Friday, June 24, 2005

Scripting Ohio | by Jay

It's about time we bagged some elephants for our schedule instead of setting up more Big East bowling pins. An article over on Bucknuts says we're talking with Ohio State about another series sometime soon.

Gene Smith"[New OSU athletic director Gene] Smith said he had opened talks with Notre Dame athletic director Kevin White about the possibility of more Ohio State-Notre Dame games in the future. ND and OSU first met in 1935-36 and again in 1995-96. That series is knotted at 2-2."
Great news (if it works out), and not entirely unexpected considering the principals involved. Smith, as you might recall, is a former ND football player who graduated in 1977, and was also an assistant coach for the Irish from '77 to '81. He served as the athletic director at Eastern Michigan, Iowa State and Arizona State before taking over in Columbus. Smith still retains a strong affinity for his alma mater, as evidenced in this interview where he's asked to describe the fan support at OSU:
Smith said he's always known about OSU's rabid fans. But "probably the biggest reminder was at the spring football game when I was pulling up and it was sleeting. It must have been a couple hours before kickoff, and there was a line [to get in]. It was pretty cold — people were in hunting suits. It gave me flashbacks to Notre Dame. I thought, 'This is what it's all about.' "
(Memo to Gene: bringing up the glory days at ND might wear a little thin for the Buckeye faithful. Just a thought.)

I still can't believe that in all these years we've only played Ohio State four measley times -- and until ten years ago, we hadn't dotted the 'I' since Jesse Owens stuck it to Hitler in the '36 Olympics.

Pat informs me that the first Notre Dame-Ohio State game, played in 1935, was voted in 1950 as "The Greatest College Football Game of the Half-Century". Both teams were undefeated going in; the game was at Ohio State and was broadcast nationwide on CBS radio, with an estimated 8 million people listening in. ND was shut out until the fourth quarter, when they erupted for three touchdowns, including a last-minute hail mary from Bill Shakespeare to Wayne Millner that won the game, 18-13. (For a great recap of the game, here's a fantastic highlight reel from the ND Club of Memphis' website. QB Andy Pilney was a warrior.)

When Notre Dame won, our visiting fans rushed the field and pulled down the goalposts; payback, no doubt, for the hostile reception the Irish had received in Columbus. During a pre-game practice on Friday, more than ten thousand Ohio State fans lined the ND practice field chanting "Go home Catholics."

The following year, ND's president asked the Big Ten to check into rumors that the state of Ohio was setting up Buckeye players with phony jobs and paying them with state funds. The Big Ten urged Notre Dame to keep the matter confidential, and ND didn't want to start a major dispute, so we agreed to not press the issue. ND quietly decided to not schedule the Buckeyes anymore...until 1995, that is.

The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.The sting of those series-evening losses in 1995 and '96 still lingers. The 1995 game (a 45-26 loss at OSU) marred what might have been a nice run; at the time, ND was ranked 15th, with only a loss to Northwestern in the first game of the season (NW finished very strongly, going 10-2 and playing in the Rose Bowl). As it turned out, we still climbed to #6 before the bowl loss to Florida State.

1996 was probably a more exciting game than the year before. It was #4 OSU at #5 Notre Dame, with the Buckeyes winning a intensely physical battle, 29-16. I can still picture Orlando Pace steamrolling guys for Pepe Pearson (29 rushes, 173 yards).

Anyway, this would be a great series to rekindle. Despite having played only four games, there's some compelling history to revisit between the two teams, and the 1935 game ranks as one of the greatest in college football history.

There's no doubt Smith has some bigger fish to fry in Columbus as he settles into the job, but amidst all the rehab work it's good to see he's finding time to prod Kevin White for another matchup. Hopefully this time around we'll see a little less Irish futility, and a little more of this. All due respect to West Virginia, Rutgers, and the rest of the Big East, but this is a series I can truly get excited about.