221 on 36 carries, most of those outside, and passed for 68. The game proved to be a serious education for the Texas program.

1915 | Notre Dame 36, Texas 7 | Thanksgiving Day | Austin, Clark Field

In 1912 there had been major rules changes concerning the value of touchdowns (6 from 5 points), the size of the field (100 yards plus two end zones), 10 yards for a first down, kick offs were moved to the 40 from mid-field and passes caught in the end zone were now touchdowns. These changes signaled a move toward equalizing the football rules for the nation.

Bellmont had conceived of a regional football conference to bring similar teams together and to set eligibility rules with enforcement standards, training rules (now on-campus only) and game rules. The Texas Athletic Council sent out letters seeking like-minded regional teams.

In 1914 the respondents met in Dallas to set up the basic agreements and then formalized those in a meeting in Houston in December. The original members of the Southwest Intercollegiate Athletic Conference were Texas, A&M, Baylor, Southwestern, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Oklahoma A&M. Rice was in at first but then backed out for two years. LSU watched the proceedings but didn't join. The conference name soon became the Southwest Conference, and some members like OU and OSU would leave but others would join later.

Texas had invited Notre Dame down again for Thanksgiving (with a $5,000 guarantee this time). The Longhorns did play A&M (after they released their coach) late in the season, and a new SWC had the teams playing home-and-home, which they hadn't done before.

Texas had won every game since the 1913 ND defeat. The Horns got off to the best start a team could create in 1915 -- they whipped TCU, 72-0, beat the living hell out of Daniel Baker, 92-0, and stomped Rice, 59-0. Three games, 223 scored, zero by opponents. The Daniel Baker game lasted only 50 minutes and unofficial stats showed Texas with 709 yards but that was never validated for the record. Paul Simmons ran for four TDs in that game, and Clyde Littlefield ran for three and threw four TDs for seven total, long the Texas record for a single game.

However, the 11-game winning streak came to an end at the hands of OU, 14-13, at the Fairgrounds in Dallas. Texas was depleted by injuries despite the big wins, and the game turned into a passing contest that produced 71 aerials for the day. Texas completed 12 of 41 for 150 yards, but OU hit 10 of 30 for 232 yards...and outrushed the Horns 206 yards to 100. It wasn't great passing but it was exciting for the 11,000 fans (which set a new state record). Texas tied the game late but missed the extra point.

The Horns would win their next three games, including a 20-0 pasting of Alabama, but then had to go to Kyle Field for the first time to fulfill the new SWC-dictated home-and-home series. Texas went into College Station as a big favorite but ran into a fired up bunch of Aggies. The Horns had to start a freshman quarterback when the Simmons brothers were sidelined by injuries. Rip Collins and his great  punting were the key for A&M...that and 12 fumbles and 3 for 23 passing by the Horns, which led to a 13-0 loss despite a strong defensive effort.

Texas was 6-2 going into the Thanksgiving game, the only time the Horns would have a blemish on their record when they have played Notre Dame. The Irish had a loss as well, to Nebraska, 20-19, early in the season.

Clyde Littlefield came down with the flu just before the game, so Texas was not at full strength even though the Simmons brothers returned. Some 6,200 came to the game but the power of Notre Dame's running game spearheaded by Charlie Bachman and speed on the edge dominated the game with 462 yards. Texas got a 55-yard kickoff return by Bob Simmons but fumbled on the next play. It was that kind of day. Down 16-0 at the half, Texas scored early when Charlie Turned blocked a punt, picked up a first down on a Paul Simmons' pass and scored when Winchester "Windy" Kelso recovered Bob Simmons' fumble in the end zone. But that was it in the 36-7 loss. The Horns defense had only given up 33 points all season.

Allerdice acknowledged that the Irish beat them with "straight football" and thought Littlefield could have added to their passing game. Allerdice would resign at the end of 1915 after five seasons and a 33-7 overall record (82.5%). Reports later noted that "the super critical nature of Texas fans" contributed to Allerdice's decision.  That's something that hasn't changed in a century.

1934 | Texas 7, Notre Dame 6 |  October 6 | Notre Dame Stadium

Knute Rockne became the Notre Dame head coach in 1918 and had led them to three national championships in 1924, 1929, and 1930 and brought the Irish to the top of the pack. His untimely death in a plane crash in 1931 saw football lose one of its greatest coaches (88.1%). His coaching tree, however, would supply the Irish with great coaches in the succeeding generations and their success would continue with more national championships.

The Irish coach in 1934 was Elmer Layden, one of the Four Horsemen, in his first game as head coach. The Texas coach was Jack Chevigny. When Rockne gave his famous ‘win one for the Gipper' half time speech in 1928 against Army, it was halfback Chevigny who had scored the winning touchdown in the 12-6 victory, so he had became part of Notre Dame football lore. Chevigny had served for two years as an assistant coach under Rockne while attending law school. However, after Rockne's death, ND selected an older assistant. He wound up coaching in the NFL (Chicago Cardinals, later St. Louis) for a year before coming to Austin as the head coach at St. Edward's University.

Chevigny promptly led St. Edwards to the Texas Conference championship. Texas struggled to a 4-5-2 record in 1933 and coach Clyde Littlefield resigned after seven years, saying he wanted to just coach track, which he did for 41 years, with the Horns winning 25 SWC titles and 14 second places. He also established the Texas Relays which still bears his name.

Chevigny was a shoo-in for the Texas job. He started with some 20 lettermen led by captains Bohn Hilliard and Charley Coates, and Chevigny felt he could develop a good team. He changed the offense to the Notre Dame box formation with a shift to either side of the T. To show off the team early, he instituted the Orange-White game and played it during Round-Up Weekend, drawing 4,000 eager fans.

