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Walk down Memory Lane: Irish shock Sooners in ’57

Oct 25, 2012, 3:11 PM EDT


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.


  1. dickasman - Oct 25, 2012 at 3:27 PM

    Aww w jeez, Keith….you done it now. Woke up the antijumbotron echoes. For the ol timers posting below me, happy senior citizen days here at inside the Irish. Long time coming. now please stop complaining about the noise, music, jumbotron, too much sex and alcohol.

    • 808raiderinparadise - Oct 25, 2012 at 5:24 PM


      Good Post dickasman.

      Golson needs to be amazing SAT.

    • c4evr - Oct 25, 2012 at 6:09 PM


      Speaking on behalf of the old-timers, bring all the music, jumbotrons, sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll you want, but until you are ready put down your X-Box, get up from your bark-o-lounger and strap on a leather helmet with no face guard, it’s all just fluff. Mock if you want, but players today enjoy an easier road because of players through the decades. Part of the reason ND has lost its footing in football is because its trying to keep up with the ‘Bamas and the Trojans and has abandoned what makes champions – North/South running and a stout defense. Finally a game that will show whether this team is a contender or pretender. The defense has been paying all the bills so far, it’s time for the O to bring home the bacon.

      • dickasman - Oct 26, 2012 at 1:46 AM

        C4, I’m not mocking, I meant happy seniors day. I love me some leather helmets. i respect the elders, may not seem like it on the Internet but this is not real life. I shall too be old someday my friend…hopefully they come up with Viagra for death by then!

    • 808raiderinparadise - Oct 25, 2012 at 6:48 PM

      Jacques Doucet ‏@JacquesDoucet
      Huge breaking news – Former #LSU Tigers Jordan Jefferson, Tyrann Mathieu, Derrick Bryant + Karnell Hatcher all arrested on drug charges.


      oh, wowwwwwwwww

  2. domer77blowsgoats - Oct 25, 2012 at 4:55 PM

    Must be a big game with KA averaging 2 posts a day! keep up the great work

    here’s to making more old ladies cry in the OK this weekend

    and here’s to nude, may we bury the proverbial hatchet on the eve’s eve of the ND returning to national dominance

    • dickasman - Oct 25, 2012 at 5:50 PM

      I think you guys should def have make up sax, put it in you and behind you like most normal people do today and move on to the next one.

      For what it’s worth I didn’t see nothing wrong. People have different ought a and opinions and you guys voiced them and got it all out so you don’t have to go home and take it out on the wifey.

    • nudeman - Oct 25, 2012 at 6:05 PM

      Just don’t start any sh** betw now and then, bro

      Btw, I am getting ever so slightly more optimistic as the week goes on
      I can see this one working out

      • Jennifer - Oct 25, 2012 at 9:53 PM

        Nude, I always respect your opinions, so I’m glad to hear you say you’re getting more optimist. Sad to say, I’ve been heading in the other direction. So other than Keith’s blog, I’m checking out from all media till Kick-off.

      • dickasman - Oct 26, 2012 at 1:54 AM

        Nudeski, what happened to you brollerskates? You used to be as tough as Sandusky’s denials but seem a bit more sensitive lately, everything ok? Try some cymbalta… Sht zombies you out for while but I think I needed lil zombieing due to too much stress! Don’t worry about what anybody says including myself…keep on keeping on!

      • dickasman - Oct 26, 2012 at 1:56 AM

        Jennifer, can you do me a favor n blow him couple kisses to make him feel better please? Or just blow him if you’d like, either or but I think that might cheer him up!

      • nudeman - Oct 26, 2012 at 10:38 AM

        Thanks man. We’ll see if Jen responds.
        If she’s smart, she won’t

  3. bogtrottin - Oct 25, 2012 at 5:15 PM

    Watching the video, I can’t help thinking that a game like that just isn’t the same without Tom Hammond on the call. Actually, I’ve often thought he calls games like a 1950s broadcaster, so I could almost here his voice overlaid there, and I almost similarly reached for the volume button to turn it down.

    • Jennifer - Oct 25, 2012 at 5:28 PM

      I like it when you boys play nice.

    • jerseyshorendfan1 - Oct 25, 2012 at 9:55 PM

      Hammond did call that game. He was 45 at the time.

  4. smurphdoggy29 - Oct 25, 2012 at 5:38 PM

    A friend of mine’s Father (Last Name Royer) was a part of that team.

    Those guys won and did it with class.

    Today’s version shall follow suit.

    GO Irish !
    Take the BOOMER out of the Sooner !
    Keep the Faith !
    Ever vigilant !

