The campus is imposing enough just lying there, all leafy and self-haunting. The dome pokes into the Indiana sunlight like a giant golden skullcap, the black robes move quietly through the rust and amber of the trees, and the whole scene hits you with a great, intolerant splat of tradition, mystery and nostalgia. But Notre Dame has always done this, ever since Knute Rockne told his hired help to run that ball, pass that ball, kick that ball and fight-fight-fight-fight, his speeches marking either the end or the beginning of pep talks. Now give the Fighting Irish another powerful football team, and one with something extra special—The Baby Bombers. Why, you haven't got a chance. The most accusing, cynical, irreverent infidel among us would be choked into submission by what Notre Dame is and what Notre Dame was. So here lies me, another simple, limpid captive, whistling the Victory March as I struggle up to write.
Even the jokes don't help you very much. Go ahead and try them. Ask if the Gipper ever had a last name, by the way, or if the Four Horsemen have cut a new folk album lately. Why did the university swipe its fight song from Webster High in Oklahoma City? How many students are trapped in the underground steam tunnels trying to escape for dates? Ask if the school developed that synthetic rubber only because it might produce better shoulder pads, if it founded the first germ-free laboratory in order to manufacture halfbacks who wouldn't fumble, if the Sacred Heart Church is where everyone goes to seek forgiveness for beating Purdue only 26-14, if it really takes graduates three years to get married because girls figure it will be at least that long before they recover from the pep rallies. And ask if a perfect 10-0 season would be what Father Hesburgh ordered when he said his goal was "the attainment of excellence."
Notre Dame will only retaliate with a humor of its own, a humor it can well afford now that it again has an instant legend in the passing combination of Terry Hanratty to Jim Seymour. It is a natural humor the campus derives from a football past that includes eight national championships, 19 undefeated teams, 23 teams with only one loss, 18 teams with only two losses, 110 All-America selections, six Heisman Trophy winners and just six losing seasons out of 77.
Someone in South Bend, Ind. will show you the statue of Father Corby outside a priests' residence near Sorin Hall, the aging bronze mold of a man holding up his right arm ("There's old fair-catch Corby"). Someone will point to a more modern chunk of metal, Moses, near the library, an arm uplifted, forefinger gesturing to the heavens ("We're No. 1"). Someone will show you another figure, this one in the huge mosaic on the library—Christ raising both arms ("Six points"). Someone will point to a deserted patch of grass adjacent to the big brick stadium. Vacant now, it is where old Cartier Field stood, the rickety wooden plant of 20,000 capacity in which Rockne's teams played. As recently as three years ago it got one last historical footnote. While the new library was being built, excavation work resulted in a large mound of dirt on Cartier Field, on the ground where George Gipp (some say Ronald Reagan) had trod. The students gave it a fitting name: Mount Excellence.
November 7, 1966
Finally you will be led to the Old Council Oak in a shady cemetery near the campus. There, beneath the ground where La Salle once sat smoking a peace pipe with the Indians, rest the bones of Knute Rockne, who, as every self-respecting football fan knows, died in a plane crash at 43, having given the sport most of the glamour it thrives on today. There is, of course, nothing funny about Rockne's death, but inasmuch as the grave site has been visited in recent years mostly by out-of-town newspapermen it has become known to some as The Department of Journalism. Rockne would love it.
So Notre Dame will outjoke you, too. It can even joke about those two rampaging sophomores, Quarterback Hanratty (see cover) and End Seymour, who were so stupendous, so fantastic, at midseason that they had the Fighting Irish up there again, the echoes awakened, the thunder shaking down from the sky and all of the loyal sons marching, marching, out of their insurance offices, accounting firms and good, solid suburban-citizen obscurity with a pride that never really has to be resurrected—only controlled.
It happened so quickly. The first time Hanratty drew back and sidearmed the football roughly 50 miles in the air and Seymour caught it without breaking his long-gaited style, a natty, subtle little fellow who resides in a cellar office on the Notre Dame campus knew he would be in dire need of a suitable nickname for the combination. Roger Valdiserri is the new sports publicity man in South Bend, and he is a good one. When he replaced oldtimer Charlie Callahan, he said, "They finally got an Irishman." Roger has been a lifelong sideliner at the school. He was once secretary to Boy Coach Terry Brennan and still does one of the superior Frank Leahy imitations.
After that first game Roger went right to work.
"Without Grantland Rice, we might be in trouble," he said. "I've already read a Dynamic Duo somewhere."
"Well, it doesn't have quite the ring of The Bard of Staten Island," he was told.
