September 30, 1944 - With key personnel in the war, football continues

By 1944, World War II had been going on for five years and colleges were hit hard by enrollments dropping due to young men enlisting in the war effort. In an agreement that benefited both the Naval Academy and Notre Dame, the Navy effectively kept Notre Dame open during the war as student enrollment was dropping back to Depression Era levels. The drop in enrollment was due to the patriotism of the young men and with Notre Dame being an all-male institution it was hit extra hard.

The football team also noticed a hit with key personnel leaving for the war. After six games in 1943, Heisman winning quarterback Angelo Bertelli would be drafted by the United States Marine Corps (Bertelli was in the Marine Corps Reserves in 1942). Notre Dame would play the final four games without the star quarterback and still go on to win the National Championship, just as Bertelli would win the Heisman from his performance in only six games. But as 1944 rolled around, more than just the quarterback had gone off to war. Head coach Frank Leahy would serve in the Navy from 1944 to 1945, missing two seasons. Before Leahy left for the war, Notre Dame won the National Championship in 1943. Soon as he returned in 1946 and 1947, Notre Dame won the National Championship once again.

Many of the top stars from the 1943 team would also enlist. Assistant coach Ed McKeever would take over as interim coach and many questions revolved around the team. The opening game of the 1944 season saw the team traveling to Pittsburgh to take on the Panthers. The AP Poll would not be released until Oct. 9 so both teams were yet to be ranked.

Despite the lack of personnel, Notre Dame would go on to defeat Pitt 58-0. Sophomore HB Bob Kelly ran for 136 yards and 4 TDs. Both starting ends were Freshman - Zeke O'Connor from the Bronx and Tom Guthrie from Newark. Frosh Marty Wendell was a star LB and substitute fullback from Chicago St George HS on his way to becoming one of the very best LB in ND history. 2nd team QB Joe Gasparella, a 6'3 218 frosh from Vandergrift, PA threw for 2 TDs and ran for another. A bit of ND trivia: Gasparella's first TD pass-a 65 yarder to George Terlep was the very first TD pass ever thrown by a Notre Dame freshman player in the history of Irish football.

Bob Kelly would have a run go for 85 yards, which ranks as the fourth longest run in the Notre Dame record books. Notre Dame would finish the 1944 season 8-2 and ranked #9.

Notre Dame was not the only school to have its football affected by the war. In 1943, the entire Southeastern Conference had suspended their teams but those teams resumed in 1944. The AP Poll in 1943 and 1944 had many service academies and training centers included in the voting. Their teams would play against the colleges as part of their schedules and training programs preparing for war. When looking at Notre Dame's 1943 schedule, the Iowa Pre-Flight Seahawks and Great Lakes Naval Training Center Bluejackets were two such examples of flight schools and training centers that played colleges. In the latter case, Great Lakes would defeat Notre Dame. More than half of the final AP Poll in 1944 was made up of these service academies. The final poll can be found here.

Keywords: football, pittsburgh, world war ii, great lakes, iowa pre-flight, frank leahy, ed mckeever, navy, angelo bertelli, heisman, marines, southeastern conference, bob kelly, zeke oconnor, tom guthrie, marty wendell, joe gasparella, george terlep

Posted On: 2011-09-30 03:15:00 by IrishTrpt07
Edited On: 2014-10-14 16:03:00 by IrishTrpt07


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