So you think Notre Dame lost last week? You heard that USC knocked off the Irish for the second straight year, beating them 28-14, and in South Bend yet? Well, it's true, Notre Dame did lose—its undefeated season, its chance to play an Oklahoma or Nebraska in the Orange Bowl and any hope for the national title. But, folks, Notre Dame did not lose everything last week.
The freshmen won. In fact, they won the big game, the grandest international football confrontation of the year: ND vs. Mexico City Redskins. And they did it with a few points to spare. You didn't know about the game? Well, nice group of kids, the freshmen. Over there is Kevin Nosbusch, a friendly kid when not playing football, a defensive tackle standing 6'4" and weighing in at 255 pounds, all of it hard muscle. Another defensive tackle is John Roscoe, also 6'4" but only, well, 240. And then there are a couple of defensive ends who have to stoop to get under a 6'5" doorway and go 230 and 240. And if anything gets past that crew, there are linebackers like John Freeman (235) and Greg Cortina (255), and they are as quick as they are big. And now last Saturday night here comes Sergio Chagary Cosio, trying to zip his 165 pounds out of the Mexico City Redskins' backfield. Leading the blocking is Rito Calzada Salda√±a, a 175-pound guard. Double-splat! No one asks if Sergio gained any yards, just if he is still alive. Ah, all is well. Rito just wiggled a foot. Oh, oh, there goes Daniel Carranza Reyes, a 160-pound defensive back, off on a stretcher. From the top of Mexico City's huge but empty Azteca Stadium (the crowd of 35,000 was lost in the 97,240-seat arena) a man bugles taps.
From the beginning it was an Aztec sacrifice. The home team even lost the toss of the coin. And what followed wasn't football, it was a demolition derby. The final score was 80-0, or maybe even 82-0. No one was sure. Notre Dame went for two points after its last touchdown, and half the officials said they made it and the other half said no. The important thing was that the Irish didn't lose another football. After their 10th touchdown they kicked the extra point and the fans refused to throw the ball back.
"From now on," said an official, noting that the score was then 68-0 and there was still more than 21 minutes to play, "when you score, just run for your extra points."
"People thought we were trying to run up the score," said Denny Murphy, the Irish freshmen coach. "Shoot, we just didn't want to lose any more balls. You can't tell kids not to score, all you can do is just tell them not to throw and to use basic stuff."
For the record, the Irish touchdowns were scored by Halfback Ron Goodman (4), Fullback Wayne Bullock (3), Quarterback Tom Clements (2), Bob Sweeney (1), Chuck Kelly (1) and Tom Bake (1). You might as well remember the names. Ara will. En route Notre Dame rolled up 800 yards, most of it on the ground. Clements threw just four passes, two of them for touchdowns.
"We played with very much heart." said Elias Fernando Yapur, a Redskin Athletic Club official. "But Notre Dame played with very much height, very much weight and too much speed."
"We got the spit kicked out of us," said a Redskin player. "Their team outweighs half of Mexico City."
In a two minute and 18 second spurt, Notre Dame's Eric Penick went 84 yards to score only to have it nullified by a penalty. On the next play Bullock went 89 yards to score, and after the Redskins punted, Kelly went 73 yards to score. Then just a shade more than a minute later, Bake, shedding Mexicans like an oak tree undressing for winter, went six yards to score.
At halftime, leading 48-0, Murphy told his troops: "Now look, guys, these are nice people, and I'm not asking anybody not to go all out, but let's just stick to the basics. The very basics. But you on the defense, let's not lose the shutout."
The defense, which spent most of the night watching the offense score, gave up but 127 yards while intercepting seven passes and recovering four fumbles. The Redskin quarterbacks, not one of them over 5'8", threw 23 passes, but mostly they were just tossing the ball up for grabs. They completed five fewer than they had stolen.
The result was hardly a surprise to the Mexicans. All week during practice there was a running gag. Someone would place a helmet on the ground and then others would come over and pretend there was a player underneath it—one stomped upon by a Notre Dame player.
"Ah, we'll win by 48 points," said Elias Yapur, an optimist whose brother Jose is a 179-pound linebacker on the team.