"What about the Touchdown Tikes?" he said.
"It's not the Springfield Rifle."
"Yeah. Bertelli," Roger said.
Then he said, "What about—it's just a chance, of course—but what about The Diaper Demons? No? The Terrifying Twins? No. Uh, The Terrible Two. No, no. Uh, the, uh, The Torrid Twosome. Well....
"You know what these kids are gonna do?" he continued. "They're so much on fire with the press and all? These two kids are so good they're gonna knock me out of six All-Americas, and if they're that good they deserve a catchy nickname."
"Six All-Americas? Six besides Hanratty and Seymour?"
Roger said, "Well, you figure Nick Eddy at halfback for sure, and Jim Lynch at linebacker. If anybody picks an authentic fullback, it has to be Larry Conjar. You'd think Tom Regner for an offensive guard. He's just the best there is. Then our two defensive tackles, Pete Duranko and Kevin Hardy. Big, strong, quick—the pros love 'em. You think maybe you could land them on something. Now, though, with these two kids on fire...."
He sighed and said, "It's awfully scary. Do you know that in his first four games Hanratty threw for more yards than George Gipp, Harry Stuhldreher, Marchy Schwartz, Bill Shakespeare, Johnny Lujack, Frank Tripucka and Daryle Lamonica did in their best seasons? Do you realize that in his first two games Seymour caught more passes for more yardage than Leon Hart did the year he won the Heisman Trophy?"
Roger Valdiserri sighed. None of the new names seemed any better than The Baby Bombers, his original thought, which is not bad, considering that Granny, Damon, Ring, Westbrook, Heywood and all the gang managed to use up practically everything else palatable long before Roger's time and duty. The Baby Bombers may stick.
Meanwhile Notre Dame's success resounds across the country, where there are 178 alumni clubs and a thousand more fugitive groups, the subway-prairie-mountain-swamp alumni who know nothing of the university's excellent academic role. They are oblivious to its high standards in science and liberal arts, to its notable research in economics and aeronautics—even to the strict disciplinary customs that make it a kind of Catholic semimilitary institution without uniforms. They certainly do not know it as a school curiously capable of turning out such a crossbreed of men as the late Dr. Tom Dooley; Edwin O'Connor, the bestselling novelist; Walt Kennedy, commissioner of the National Basketball Association; Bill Miller, the former New York Congressman who was Barry Goldwater's vice-presidential running mate; Jack Schneider, the "third man from the top" at CBS; and Red Smith, America's best-known sports columnist.
Notre Dame fans feast on all of their lore, good or bad, and part of the fun that Hanratty and Seymour are creating comes from relishing all of the old tales about all of the people who came before Coach Ara Parseghian and his Baby Bombers. There have been several box formations of them, but for Notre Dame insiders, whether they spew forth the memories in bars or restaurants, in homes or offices, the person who dominates their conversations is Frank Leahy, the man who really drew open the curtains for the Era of Ara.
Though he won four national titles in 11 seasons, Frank Leahy was everything Notre Dame loved and disliked at the same time. He was loved, of course, because he won games, but he also was frequently criticized for some of the ways that his teams won. There was the sucker shift, for instance, and the feigned injury. There were charges of dirty play and illegal recruiting. There were accusations of unethical practice sessions. But through it all Leahy outwardly remained a theatrically charming personality, a grim strategist and, best of all, a winner. He would spend many a night in a room in the campus firehall, 30 miles from his home in Michigan City, Ind., worrying about a team the oddsmakers knew he would devour by 40 points. He would attempt pep talks with tears and brooding, with sadness and hatred, and always, as one former player says, "in his high-pitched Boston College speech-course Irish."
When Leahy talked, some players, like Johnny Lujack, listened intently, as if the loss of a single syllable might result in a tragic interception. Others didn't. Terry Brennan had a tendency to nap; he knew he would play his best, and few played better. Ziggy Czarobski frequently seized the occasion to go to the bathroom. Given enough time, Czarobski might have driven Leahy nutty. Or nuttier. After one particularly disappointing Saturday—the Irish had won by only three touchdowns, or something—Leahy announced that the team was going to learn the game all over again. From the primer. "Oh, lads," he said. "We'll start from here. I hold in my hand a football. Now, who can tell me what this is?"
Czarobski said, "Hey, Coach, not so fast."
In moments of frustration and rare excitement, Leahy was known to treat his players with unwarranted scorn, although he would forgive them later on. When Jim Shrader missed an extra point in the Pittsburgh game of 1952, a point that would have tied the score, the coach lunged at him on the sideline, grabbed him by the shoulders and yelled, "Oh, Jim Shrader, you'll burn in hell for this!"
