Friday, December 30, 2005

With the Fighting Irish Ready to Play Fiesta Bowl Game, Iowa Fans Are Again Recalling How '53 Hawkeyes 'Got Gypped' By Frank Leahy's 'Fainting Irish'

Everyone knows that the football program at Notre Dame has made a dramatic comeback in the 2005 season under coach Charlie Weis.

The Fighting Irish [9-2] play Ohio State [9-2] Monday in the Fiesta Bowl in one of the more interesting postseason games.

Notre Dame fans around the world -- the real kind and the so-called "subway alumni" -- are thrilled beyond belief.

Meanwhile, Ohio State didn't know it had so many football fans. Everyone who isn't a Notre Dame booster -- and there are millions -- will be rooting for the Buckeyes.

I'm like a lot of others who have paid at least some attention over the years to Notre Dame football.

And, whenever I think of the Fighting Irish, my mind goes back to the 1953 season and the "Fainting Irish" who played for Notre Dame coach Frank Leahy [pictured at the left].

Indeed, I documented the "Fainting Irish" on the back of my book, "Tales from the Iowa Sidelines" that now is in its second printing.

Here's the Fainting Irish segment:

"One of the mist bizarre games in Forest Evashevski's nine seasons as Iowa's coach was in the 1953 finale against Notre Dame at South Bend, Indiana.

"The game ended in a 14-14 tie, but only after Notre Dame had resorted to tactics that had people calling its players the 'Fainting Irish.'

"Just before each half ended, assorted Notre Dame players collapsed on the field so the officials would stop the clock. Consequently, the Irish scored touchdowns in the final seconds of each half.

"Iowa coaches, players and fans thought the phony injuries robbed them of an opportunity to score a huge upset. When he returned to Iowa City, Evashevski pounced on the 'Fainting Irish' theme by paraphrasing the words of sportswriter Grantland Rice with these words:

"'When the One Great Scorer comes
to write against our name,
He won't ask that we won or lost,
But how we got gypped at Notre Dame.'"

Another man who has always had a keen interest in the Fainting Irish episode is longtime Hawkeye fan Al Schallau, who now lives in California.

Schallau sent me this e-mail recently:


"I hope you will post the entire text of that 'Oh Paddy Dear' poem on about 10 or 12 websites so that it will be readily available to the whole world for many years to come. Mike Hlas had to go through about 14 days worth of [Cedar Rapids and Iowa City] Gazette microfilms to find it for me.

"I have talked to Evy [pictured at the upper right] four or five times about the Fainting Irish game. The last time was the Monday after USC beat Notre Dame on the 'Bush Push Touchdown.' I told Evy how thrilled I was that USC had beaten Notre Dame on a touchdown that was clearly illegal.

"Evy is always very calm and subdued when we talk about the Fainting Irish game. But he said, 'I have cried inside many times.'

"I have a lot of opinions about that Fainting Irish game -- most of which would not be printable. Since 1953, rooting against Notre Dame has been a way of life for me. But I have problems when Notre Dame plays Michigan. I mute the sound on the TV because I can't stand to listen to either of those fight songs.

"But I admit that my oldest daughter married a young man who is a Notre Dame grad. She could not have picked a finer young man. He is A-plus in every respect and he treats my daughter like a queen 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. When I am around him, I always tell him about my profound respect for Notre Dame as an academic institution. In fact 'Academic Excellence' was Notre Dame's slogan from 1956 to 1961, when Iowa was beating the crap out of Notre Dame on the football field."

In a later e-mail, Schallau wrote:

"What has always pissed me off the most about the Fainting Irish incident vs. Iowa in 1953, is that everybody at Notre Dame ADMITTED that Varrichione [pictured at the lower right], Penza and Hunter faked the injuries; and that they had rehearsed that scene like teams now practice their two-minute drills.....

"The Fainting Irish of 1953 were chronicled in a poem authored by Hank McCormick, former sports editor of the Wisconsin State Journal. Mike Hlas, sports writer for the Cedar Rapids [and Iowa City] Gazette, found the poem for me. Gus Schrader printed it in the Gazette on December 3, 1953. The poem appears below.


[Hank McCormick, sports editor of Wisconsin State Journal]

Oh Paddy dear, and did you hear

The news that's going 'round?

Now Notre Dame is winning games
With players on the ground!

The first to hit the ground this day
Was Frank Varrichione;

The Irish claim that he was hurt,
But others cry, “Baloney!”

He stopped the clock, of that no doubt,
And then the Irish scored;

So Notre Dame tied up the game,

And all the faithful roared,

But 30 minutes still remained
Of this grim football game,
And Iowa would take no guff
From proud old Notre Dame.

The end drew near, the Hawks now led,

And seconds fast were fleeting,
So someone had to stop the clock
To halt an Irish beating.

Few seconds showed upon the clock
When suddenly was spied
Not one bold Mick ‘upon the turf
But two lay side-by-side.

A whistle stopped the clock again,

As Penza and Hunter lay,
Upon the ground where they’d been dumped
So frequently that day.

But kind hands raised the fallen boys,
All Hope was not yet dead,

For straight the ball to Shannon flew –-

Guglielmi used his head.

And so the game wound up a tie,

But who deserves the fame

For staving off defeat that day

For proud old Notre Dame?

You have your choice of heroes here –-

Penza? Varrichione?
Or maybe you like Hunter best?

Let’s have your testimony.

Strange things have come to pass, I think,

At proud old Notre Dame,

When lying on the ground reflects

Undying football fame