The independent voice of Notre Dame Athletics

  • Irish Pride and Champions

    by SEE

    (The Rock Report) – Before Lou Holtz put up the famous “Play Like a Champion Today” sign in Notre Dame Stadium there was an even  simpler inspiration for Notre Dame players as they descended the steps into the tunnel, the word PRIDE written in capital letters and a slightly bent sign with subtle changes in  words to the Notre Dame fight song underneath, ” What though the odds be great or small, Notre Dame men will give their all”.

    The shot on the left is from a 1966 game-day program for the contest against North Carolina.  As RocketShark notes below, that inspirational message was put there by Ara Parseghian according to Tom Pagna.   That matches well with the current phrase mounted in the Notre Dame locker room, “The Pride and Tradition of Notre Dame Football will not be left to the weak, the timid or the non-committed.”  I digress, back to the PLACT issue that is in the Oklahoma papers.

    This week Notre Dame plays Oklahoma and before the Sooner players run out onto the field, they’ll also touch a Play Like a Champion Today sign.  No Sooner knows the origin of the saying, but legendary Sooner coach Bud Wilkerson put the sign up sometime in the late 40s or early 50s. His son, Jay, doesn’t believe Wilkinson came up with the slogan according to

    “I don’t think my dad invented it,” he said. “I know that it was a big part of what he believed.”

    Which means Wilkinson got it from somewhere. So did Oklahoma take it from Notre Dame first?  Lou Holtz, known for using any inspirational method available to him, saw a picture of the sign hanging at the bottom of the staircase in a Notre Dame book  he read.

    “I read a lot of books about the history of Notre Dame and its football program,” Holtz explains. “I forget which book I was looking at – it had an old picture in it that showed the slogan `Play Like A Champion Today’.”

    “I asked everybody, ‘Who took it down?” he said. “Nobody remembered it even being up. So I said, ‘Get that painted up. I’m going to put it in the same place and everybody is going to hit it on the way out to the field to remind them of all the sacrifices they have made, their families have made and other people have made for them to be there.”

    Did that instance precede Oklahoma? Regardless of the origin, the claim to the meaning of the phrase could very well be Notre Dame’s.

    It was just after the sign went up that the Sooners went on their famous 47 game run of unbeaten games, a feat still not equaled in college football.  In 1957, Terry Brennan’s Notre Dame squad traveled to Norman to face the second ranked Sooners and played like champions that day ending the longest streak in football.

    Perhaps, like the Little Brown Jug or the Shilelagh, the true owner of the inspiration is the victor on the field and Notre Dame currently holds a 8-1 advantage over Oklahoma.  Regardless, it legally belongs in South Bend where the slogan is trademarked.

    Theres’ a great recount of the ’57 game and video below.

    NORMAN, Okla, (AP)- Oklahoma’s all-time record of 47 straight football victories was shattered yesterday by an underdog Notre Dame team that marched 80 yards on the ground in the closing minutes for the all-important touchdown and a 7-0 triumph.

    Oklahoma, No. 2 ranked in the nation and an 18-point favorite, couldn’t move against the rock-wall Notre Dame line and the Sooners saw another of its national records broken- scoring in 123 consecutive games.

    The defeat was only the 9th for Oklahoma Coach Bud Wilkinson since he became head coach at Oklahoma in 1947 and virtually ended any chance for the Sooners getting a third straight national championship.

    Although the partisan, sellout crowd of 62,000 came out for a Roman holiday, they were stunned into silence as the Sooners were unable to pull their usual last-quarter winning touchdowns- a Wilkinson team trademark. As the game ended, when Oklahoma’s desperation passing drive was cutoff by an intercepted aerial, the crowd rose as one and suddenly gave the Notre Dame team a rousing cheer.



    15 Responses to “Irish Pride and Champions”

    1. Kevin Byrnes says:

      I guess they didn’t believe in field goals so much back then. OU goes for it on 4th down in the red zone in the 1st quarter and gets stuffed; ditto the Irish a little later; and still later, ND skipped a FG try with a fake that succeeded, but ultimately produced no points.

    2. RocketShark says:

      It’s worth noting that the stairwell picture was taken by Richard Stevens. That sign and wording was Ara’s idea, as recounted by Tom Pagna in “Notre Dame’s Era of Ara”.

    3. IrishJMike says:

      I remember it like it was yesterday. I will never forget Lynch’s TD run, although I had forgot how wide and how flat the pitch was. I also forgot the Williams interception to end it. What I remembered was Oklahoma’s attempt to tie dying around the ND 30 or so. What a fabulous day for the Irish. They had lost to Oklahoma 40-0 the year before. I guess that’s the only win by Oklahoma in the series. Let’s keep that record alive on Saturday. And, yes, Let’s Play Like A Champion on Saturday.

    4. I am guessing if we manage to pull this off we won’t be hearing a “rousing cheer” from the 80,000+ Sooner crowd. I love the old sign; great find!

    5. The best part of the AP story was the Oklahoma fans standing to cheer the ND players for their accomplishment. Wonderful sportsmanship that we could use more of today.

    6. My first Notre Dame game was 1952 vs. Oklahoma—60 years ago! Billy Vessels scored three touchdowns for OU but,following Dan Shannons famous tackle that followed the third ND score, the Irish went ahead 27-21 when Shannon separated Larry Grigg from the football on the kickoff and the Irish recovered,setting up the winning score by Neil Worden. I had the program from this game for a long time, but, I think the grandkids got it!! However, i has been an endearing memory !! GO IR(ISH !!!

    7. I thought the Play Like a Champion OR at least the list of Nat’l Champ years was there during the Faust years if not earlier… at least that’s my recollection as a mgr during those tough yrs

      • I was also a manager during the Faust years and have the same recollection as John. The sign and saying were not marketed then, but I think it was there.

    8. Whatever golden memories these posts have had…they are the reason for ND’s continued passion for the football team. Our legacy has been handed over by Dads and Grandads and Great-Grandads who have watched and cheered and loved this team for over 100+ years.

      I will make the journey in less than two weeks on a bus that has three generations of ND fans and family to the Pitt game. My Dad brought me here for the first time in 1988. His grandson is a Notre Dame Pre-Med major in his junior year. Dad passed into the place of Knute and Gip and all those glorious ND men six years ago.

      I watch every day of my first son’s progress at ND and how his Grandfather knows how proud he is to to have watched from above a “Notre Dame Man”… a grandson …who will make the University of Notre Dame proud. Thanks Dad…it is through your love, teaching and legacy that I give you a great ND grandson.

    9. “It was just after the sign went up that the Sooners went on their famous 47 game run of unbeaten games, a feat still not equaled in college football. ”
      This is incorrect. Mount Union, of Alliance, Ohio owns this record at 55 games and the second longest at 54 games.
      Even though they are division 3, they should be given proper credit for their accomplishments. I know a lot of times people forget or fail to recognize other athletes not division I, but as an alum of Mount Union, I’d like to see proper credit here. I know this is ticky-tack but at least change the statement to read “not equaled in divsion 1 college football.”

      Go Irish!