Texas opened 1934 with a soggy warm-up game at night at Lubbock. What was supposed to be an easy game turned into a tight contest but Hilliard broke loose for 94 yards for the key score. (That record from scrimmage stood until 1967 when Chris Gilbert broke it with a 97-yard sprint against TCU in a losing cause.)  Texas managed to eke out a win at Texas Tech, 12-6. Going into the Notre Dame game, no one gave Texas a chance in hell of winning in South Bend.

Chevigny was a cagy coach, always looking for an edge. Perhaps as much legend as fact, he thought a certain ND kick returner was prone to fumbling early in the game, so, following a fiery pre-game speech raising the ghost of Rockne and his own ailing parents, the Horns stormed out with stars in their eyes. Lo and behold, the Irish returner fumbled the ball at the five, picked it up and juggled it and then had it knocked loose at the 18 where Jack Gray recovered. Texas picked up a first down and then Bohn dashed in for the touchdown and then kicked the extra point for a 7-0 lead.

The Horns in turn fumbled a punt at their own 9. Notre Dame scored on fourth down and a foot, but the conversion kick was wide: 7-6. There was lots of time left and the crowd of 33,000 thought there would be much more scoring. But the game became a defensive stalemate, with ND drives dying at the UT 12 and 21. Likewise, Texas sniffed the goal at the 16 but lost a fumble at the 4. Hilliard intercepted a pass at the 30 and returned it to the 12 but another fumble killed the chance. The game ended the way it stood in the first quarter, 7-6, and Texas had administered the first Notre Dame home opener loss since 1896. The big win drew a lot of respect from the Eastern press.

Texas would skunk OU 19-0 but losses to Centenary (6-9) and Rice (9-20) and a 7-7 tie with SMU took the luster off the season. The Horns finished 7-2-1.

This was the best Chevigny would do; his next two teams were 4-6 and 2-6-1, mostly due to his insistence on recruiting the Midwest instead of Texas. The talent level fell off and so did the wins. After three years he was done. Texas would decide to seek a more permanent solution in the person of Dana X. Bible to resurrect the program and recruiting. The 1930's record of 47-44-6 was -- and still is -- the worst in UT football history.

1952 | Notre Dame 14, Texas 3 | October 4 | Memorial Stadium

Coach Ed Price's first team went 7-3 and his second in '52 started out strong, beating LSU at night in the rain in Baton Rouge, 35-14, and North Carolina there, 28-7. AP voted them No. 3 with Notre Dame coming in for the home opener. The Golden Domers had been tied by Penn to start the season and were hungry for a victory. Notre Dame coach Frank Leahy had already won four MNCs with the Irish in the 40s and didn't fluster so easily.

The day of the game turned out to be hot as Leahy had feared it might be, and he requested that the Irish bench be moved to the west side of the stadium in the shade, a request to which AD Dana X. Bible agreed. I don't know if any other team has ever had that privilege of sitting the Texas home side. Notre Dame only warmed up for a few minutes in the 90-degree heat and wore short-sleeved game jerseys.

Texas made strong drives in the first half and kept Notre Dame at bay. Six drives made it to the 27, 13, 3, 3 and the 36 but only got a 27-yard field goal from Gib Dawson in second quarter. A stout ND defense and fumbles killed the other penetrations. The Horns held the Irish to two first downs and 55 total yards and were confident of winning going in at half time.

However, Notre Dame completely dominated the second half, taking the opening kickoff and driving 74 yards to take the lead, 7-3. A 15-yard penalty momentarily slowed the drive, but halfback Johnny Lattner threw a halfback pass to Joe Heap for 30 yards that carried to the brink of the goal line and Lattner scored on the next play.

Defensively, the Irish held Texas to 71 yards and five first downs the second half. In the fourth the Irish took control. When Texas fumbled a punt at their own five, Notre Dame cashed in immediately to seal the 14-3 triumph. A late game drive by QB T Jones was thwarted by an interception.

The ND game has a second repercussion in that Texas was beat up that the Horns bared showed up in Dallas, allowing the Sooners to run up a 28-0 lead in the first quarter e n route to a 49-20 whipping. Texas would win all the rest of the games and beat Tennessee in the Cotton Bowl for a 9-2 record. But this would be as good as it got in the early 1950s. Oklahoma was winning MNCs right and left behind Bud Wilkinson and the strategy to use post-WWII players on the GI Bill and life got tough for the Horns.

1954 | Notre Dame 21, Texas 0 | September 25 | Notre Dame Stadium

Head coach Ed Price and Texas had been riding high coming into 1954. Since D. X. Bible took over in 1940, the program had successfully overcome the problems in the ‘30s era. In '53 they had lost the first three games to LSU, Villanova and Houston but then won seven straight to claim a SWC co-championship. They beat LSU 20-6 for their eighth in a row and had risen to No. 4 in the AP rankings.

When they flew to South Bend, the Horns faced the No. 2 team in Notre Dame and new coach Terry Brennan. The Horns were underdogs by a touchdown. They started off quickly, with halfback Delano Womack breaking off a 35-yard run deep into Notre Dame's territory. QB Charley Brewer's pass to Howard Moon looked to be a sure TD but Ralph Guglielmi was able to recover to down Moon at the seven.

On the next play, Brewer's arm got hit by ND tackle Frank Varrichione on a pitch out, and the Irish recovered the ball to thwart the drive. That was the epitome of this game, as Texas got crushed after suffering four interceptions, three lost fumbles and critical penalties when they did get things going their way. They got skunked for the first time in 77 games.

Texas would beat Washington State the next week, 40-14, but then lost five in a row before beating TCU by a point and edging A&M, 22-13. The 4-5-1 season was followed by 5-5 and then 1-9-0 in '56. This was the end of the early era of Texas football. In 1957, Texas hired Darrel K Royal and the modern era began.