the new york giants vs. notre dame -- 10/11/19

Today's selection -- from The League by John Eisenberg. In 1930, the New York Giants, part of the new and struggling National Football League, played the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame, a far more popular college football team:

"In the early 1930s, college football remained significantly more popular than the pro game. And no team embodied college foot­ball's preeminence more than Notre Dame, which had emerged as a powerhouse in the 1920s thanks to [Knute] Rockne and his glamorous Four Horsemen backfield. National radio broadcasts and fawning news­paper coverage had turned the Irish into their era's 'America's team,' and, even though their campus was in South Bend, Indiana, their second home was New York, with its large Irish American population. After a roaring sellout crowd watched them upset Army at the Polo Grounds in 1924, the Fighting Irish played at least one game in the city every year.

"[New York Giants owner Tim] Mara, with his Irish roots, supported Rockne's team. Seeking to raise money to help New Yorkers who had been ruined by the market crash, Mara proposed a game between the Giants and the 1930 Notre Dame varsity. Not only would it draw a crowd, but it also would give the Giants a chance to demonstrate that pro football was no longer a second-rate sport. Rockne liked the idea, but his team, on its way to another national title, had no room on its schedule. He proposed that a blend of former and current Irish players travel to New York for a game against the Giants. Mara readily agreed, and a date for the game was set: December 14, 1930.

"Mara had no difficulty mounting a successful promotional cam­paign for the game. He took out newspaper ads that read, 'See the Four Horseman Ride Together Again.' Many football fans, especially those who rooted for Notre Dame, were not going to pass up such an opportunity. More than 50,000 tickets were sold.

Program cover for the matchup between the Notre Dame All-Stars and New York Giants.

"Rockne's squad gathered in Indiana and practiced for four days before taking a train to New York. Mara was confident; his players were in better condition and physically larger, especially along the of­fensive and defensive lines. By the day of the game, Rockne had made the same realization. 'Take it easy on us,' he told [star quarterback Benny] Friedman when they met before kickoff to discuss the rules. Friedman was now the Giants' head coach as well as the quarterback. ...

"Sure enough, the Giants dominated. The Four Horsemen had no­where to run. Friedman passed and ran for big gains. By halftime, the Giants led, 15-0, and Rockne was angry. ... Rockne complained that he had scheduled the game for charitable reasons and was being embarrassed. The Giants played backups in the second half The final score was 22-0.

"The game raised more than $100,000. Mara and Friedman trav­eled to City Hall and presented a check to Jimmy Walker, the mayor of New York. Mara had never felt better about his team. The Giants had turned a profit during the season, won a slew of games, and con­tributed to the city. Their pummeling of Notre Dame sent a message to the country's sports public. Baseball and college football fans could no longer dismiss the NFL with a scornful laugh."



John Eisenberg


The League


Hachette Book Group


Copyright 2018 by John Eisenberg


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