I’ll be the first to admit I come up a little bit shy when it comes to being a Notre Dame historian. And while my Irish memories only go back to the days of Holtz and Rice, I’ve certainly got an affinity for the wonderful history and tradition that comes along with Notre Dame football.
And as No. 5 Notre Dame gets set to take on No. 8 Oklahoma, I thought it’d be worth it to take a look back at the game that all but started the blood feud: Notre Dame’s shocking upset of the No. 1 ranked Sooners in 1957.
Jim Lefebvre, friend of the blog and curator at Forever Irish, sent along a great write-up looking back at the historic Notre Dame win by Terry Brennan’s troops.
A year after finishing 2-8, even with Heisman Trophy winner Paul Hornung, things didn’t look good for Notre Dame. Terry Brennan was entering his fourth season, and while there was a recharged attitude with the Irish starting the season 4-0, the Irish headed to Norman with two straight losses, a 20-6 whipping at the hands of No. 16 Navy, and a dominant 34-6 beating by No. 4 Michigan State. Boarding the plane to Oklahoma, the Irish were three score underdogs, and were set to face Bud Wilkinson‘s juggernaut.
Here’s more from Lefebvre:
By 1957, Bud Wilkinson was already a football legend – a walking embodiment of college football excellence, having been a part of six national championship teams. The Minneapolis native was a guard and quarterback for head coach Bernie Bierman at Minnesota, helping lead the Golden Gophers to three consecutive national championships from 1934 to 1936.
Wilkinson’s overall record as head coach at Oklahoma from 1949 through Nov. 15, 1957 was a Rockne-like 101-8-2. The Sooners had not lost since the 1953 opener, when Coach Frank Leahy and his top-ranked Irish came to Norman and defeated No. 6 OU, 28-21. After a 7-7 tie against Pittsburgh the next week, the Sooners beat Texas, 19-14 to start the most dominating run in college football history.
After closing out 1953 with nine straight wins, Oklahoma went 10-0 in ’54, 11-0 in ’55 and 10-0 in ’56. So far in ’57, the Sooners had ripped through seven opponents, outscoring them, 200-48. That made 47 straight wins for the Sooners, the all-time record in major college football.
Sullivan, the Irish captain and center, injured his knee the previous week against Michigan State, and was not part of the Notre Dame traveling party headed to Oklahoma, as each available spot was filled by an able-bodied player. But he managed to find his own way to Norman, and before the game he reached the Notre Dame locker room, only to be stopped by a security guard.
“They had to go get someone to identify me, tell them I was the captain of Notre Dame,” Sullivan recalled recently. “When I got into the dressing room, I think it had an impact on the guys. They didn’t expect me to be there, and now all of a sudden it’s, ‘how did he get here?’ I think it blew a lot of them away to see me show up.”
And the Irish were further fired up when they saw what Sullivan carried with him.
“We rolled out (hundreds of) the telegrams pasted together,” he said. “The students had gotten organized and sent all these telegrams, and I took them with me to the locker room. My message was, ‘The student body is here with me, supporting you.’ Well, the fellows were so excited, they nearly crushed Coach Brennan leaving the locker room.”
As for the game, Oklahoma “was expected to annihilate us, especially after what they had done to us the previous year,” Sullivan said. But he recalls that teammate Nick Pietrosante was “a big factor all day, on offense and defense.” On the winning drive, “it was Pietrosante to the left, Pietrosante to the right, all the way down the field. Then, on the winning play, it was a fake to Pietrosante and a pitchout to Dick Lynch, and he got loose and did the rest.”
Over at Forever Irish, Lefebvre has links to the AP write-up after the victory as well as the UP story. It’s a tremendous walk down Memory Lane as Notre Dame prepares to spring a more modest upset on the Sooners this weekend.