A while ago I asked you all what some of your favorite Notre Dame soccer games were. As we head into the football offseason, I’ll be writing about them. The first one I’m going to look back on is Notre Dame Fighting Irish vs. Purdue Boilermakers, 1971. I’m not sure about your experience of Notre Dame-Purdue football games, but most of the ones I’ve attended have them in rain and this one was no different. Here is an excerpt from Scholastic, Notre Dame Football Review, November 30, 1971, and a little commentary on the 1971 season, written by Don Kennedy.
Notre Dame vs. Purdue
Slippery highways, a muddy field and sodden souls in the stands. Reminds too much of the USC tragedy last November. Rain – the great compensation. Add to that the Notre Dame-Purdue rivalry and the memory of a 48-0 shellacking and you have the makings of one hell of a ball game.
For the longest time – 58 minutes and two seconds to be exact – the weather seemed to carry the Boilermakers to a 7-0 win from Notre Dame. The Irish ’71 season, a season filled with hope and dreams of a national championship, was washed away by the moody mood of Indiana’s fall weather.
Neither team could muster much attack in the early stages. Two failed field goal attempts by Bob Thomas: once, when a miss from the middle thwarted the attempt; and early in the second quarter when Thomas’ kick was wide on the right. The Irish running game moved in spurts but just couldn’t squeeze in enough substantial wins in a series to crack Purdue’s end zone. Notre Dame’s passing game understandably had its problems in the wet weather.
The Riveters’ ground game also encountered complications – the Irish Front Four. But her pass attack was quite successful in penetrating the creases in the Notre-Dame zone defense. Hook patterns and quick passes helped them move the ball.
Late in the second quarter, Purdue’s passing provided what later appeared to be the only result of the day. Purdue’s Gary Danielson took over his own 47 after a punt from Brian Doherty, Purdue’s Gary Danielson paired up two hook passes with split end Rick Sayers to put the Boilermakers within striking range of the Irish 26. A third pass to Sayers was narrowly downed at Notre Dame’s 10-yard line.
Purdue’s success with the pass had shaken the Irish defense somewhat. In second place behind the Irish 26 was the Boilermaker Offense, which could be described as “the perfect game”. Danielson fell back, feigned a draw against his full-back (which made the entire Irish defense barf Ralph Stepaniak puke) and threw a lazy screen pass to Otis Armstrong in the left flat. All that stood between Armstrong and the Irish end zone was about six Purdue blockers and Ralph Stepaniak. Stepaniak blocked four of the blockers but couldn’t get past Boilermakers left guard Ken Watkins. Armstrong walked into the end zone unmolested and Purdue fans roared with joy.
At half time it suddenly stopped raining. Purdue’s band (complete with the Golden Girl) went through their routine without a rain. No sooner had the band marched off the field and the two teams returned for the second half than the rain turned up again. It was such a day.
The monsoon that hung over Ross Ade Stadium in the second half was incredible. Almost as unbelievable as the events that were to take place. At times it rained so heavily that you could hardly see the field from the press box at the edge of the stadium. And the harder it rained, the worse the playing conditions got. It wasn’t the kind of conditions suitable for a team to play catch-up football, to say the least.
Pat Steenberge, who was quarterback for most of the game because, according to Coach Parseghian, “worked better with that center and we didn’t want to risk a blunder in those conditions,” the Irish offense just couldn’t catch up, let alone purdues 7-0 lead. But then late in the game, the Irish got the first of two big breaks that would lead to their win.
Standing on his own 12-yard line, Purdue punter Scott Lougheed sliced a punt off the side of his foot and the Irish took over at Boilermaker 42. Steenberge quickly took the Irish to Purdue 5. In second place from the 5, Pat lost control over the slippery ball and former Purdue quarterback turning to safety Chuck Piebes fell on it, apparently to anger Purdue. But the weather, which was even throughout the afternoon, soon made up for this mistake.
Notre Dame’s defense intervened, forcing Purdue to stab from his own end zone. Scott Lougheed fell back, the snap was low and the ball was loose. He managed to regain control and tried to roll to the right to get off the punt. Just as he was releasing the ball for the punt, Clarence Ellis hit him from the left. Fred Swendsen fell on the loose ball and it suddenly rained shamrocks in Lafayette. Steenberge’s two-point pass game to Creaney sealed the win but looked a bit disappointing after what preceded it. Somehow everyone knew the switch would work after the defense scored. After all, they just followed the script.
Purdue coach Bob DeMoss took the blame for the blocked punt. “I never thought about safety,” commented a dejected DeMoss. “I just told him to bang it out there. It was my fault, I should have told him to fall on the ball if he got in trouble.”
So the Irish fans left Lafayette a bit shaken, but nonetheless delighted. “No one could beat us today,” one was heard saying. “Notre Dame’s old charisma resurfaced. Irish luck lives on!” Bob DeMoss knew what they were talking about. He shook his head and sighed, “I think we just shouldn’t win today.”
Notre Dame 8 – Purdue 7
The 1971 season
It wasn’t an exciting football year. The expectations for the season were not met in the slightest either. Perhaps the 1971 edition of Notre Dame Football could simply be written off as the “Year of the Big Dud.” But it would be unfair to carelessly ignore a team that has nevertheless won eight games out of ten. After all, the 8-2 record set in 1971 is the fourth-best record by an Irish team since 1952. Some colleges haven’t seen an 8-2 season in ages. Perfection, or winning if you will, is a big thing at Notre Dame. And when a team falls short of this idealized goal, they are unfairly met with hoots and whistles.
The nasty aftermath of 1971 can be traced to much more than the team’s performance throughout the season. When a Sports Illustrated or the like names Notre Dame as their preseason pick for the coveted national championship, expectations understandably reach high. Pre-season forecasters and most Irish fans ignored (or perhaps simply underestimated) the fallout from Joe Theismann’s graduation and departure from the team.
Theismann was simply the main reason the 1970 offensive performed so well. He had his weak points, but it was his skills and combined skills as a quarterback that led the 70s team to a 10-1 record. They just don’t remove such an important part of a winning unit and nonchalantly expect virtually the same roster to do even better. Unless of course you have a better part to replace the old one with. There wasn’t even the slightest hint as to who would replace Theismann when everyone picked Notre Dame number one. Everyone “assumed” that Ara would think of another “Jersey Joe.” This wrong assumption led to an overrated team. And this overrated team consequently disappointed the same people who overrated them. The fault does not lie with the players, but with those who expected so much.
A former Notre Dame gridder was overheard this fall commenting on the team’s 1971 style of play. “Watching Notre Dame play football this year,” he analyzed, “is like watching men fish.” True, Notre Dame’s “grind-it-out” game schedules didn’t exactly get the crowd going every minute or so, but it did really, what else could they do? Had they abandoned the basics of ground play for the more flashy attacks of previous seasons (which they couldn’t handle), they would have lost more than USC and LSU games. The Irish were forced to mount an offensive attack to match the skills of the available personnel. It didn’t always work, but it was the best offensive arrangement possible.
Success this year cannot be measured by a yardstick formed from the performance of previous “great” Notre Dame teams. Perhaps 8-2 was the best that could be asked of this year’s team. Anyone can speculate on what could have been, but the only people who know how well the 71 side played are the players themselves and they don’t tell anyone.
– Don Kennedy
So what do you think of our bowl game against South Carolina? The two teams seem pretty evenly matched to me. What are you saying?
Cheers & GO IRISH