Despite his fierce competitive nature, his agonizing lectures and self-torturing worry, Leahy had a sense of humor that bubbled up on odd occasions. In a September workout before the season of 1953, his last before retirement, Leahy decided he would conclude the drills by rehearsing his injury play—a play, incidentally, that later enabled Notre Dame to tie Iowa and remain unbeaten.
"Oh, lads," he said. "Let us practice the injury play." Frank Varrichione, the tackle, knew what to do. He was the designated victim, so after the usual collision of bodies, Varrichione clutched at his leg, moaned, whimpered, hollered and flip-flopped around like a man who had truly been wounded. Out onto the field raced Leahy.
"Frank," he said. "I think we'd better make it total unconsciousness."
And all of the rest of those stories.
They lead now to Ara Parseghian, restorer of the glory that was, janitor of the debris left by the unfortunate Brennan's five years during obvious de-emphasis and Joe Kuharich's four unspectacular seasons, during which George Izo, a good passer, injured his leg while miscast as a defensive back. Although everything Ara adds up to still seems wrong for Notre Dame—a Protestant and a graduate of another school (Miami of Ohio)—everything he is and says and does is perfect. Everything.
For one thing, Ara Parseghian is a brilliant offensive coach, as he proved at Northwestern. He beat teams he should not have beaten, and with fewer athletes. For another thing, Ara Parseghian is smart enough to know you must have a loyal, hard-working staff and, in his particular case, a defensive specialist. He has such a staff, and it features Defensive Coach John Ray, who set six NCAA defensive records at John Carroll in 1962.
Like Parseghian himself, John Ray is a fiery, persuasive, resonant man who, from the beginning in the near-perfect year of 1964, has constructed a distinctive spirit in the defensive unit equal to that in Ara's spicy offensive platoons. Though Ray dislikes seeing it put quite this way, Notre Dame has, in effect, two head coaches, one for offense and one for defense, both of them highly accomplished, as the record indicates. (In its first six games this season Notre Dame scored 197 points and allowed only 28 but, of course, the team's biggest test, Michigan State, is yet to come.) "It's Ara's team," John Ray argues, honestly. But Ara counters with equal kindness. "John deserves full credit for our defense," he says.
The casual fan doesn't realize it, but a lot of head coaches do not treat their assistants with the concern, tact and understanding that Parseghian does. Some have rules that the assistant may not speak to the press, may not be seen in highlight films, may not appear at clinics, address luncheons or attend conventions. This type of head coach is invariably a loser, though it is not implied that there aren't other ways to be one. Ara Parseghian is a winner, and he is as generous with his assistants as possible.
But the surface of the man is what Notre Dame followers like the best, the things they can see and hear. Take Ara at a Friday night pregame rally in the gymnasium, which is as close as free men can come to a prison riot for better food and bedding. Or Ara leaping around on the sidelines during a game, hugging players, shouting instructions and encouragement. Or Ara at the end of a day's practice, building his squad lecture to a crescendo, combining, one is told, the passion of Rockne with the dedication of Leahy.
For all of this intensity, the Irish workouts may be fun and certainly are not agony sessions. Every successful team goes about things differently, so you can't say whether Parseghian's procedures are the best. But there is more chatter, more hustling, more continuously earnest activity on the part of everybody than at a great variety of other campuses.
Maybe the Notre Dame coaches simply have louder voices. You don't have to be all the way down on the end of the field with the defense to hear blond and husky John Ray, for example.
"Where were you? he shouts to a player who has missed an assignment. "Were you here, like a good, smart Notre Dame man? Or were you there! Come on, come on, come on. Let me see the defense the way Notre Dame plays it."
And up on Ara Parseghian's end of the grass The Baby Bombers are at work. This is mid-October, before Jim Seymour injured his ankle against Oklahoma. Over and over again, Terry Hanratty slings the bomb and Seymour gets there. A flat pass, a screen, a hook, then the deep one again—and Seymour has it. The ball doesn't seem to touch the ground for an interminable number of plays.
Notre Dame has seen a lot of passing combinations through the years: George Gipp to Eddie Anderson, Harry Stuhldreher to Don Miller, Angelo Bertelli to John Yonakor, Lujack to Brennan, Bob Williams to Leon Hart and then to Jim Mutscheller, Ralph Guglielmi to Joe Heap, Paul Hornung to Jim Morse, and Johnny Huarte to Jack Snow. Forget them. Nobody ever threw a football to anybody until The Baby Bombers found each other.
