Ed Frost is a friend of mine I’ve introduced to you before on the blog. Grew up in Hobart, attended OU, became a Russian language professor and spent many years at the University of Alabama, then retired back to Norman, where he remains a big college football fan and retains a keen eye on the Sooner culture.
Ed wrote me this week, and it was so good, it made me glad Ed took up the Russian language instead of sportswriting, or he might have had my current job for the previous 40 years. Anyway, I thought I would share it with you.
“Berry, enjoyed your piece on hating Notre Dame and feel compelled to comment on the subject. I think there’s a lot of misunderstanding about the hatred of Notre Dame, and a lot of different reasons why people do hate the Irish or dislike them or whatever the right word might be.
“First, Notre Dame is like the Yankees — they have historically been rich, powerful and too often on the winning side. People get tired of that. People hate the Yankees, don’t they? Same kind of deal.
“Irish immigrants were not welcomed with open arms in America. They were thought of as hard-drinking, brawling, fighting and, yes, Catholic.
“They have usually beaten us, meaning OU. They broke our winning streak and beat Bud Wilkinson. And they have continued beating us.
“In the whole history of college football, they have the biggest name, period. People get tired of hearing about The Four Horsemen, Knute Rockne and George Gipp.
“When they beat us in ’57, it made my mom furious that (Notre Dame fullback) Nick Pietrosante said, “We did it for all the Catholics in Oklahoma.” She was a staunch Catholic — and a staunch OU fan who suffered through that game. I’m Catholic, too, and I suffered through it as a freshman at OU, sitting dumbfounded in the stands that day. They rained on our parade.
“You know me as an OU fan, probably not as a Catholic. I assure you it’s possible to be Catholic and root against Notre Dame. But that doesn’t mean I hate Notre Dame. Not at all. I actually like them and was thrilled to visit the campus and see the stadium a few years ago. It’s a football shrine, but the main thought I had when I looked at the field was, “This is the field Billy Vessels played on in 1952.”
My dad played for Norman High and graduated from OU, as did my mom, and they were big OU fans. Papa told me the tales of Rockne and the Horsemen and all that as I was growing up. He admired them. But he rooted for OU against them, as we all did. Papa wasn’t Catholic — he just loved good football. And respected it. They played for keeps, as he put it, and he liked that.
“People don’t like Notre Dame’s special status with the BCS, their deal with NBC, their avoiding a conference, etc. I understand that. Alabama hates Notre Dame. Bear Bryant said he didn’t want it to say on his tombstone, “Here lies a man who never beat Notre Dame.” It doesn’t, but he didn’t, and the Bama fans don’t like it. I think their record vs. the Irish is 1-5 — something like that (yes, 5-1). And Bama has never gotten over 1966, when Notre Dame was voted national champions when Bear’s Tide was 11-0. They see it as a media conspiracy to vote for Notre Dame.
“Then there is also the KKK, which was virulently anti-Catholic and anti-Notre Dame. There is an interesting book on the subject, Notre Dame vs. The Klan: How the Fighting Irish Defeated the Ku Klux Klan, authored by a guy named Todd Tucker.
“There is also the myth of ‘the luck of the Irish.’ Notre Dame didn’t win all those games by luck. They won with great coaches, great players, great blocking and tackling. Bud said they were tougher than we were when they first beat us in ’52. My family drove from Hobart to Oklahoma City and took a room in the Biltmore Hotel so we could see the game on black and white TV — the signal was not good in Hobart. We cheered in vain for the Sooners. It was a great game, but they beat us.
“I recall a couple of years when Notre Dame played Texas, and you’d have thought it was a holy war. As for priests and sisters praying for the Irish, some of them may do it. But Rockne, who converted to Catholicism at Notre Dame, said he had noticed that the prayers seemed to be more effective when he had better players. Or, as Papa used to say in my family, ‘God’s on the side with the biggest tackles.’
“Lots of reasons for hating Notre Dame, I guess. It should be an interesting week of buildup for this game. I’m not Methodist, but I was thrilled by SMU when they had Kyle Rote and Doak Walker, and I pulled for them in 1949 when they played Notre Dame in Dallas. I’m a football historian of sorts, and the Irish have given us a lot of great memories over the years. We just need to get better and start beating them.”