Oklahoma football: 1952-53 Notre Dame games the best
The Oklahoma-Notre Dame series is marked by two things: the Irish’s epic 7-0 upset in 1957, which ended the Sooners’ 47-game winning streak, and Notre Dame’s 8-1 series domination. That overshadows the wondrous 1952 and 1953 games, which kicked off the series. Notre Dame won 27-21 in 1952 at South Bend and 28-21 in 1953 at Norman.
Time to remind fans just how majestic were those games. Two of the best in OU history, even in defeat. From The Oklahoman archives:
* Francis Wallace, one of America’s most acclaimed magazine writers, called it “one of the greatest games of all time.”
* Played on Nov. 8, OU entered the game 5-0-1 and ranked fourth. Notre Dame entered 4-1-1 and ranked 10th. “A wonderful lesson for our lads,” Notre Dame coach Frank Leahy said. “It proved to them that if you want something bad enough, and if you are willing to dig in and work for it, almost any objective is possible.”
* It’s possible that Billy Vessels played the greatest individual game ever played by a Sooner. He gained 195 yards on 17 carries and scored all three OU touchdowns. The game won him the ’52 Heisman Trophy. “That Vessels is one of the finest running backs I’ve ever seen,” Leahy said. “And I saw a lot of Vessels today.”
* Vessels scored on a 28-yard pass play from quarterback Eddie Crowder and runs of 62 and 47 yards.
* The game ended when Notre Dame defensive back Paul Reynolds, at the 2-yard line, batted down Vessels’ desperation pass. Notre Dame students rushed the field and hoisted the Irish players on their shoulders.
* While Notre Dame students chanted “We want Leahy!”, Bud Wilkinson said, “We played as well as we can. I’m very proud of the boys.” Imagine a coach saying that today after a six-turnover performance.
* OU star guard J.D. Roberts was ejected in the second quarter for tossing an elbow. He went to the Notre Dame locker room after the game and apologized to Leahy and the Irish players.
* Jim Tatum visited the OU locker room after the game. Tatum was the Sooners’ head coach in 1946 and was the man who brought Wilkinson to Norman. Tatum’s Maryland team, 7-0 and ranked second, had that Saturday off.
* 73 newspapers covered the game, plus three wire services. Grantland Rice was among them.
* 65 television stations aired the game, making it the most televised sporting event in American history to that time. Also, 10 radio companies originated the game and six newsreel companies filmed the game. If you don’t know what a newsreel is, go ask your grandfather.
* The Irish wore green jerseys. The Sooners wore crimson. You don’t see that often. It looked like Christmas.
* 10,000 OU fans made the trip. They were headquartered in Chicago and had rented the Sheraton hotel ballroom for a victory celebration that never took place.
* Before the game, eight large young men, playing bagpipes and wearing Scottish regalia, including kilts, marched through Notre Dame’s stadium concourse, followed by about 25 marching men who chanted with the bagpipes. One of the bagpipers claimed that the Irish, not the Scottish, originated bagpipes.
* There were no women students. Notre Dame didn’t go coed until 1972.
* The Notre Dame and OU bands joined together to play the national anthem, and OU’s director, Leonard H. Haug, directed both bands. The OU band numbered 150 strong and arrived in South Bend mid-morning, after an all-night train ride.
* Much to the Notre Dame crowd’s delight, the OU band played “Oklahoma!” and “Surrey With a Fringe On Top.”
* OU led 21-14 early in the fourth quarter. But a 79-yard touchdown drive tied the game, then OU’s Larry Grigg muffed the ensuing kickoff, setting up the go-ahead score.
* OU outgained Notre Dame 357-354. OU rushed for 313 yards but completed just two of 10 passes. Notre Dame completed 13 of 22 passes, most of them by sophomore quarterback Ralph Guglielmi.
* Sophomore halfback star Buddy Leake suffered an ankle injury the week of the game. He tried to play and went most of the first and third quarters. He kicked all three extra points, but Leake’s running, passing and receiving were hampered.
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