Notre Dame knows it. Off to the side, Tom Pagna, the assistant coach in charge of the offensive backfield, hides his delight in a joke, repeating his remark from the dressing room after the Purdue game.
"Just think," Pagna says. "When Terry came to me, he was all knuckles."
Presently the drills are over, and the offensive and defensive squads thunder to the middle of the field, still clattering, whooping, laughing. Suddenly the defense gathers around John Ray and begins an ancient football chant.
"Two bits, four bits, six bits, a dollar," they yell, and you think instantly, hold it, John, it's corny, it's—
"All for the offense, stand up and holler."
Silence. Hilarious silence.
Now the offense begins to appreciate the joke, as laughter all around intrudes, and Ray walks away to bum a cigarette, leaving the squad to Ara Parseghian.
No one can hear what Ara says at first. It has something to do with why Notre Dame wins, you assume. But his voice is rising. You can hear him now. Louder. Still louder. Yeeek, he's shouting. "Are they gonna score on us?" he explodes. "Are they gonna do to us what they did last year?" Even louder. Rockne. Leahy. "Are we gonna score on them? Are we? Are we gonna beat 'em? Are we gonna beat the hell out of 'em?"
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, and Ara strolls calmly away, eating a mint, another day's work done.
"Hey," says the coach, smiling, reaching out to shake hands. "Boy, we got bad luck for sure with you here. I saw you a while ago, standing over there on the other side of the field so you'd have to look into the sun. That's how smart writers are." He grins at John Ray.
"Well, they're all here, or coming," says Ara. "In midseason, just like '64. Newspapers, magazines, television, radio—the whole works." He looks away, momentarily wistful. "It's great to get publicity and all that, but I wish, like every other coach, that it could all come after the season, when these young kids have done it—if they do it."
Ara consoles himself. "Well, they're great kids. They're handling it real good. That's the thing—they're such great kids. But, geez, the stuff going on. Everybody wants 'em to pose for a magazine cover, everybody wants a private interview. I'm tripping over television cable right here on my own practice field!
"Hey," Ara continues. "That goofy Klosterman called the other day. [Don Klosterman, general manager of the Oilers]. He wanted to know if Roger couldn't rig up a morals charge on Seymour so he could sign him."
"A lot of the pros think Seymour could start for them right now."
Ara says, "Well, he's a good one, all right. We knew he was good. We knew Hanratty was good, too. But we were afraid to think how good. I'll tell you, I still don't know how good they are. Hanratty doesn't throw a perfect ball, by any means. He's strong, as you've seen. But he throws a hard, tight spiral, a heavier ball than most passers. It's a ball that most receivers think is hard to catch. He has a tendency to throw too low. We're working hard on him to come up here with it. The best thing he has is strength and accuracy on the long ones. You can teach a kid to throw short, as they say. But you can't teach him to throw long if he hasn't got the arm."
Ara goes on, "You can stop that, though. You don't have to let us hit the long one. In football you can stop anything you want to stop, but you have to give up something else. North Carolina wanted to stop Seymour. They doubled and tripled him. So we ran. Eddy and Conjar saw it open up for them. The one time North Carolina singled Jimmy, we had the right play called. And that's when Terry hit him for 56 yards."
So far it has all worked beautifully. Hanratty has completed 51 passes for 972 yards and five touchdowns, and Seymour has caught 34 of them for 675 yards and five touchdowns, and when the defenses have chosen to concentrate on The Baby Bombers the running game has knifed out 1,229 yards. Even when the two sophomores haven't been trying to connect, their mere presence has worried their opponents into shock.
Who are they, anyway, these two teenagers who have pumped so much unexpected drama and excitement into the 1966 collegiate season? Basically, they are just a couple of kids who have nothing more startling to reveal in their characters than politeness and wonderment, and nothing more dome-shaking to say than, "No, sir, I sure didn't expect anything like this to happen."
The receiving end of this pass-and-catch sensation, Jim Seymour, comes from Berkley, Mich. There are enough Seymours to choose up for a game of backyard touch—four brothers and one sister besides Jim, one of whom, John, played halfback at Army for three years. Fortunately, the father, Bart, is well off, the vice-president of a company called Imperial Metallic Lubricants, Inc., a Detroit firm that sells oil products to industry. Bart appears to have sold a lot. The Seymour home is large, elegantly furnished and has a swimming pool.