    • dickasman - Oct 25, 2012 at 6:09 PM

      Smurphy, back in 1929 when you were young and fertile maybe class existed. Today’s human beings are just pathetic! I gave up class for crass because I ended up being the minority and just got sick of being screwed over. At least I have cr, most people only are the last 3 letters. Class? Doesn’t exist today, sorry!

    • dickasman - Oct 25, 2012 at 6:10 PM

      Turn the sooner into a nooner, he’ll yeah, let’s go!

  5. c4evr - Oct 25, 2012 at 7:01 PM

    This story underscores the importance of emotion and how it can be a game changer. I hope BK brings a lot of rah! rah! with his game plan.

  6. mdirish - Oct 25, 2012 at 7:43 PM

    Nude what has you feeling better about this game. I’m trying to get my confidence level there with ya but I keep seeing some of the short coming of past games being insurmountable against a very good Sooner team.

    • nudeman - Oct 25, 2012 at 8:02 PM

      The answer is “I’m not sure”
      Might be that I’m just being hopeful.
      But somewhere along the way I figured that there’s a tendency as an ND fan, especially in this era, to assume we’ll always be outgunned against an elite team. I remember several big games in the past where I thought “oh sh**”, then watched ND cream someone. Great example was the 88 game against USC in the Colinauseum. Holtz had that team so prepared that they won easily without Watters and Brooks.

      So here are my tangible reasons for increasing optimism:

      1. ND’s front 7 D is VERY legit.
      2. Landry Jones is immobile and doesn’t necessarily play well against pressure. Since I don’t see a lot of OU games, I didn’t know that. Naturally I assumed he was the second coming of Roger Staubach
      3. Golson is due for a solid game like against MSU. His stats there weren’t great, but he did a beautiful job of managing the game.
      4. ND is capable of stuffing OU’s running game. That makes winning eminently feasible.

      Anyway, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

      • 9irish - Oct 26, 2012 at 12:10 AM

        We’re always on the inside looking out. The truth is, there is a huge amount of pressure on Oklahoma to win this game. I think we have the advantage. If we go down there and kick the sh*t out of them, they will implode.

  7. seadomer - Oct 25, 2012 at 9:10 PM


    Mark May just promised he will be in a full leprecaun suit if ND makes it to the NC game

    I will love it if THAT HAPPENS

    • papadec - Oct 27, 2012 at 1:10 AM

      seadomer – I’d love to have a poster of that!

  8. mdirish - Oct 25, 2012 at 10:05 PM

    Nude I’m working my way to your side of the fence. I know there are several opinions on how good the Irish are. The fact is after this weekend there will be fewer. This is the test that will tell us a lot about the progression of the program.

  9. irishking - Oct 25, 2012 at 11:21 PM

    Kelly will have his team ready to go on Saturday night and it could be the best game of this college football season. I like the fact that ND is rated as the underdog because I think that will give the players a motivational edge. The main thing will be consistent play by a young and inexperienced quarterback and no costly turnovers. The Irish must put up points on the scoreboard and the defense has to be stingy with the Sooners’ offense.

    • dickasman - Oct 26, 2012 at 2:06 AM

      He better…..if we play like we did last week, we re toast!
      Here’s article about teo, heisman and the boz, loll….man I used to love me some boz even though I was diehard nd fan. Read his book from cover to cover thinking I was bad azz!

  10. yaketyyacc - Oct 26, 2012 at 4:20 AM

    keith, how about an eyewitness account of that 1957 Beat Oklahoma Week on campus. The student body surrounding the practice field, and cheering the team for three hours, and then forming two lines from the stadium door to the old dining hall, that the team passed through, and then to the Grotto to pray for a victory. every day. some days in a cold drizzing rain. and on friday when the team filled the buses to go to Norman, lining Notre Dame ave from the circle to angela blvd. all taking a cut in classes.
    we filled the Navy drill hall on gameday and when our team came onto the field, a roar went up that did not stop the entire game, and when Dick Lynch tood the flip form Williams, and just as it looked like he would be cut down, Pietrosante threw a block and pandamonium broke lose. when rhe game ended. it felt like the doors of the drill hall went straight forward off their hindges. First to Sorin’s statue then to the Grotto. and at ten that night on Notre Dame ave. to cheer our team home…..

    • nudeman - Oct 26, 2012 at 11:31 AM

      That re-watch that Keith posted was pretty cool. Only complaint is that when Lynch scored they cut the sound. Why? I wanted to hear 70,000 people go mute instantaneously.

      Anyway, that film gave me a good feeling for the magnitude of the win. And God Bless Terry Brennan who probably would have been a fine coach had they not cut the legs right out from under him with scholarship reductions and an overall football de-emphasis.

    • papadec - Oct 27, 2012 at 1:13 AM

      yak – gave me goosebumps – just reading that.

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