Notre Dame football: The Irish and the games of the century

Notre Dame football(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Notre Dame football(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) /
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Notre Dame football
Notre Dame football (Photo Credit: Matthew Stockman /Al) /

It was two years past 1933, the height of the Great Depression. For those of us who didn’t live through it, the Great Depression was unimaginable. Unemployment was as high as 25%, and writers like John Steinbeck emerged to expose the harsh reality of life.

Knute Rockne had died from a plane crash in 1931, leaving behind a legendary legacy and a powerhouse Notre Dame football program. Heartley Anderson had originally taken over for Rockne, but things didn’t work out so Elmer Layden came home to coach Notre Dame.

It seemed, coming off a 6-3 season that Layden had Notre Dame on the right track. Meanwhile, it was Ohio State’s second season under Francis Schmidt. This was before the Buckeyes ever won a National Championship, but they were well on their way.

Leading into the game both programs were unbeaten at 5-0 and 4-0 respectively. It was the perfect opportunity to distract the public from the Great Depression and make some money from papers and tickets at the same time.

This is how the term, “Game of the Century” first came to use. It was a way of marketing a highly important game race for the 1935 National Championship.

It worked, the Horseshoe in Columbus sold out to watch the Notre Dame football team beat their hometown Ohio State Buckeyes by a score of 18-13.

The game wasn’t an easy win for the Irish either. Ohio State came out strong and put Notre Dame in a 13-0 hole at the half. After nobody scored in the 3rd quarter, the Game of the Century became a mad scramble to catch up by Notre Dame.

The comeback was on the back of Andy Pilney’s performance. His career would, unfortunately, end when he tore his ACL following a 36-yard run. This did set up the game-winning touchdown, though.

Even with Pilney’s excellent performance, Notre Dame needed a bit of luck to win in Columbus. They had, unluckily, missed on a late extra point which meant they needed to get an onside kick late in the 4th quarter. They didn’t get it.

Instead, when all hope looked lost, Notre Dame was able to recover a fumble around mid-field. That would be the set up to Pilney’s run and career-ending injury. That injury would bring a future College Football Hall of Famer into the game for the Irish, Bill Shakespeare. Shakespeare would throw the game-winning touchdown pass to Wayne Millner.

It was an 18-13 come from behind victory for Notre Dame in the first Game of the Century.

Neither of these two teams would go on to win the National Championship, despite playing in the first Game of the Century. Notre Dame would be upset the next week against Northwestern, and tie Army the week after that. Ohio State wouldn’t lose again. The honor of National Champion would be divided by four schools; Minnesota, Princeton, SMU, and TCU.