Jim Seymour is so impressive an athlete that simply stating what he is and what he can do comes out almost like lies. Take the size and speed. He is 6 feet 4 and weighs 208 pounds and can run the hurdles. Now, really. Then you put him at his position, end, and you give him an acrobat's moves and leg spring and, quite frankly, the damndest pair of hands any pro scout has ever seen on a sophomore, and what you wind up with is instant touchdown, the perfect receiver for Hanratty.
Seymour has proved that he can run all the patterns Ara can chart, and that he is exceptionally dangerous on the long ones, where his smooth, powerful speed leaves a defensive man alone and embarrassed. But then, while he's in open throttle, looking like a 440 man on the backstretch, here comes the ball from Hanratty, and Jim simply sort of brings it in—a man taking a can of peas off a shelf. He has done it at least once against every team he has met, and twice or three times against most. In the Purdue game alone he pulled down 13 for 276 yards and three touchdowns.
"I was so frightened in that opening game," Jim's mother says. "I was afraid he would look bad. And after he caught the first two, I said, 'Sit down, that's enough.' Shows you how good a judge I am."
The pro scouts are the best judges, and Seymour already has driven many of them out of their usual nonchalance, not to mention their rented cars.
"I'll tell you what," one of them says. "There has never been a kid at his position who has his size, his speed, his moves, his hands and his attitude. He's got to be the most unreal thing that's ever come along. I can't think of a pro club he couldn't start for right now. The only guy who remotely resembles him in the pros is Boyd Dowler. And he's pretty good, isn't he? You know what? I'd take Seymour."
At such praise, the Notre Dame split end is mystified and aghast, although I must tell you that he can wrap a neat four-in-hand knot in his tie, centered, without the aid of a mirror. He has also taught himself to play the guitar and cook almost any dish he wants to eat. There are a lot of people who might rank these talents up there with catching touchdown passes.
"I've dropped too many for everyone to get so excited," Jim says, smiling easily. He is handsome and personable in a Roger Staubach kind of way—scrubbed, wide grin, white teeth, neatly dressed. "There are a lot of things I've got to learn. I haven't even begun to see any variety of defenses yet. And I think I have trouble catching the low passes. I'm working on that."
Seymour also has an uncanny ability to take the ball away from people, which, incidentally, is how he got hurt in the Oklahoma game. He went up between three defenders and came down with a sprain. The only serious wound he ever suffered prior to this was a cleated eye in high school. "That was kind of bad," he says, neglecting to mention that when it happened during the opening game of his senior season, he left the field, had 10 stitches taken and came back—one-eyed—to lead his team to victory.
Seymour's partner, Terry Hanratty, is half Irish and half Italian, a condition that has encouraged Roger Valdiserri, naturally, to tell Parseghian that the quarterback's last name ought to be spelled with an "i." Hanratty comes from an entirely different background than Seymour—a separated family in Butler, Pa. His mother has not yet seen him play, except against Purdue on television, but it is not because she always hoped that he would become a baseball player. "I pushed him in sports all my life," she says. "I wanted him to play baseball, but I always told him, if you want something out of life, you can get it through sports."
Hanratty's father, Eddie, is a sports-loving man himself, who once considered a boxing career. He won 16 of 17 bouts as an amateur, but gave it up because, as he says, "You can wind up on Goofy Street." The father has seen three Notre Dame games, sitting proudly but worriedly in the stands, fearing injury. "He'll see a lot of mountains of men before he's through," says the father, "and I'll have to try to act like I'm not worried about it."
The quarterback was not easily recruited by Notre Dame. His first choice was Penn State, and his second was Michigan State, even though he had an older brother, Pete, who had gone to South Bend on a part-scholarship for track and field. Penn State will tell you that Hanratty's grades didn't measure up, but Notre Dame will tell you that John Ray, also a top recruiter, was the final persuading factor. Hanratty confesses the same.
Terry Hanratty is polite, bewildered, mannerly. He says, "I've just been trying to beat out Coley O'Brien for quarterback, and now all this happens." But that's not all he says. After the spectacular day against Purdue when he completed 16 passes for 304 yards and three touchdowns, Hanratty was named Midwest Back of the Week—not the biggest deal in the world. But Hanratty was called into Valdiserri's office and told of the honor, nonetheless. The quarterback, who has sharp features in a narrow face and a black crew cut that lies flat, looked stunned. After a pause, he said slowly, "Boy, I never thought it would all end up like this."
Terry is like that. So is Jim Seymour. And before the two of them are through, Notre Dame may have to erect a couple more statues.