November 28, 1953 - Win One for the Hammer

By Olson

From the book 'Forgotten Four' about the ND backfield of 1953

ND entered the 1953 game vs USC in LA with a lot of bad press.

The Irish had tied Iowa the previous game on some late game heroics that were helped along when the Irish (with no timeouts left) were able to stop the clock due to an 'injured' player....

The Irish had come into that Iowa game undefeated and ranked #1. After the Iowa tie the Irish fell to #2 in the polls behind Maryland. The Terps had only received 42 first place votes the week prior to that Iowa game (less than half the number of ND). The next week Maryland received 154 first place votes (more than 3 times that of the Irish.)

There were 98,000 people in the Coliseum the next week. Most were hoping that the now #2 Irish were still reeling after a week of bad press.

The Irish needed something positive to happen. Enter ND student manager Dan Hammer.

Neither team scored on their respective first possessions. After USC was stopped cold on a second possession, the Trojans lined up to punt.

A ND coach(never identified to my knowledge), suddenly decided to change the usual punt return play. This Irish coach grabbed manager Dan Hammer and told him to run onto the field during the timeout to tell Irish return man Joe Heap to change the return play. Hammer did as he was told and ran up to Heap telling Joe about the change of plans. 'Heap nodded his head in acknowledgment'.

From the book:

'The problem was, for Hammer, particularly during the single-platoon era, no one, whether it be a player or a water boy could transmit direction from the sidelines directly to the players on the field. An astute referee caught Hammer and dragged him to the Notre Dame sidelines, sputtering to the coaches, 'This person,this person is out of the game.' Hammer had just earned the dubious distinction of being the only Notre Dame football manager,before or since, to be ejected from a game.'

With Hammer safely escorted from the field, play resumed. The standard Irish punt return in those days called for two deep return men(Heap and either Lattner or Paul Reynolds). The man who fielded the punt would then criss-cross over to the other side of the field as did his backfield mate in the other direction. The ball would either be handed off or kept with the defense having to defend both possibilities.

The simple change that Hammer had relayed was that Heap was to keep the ball and head straight up field.

USC of course had scouted the Irish and were defending against the standard Irish punt return. Heap fielded the punt at the 6 and went straight up field...untouched= A 94 yd td punt return. The Irish were off and running. Final #2 ND 48 #20 USC 14

Postscript: The Irish also won their final game a week later against SMU. But ND remained #2 behind Maryland-who was declared National Champions.

Maryland would go to the Orange Bowl and lose to Oklahoma, a team that ND had beaten. But the Terps post-season loss didn't matter-the National Champs were named in those days prior to the bowls.

The 1953 SMU game was Frank Leahy's last as Head Coach of Notre Dame

Keywords: football, southern cal, manager, iowa, maryland, joe heap, johnny lattner, paul reynolds, oklahoma, frank leahy, forgotten fou, dan hammer

Posted On: 2013-08-27 00:15:06 by Olson


      Were you there? Have more to add? Leave a comment and let us know!

   Posted By: Dan Hammer at 2014-01-15 09:05:05[#1]
Yes, I'm still alive and kicking. The coach that called the play was Joe McArdle, who was acting head coach, because Leahy was sidelined by a serious bout with pancreatitis, which he suffered at halftime of the Ga. Tech game.
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