Weird Moments in Big Ten Football History #2: Faint, Faint For Old Notre Dame, 1953
FanHouse is counting down the ten best, ten worst, and ten weirdest moments in Big Ten football history.
ABOVE: Touchdown Jesus wept. Or would have, if only Hesburgh Library had been built in 1953.
You're the coach of the #1 ranked football team in the nation. It's 1953, and your school doesn't accept bowl bids. You're trailing at home, 7-0 to an unranked team. It's just before halftime. You have the ball deep in their territory. The clock is running. You're out of time outs. What do you do? Do you (a) run a quick pitch towards the sidelines, (b) spike the ball, (c) take a knee and regroup at halftime, or (d) order your players to flop around like carp thrown on the riverbank, hoping the referee will call an injury time out so you can run one more play?
Now let's say it's late in that same game (very late) and you're now down 14-7. Again, no time outs. Would you dare try (d) again, assuming you got away with it the first time? Would you even suggest that more than one player fake an injury, just to be sure the refs have no choice but to stop the clock? You would? Well, you know what that makes you?
That makes you Frank Leahy, legendary Notre Dame coach and member of the College Football Hall of Fame. He pulled the fake-injury gambit not once but twice against the Iowa Hawkeyes in the 1953 season.
Faking injuries wasn't unknown in college football then and probably still happens now. It's possible to fake an injury convincingly, if one exercises a little restraint. The Irish, however, faked their injuries with all the subtlety of Amy Winehouse applying eye makeup. In the words of Iowa broadcaster Bob Brooks, "Players went down like they were shot." Everybody knew what was happening, and why. The refs, however, were powerless. Faking injuries wasn't against the rules in 1953. (It was in 1954, largely as a result of this game.)
The Irish managed to salvage a 14-14 tie, preserving hopes that they would retain their #1 ranking. They failed. Outraged voters put them down to #2, while boosting the previously unranked Hawkeyes to #9. The Irish took it in the shorts in the national press, quickly being dubbed the "Fainting Irish."
Iowa coach Forest Evashevski, not exactly the shy, retiring type, was livid during and after the game, insisting that no matter what the scoreboard said, he was convinced his team won the game. He even modified the last lines of Grantland Rice's well-known poem "Alumnus Football" to fit the situation: When the one Great Scorer comes to write against our name/He writes not that we won or lost/But how we got gypped at Notre Dame. (Evashevski later apologized for these remarks.)
It's an amusing little footnote now, this "Fainting Irish" game, but the universal scorn that fell up Leahy and his team for their unsportsmanlike tactics may well have hastened his exit from South Bend. Leahy resigned abruptly in January 1954, first citing health reasons, then claiming he felt like he wasn't wanted any more at Notre Dame.
It's difficult to imagine why he may have felt that way.