"You are crazy," said Manuel Rodelo, the Redskins' dynamic little coach.
"You mean you don't think you can win?" someone asked Rodelo.
He laughed. "No," he said, "but to play Notre Dame will be good for football in Mexico. Everyone thinks we only play soccer. We love to play American football very much. But we have much problems, like getting money for equipment. It is too expensive."
Yapur held up a hand. "We would be very appreciative if someone would tell the people in the United States that we would gratefully receive any donations for equipment." So be it.
The Redskins play in the Mexican Major League, but unlike the other nine clubs in the league, they have no affiliation with a university. Rodelo coached for 14 years at the National Polytechnic Institute in Mexico City, running up a 145-6-2 record, but he quit in disgust two years ago over the program.
"I wanted to have just one team," he said, "but the people who drive football there know nothing. They are happy to have three teams, all of them bad. They got money for football, but no one knows where it goes."
"Ha," shouted Yapur. "I'll show you where it goes. After practice I'll take you to the Hipodromo, the racehorse track."
When he left Polytechnic, Rodelo took 12 players along with him. They were joined by 165 disgruntled Polytech alumni who formed the Redskins AC. They financed the team with dues, donations and lotteries, and they recruited other players. But they were blackballed from the majors. Last year they played six small U.S. teams, lost five games and beat St. Mary's of San Antonio 6-0. This year Rodelo spent time studying football at Notre Dame and Texas.
Then Mexico elected a new president, Luis Echeverría Alvarez, an ex-football player who swept out the heads of the universities. The replacements saw the virtues of football, and appointed some new administrators for the sport. The Redskins were voted into the major league, and so far they have beaten four rivals while losing only to the Condors of the University of Mexico, last year's champions, 10-9.
"We have the Wishbone offense," said Rodelo. And he laughed. "When we play against other Mexican teams, we have a good running attack. But against the Americans...."
When the Notre Dame players arrived in Mexico City last Thursday, no one knew if the Redskins used the Wishbone or what. In fact, they thought they were playing a group of Mexican all-stars. They had been invited to come down by the Mexican Notre Dame alumni club and had been offered a guarantee of $10,000 if they accepted. One thing Murphy knew about for sure was the Mexican water. He told his players they not only could not drink it, they could not even use it to brush their teeth. And at a reception thrown for the Notre Dame men Thursday night by Mexican officials, the players were ordered away from the food in the interest of staying in shape.
"It's funny," said Murphy, "back home they've been complaining about the training table, but down here it's beginning to look good to them. Like for lunch today, they gave us fried bananas. They were tasty, but some of the kids were giving them funny looks. I'm sure none of them ever had a fried banana before. But the treatment down here has been fabulous. They've taken care of us like kings. The only thing I don't like is all this cocktail talk about the monsters from Notre Dame and the midgets from Mexico. Our kids started believing that stuff, but we talked to them. They know they have to play a game." Right, coach.
"Just how big are they really?" A Mexican official asked Murphy at one point.
"Well, our defensive line averages 245 pounds," he answered. "And our offensive line averages 236."
The Mexican blinked, then grinned weakly. "That is big, isn't it."
Bigger than big, and to the freshmen, who have spent the fall getting belted around by the even bigger varsity, it was good to be top dog for a change.
"As a team, we only get to practice once a week, on Fridays," said Pete Demaerle, a 187-pound split end. "The rest of the week we spend all our time getting zonked by the varsity."
"Yeah, and it's murder," said 230-pound Guard Gerald DiNardo. "I bet I get knocked down at least live times a day," said Demaerle. "I run out against that secondary and wham! I'm down."
"Just think," said DiNardo, "Saturday we'll get to put on the gold pants for the first time. Won't that be something. And now it's our turn to bust some people. I can hardly wail."
Which they did, 80-0 or 82-0, and then they came back to the hotel for a late meal of hamburgers and milk shakes. And to talk about the varsity's loss to USC that same afternoon.
"Our victory was great," said Goodman. "But I keep thinking about what USC did. Boy, next week the varsity is going to really kill us."