Notre Dame’s 1930 National Championship

Notre Dame 1930 National Championship Team
Knute Rockne guided this 1930 Fighting Irish team to his third and final national championship as head coach of Notre Dame (Photo courtesy of Notre Dame Media Relations)

The Irish had won it all in ’29, and unlike ’24, there were many key veterans returning for the 1930 campaign. All-Americas Carideo and Schwartz were returning, joined in the backfield by Jumpin’ Joe Savoldi, with Marty Brill rounding out the best backfield quartet since the Four Horsemen.

Rock was determined to increase offensive production in ’30, to christen the new stadium, and when Rock wanted to motivate players, there was no one better

Rock’s smile was most aptly capsulized by F. Scott Fitzgerald’s description of Gatsby’s smile:

“He smiled understandingly-much more than understandingly. It was one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it, that you may come across four or five times in life. It faced-or seemed to face-the whole external world for an instant, and then concentrated on you with an irresistible prejudice in your favor. It understood you just as far as you wanted to be understood, believed in you as you would like to believe in yourself and assured you that it had precisely the impression of you that, at your best, you hoped to convey.”

Notre Dame’s New Stadium

Visitors and students stood agape at the nearly-completed Notre Dame Stadium. Rock was not one to embrace the new at the expense of history, and mandated that the new stadium be sodded with the hallowed turf of Cartier Field.

1930 Notre Dame Schedule
Date Opponent Result
10/4/30 vs. SMU W, 20-14
10/11/30 vs. Navy W, 26-2
10/18/30 vs. Carnegie Mellon W, 21-6
10/25/30 @ Pittsburgh W, 35-19
11/1/30 vs. Indiana W, 27-0
11/8/30 @ Pennsylvania W, 60-20
11/15/30 vs. Drake W, 28-7
11/22/30 @ Northwestern W, 14-0
11/29/30 @ Army # W, 7-6
12/6/30 @ Southern Cal W, 27-0
# Played at Solider Field in Chicago, IL

Ever eager to create a national schedule, Notre Dame invited Southern Methodist University of Dallas to open the home season.  The opening game was October 4, 1930 and the stadium and its glory exceeded the patrons’ expectations.  The SMU squad played with a ferocity worthy of their Mustang mascot, but the Irish prevailed 20-14.

The Irish stayed in South Bend for the next two games, handling Navy 26-2 and then Carnegie-Mellon 21-6.  The Irish had now won twelve games in a row.

The Irish’s next opponent was rising Pittsburgh.

Pitt was coached by the man who was their greatest coach, Jock Sutherland. Sutherland, with Tennessee’s Neyland and Minnesota’s Bierman, would be the coaches that would be preeminent in college football in the 30’s. Sutherland’s Panthers were ripening, a mere year away from winning the National Championship in 1931.  Pitt’s offense challenged the Irish, but Rockne’s lads were improved offensively, and the Irish left Pittsburgh with a 35-19 win.

Back home in South Bend, the Irish shut out Indiana’s Hoosiers 27-0.

The Irish next trekked to Philadelphia and walloped the Quakers 60-20.

As Notre Dame Rolled, a showdown with USC in Loas Angeles Loomed

But a rumble was heard from the West Coast. Howard Jones and his troops were looking forward to entertaining Notre Dame and Rockne on December 6th. Despite stubbing their toe up there in the Paloose, losing 7-6 to Washington State in Pullman, the Trojans were on a rampage, demolishing the rest of their conference and Western independents Denver, Hawaii and Utah State. The total in those 8 games was 386-32, an average score of USC 48-opponent 4. The Trojans were talented and were led by All-America candidates end Garret Arbelbide, guard Johnny Baker, Quarterback Marshall Duffield, and Halfback Erny Pinkert, who was destined to join ND’s Marchy Schwartz as a first string All-America halfback.

The Irish returned to South Bend for their final home game and defeated Drake, 28-7. The irish were now 7-0 with a 16 game winning streak.  The Irish shut out Northwestern 14-0, and the next foe would be Army in Soldier Field.

Notre Dame and Army battled in a soggy nail-bitter in Solider Field

Sleet and rain poured in sheets off Lake Michigan, and it promised to be a slugfest. Both defenses prevailed early. And then Marchy Schwarz prevailed.  Late in the game, Schwarz showed his All-America caliber by prancing 54 yards through the muck and the mess to end zone glory. The Irish converted the “all-important extra point” for a 7-0 lead.

The Irish defense held, but when the Irish got the ball back, the Cadets blocked the Irish punt and took it into the end zone. Now only an extra point stood between the Cadets and a tie with the Irish, knocking the Irish out of the national championship picture. Worried? Rockne wasn’t, and his lads blocked the extra point, for the final 7-6 margin.

USC – The Final Challenge

There was one game left. In Los Angeles. Southern Cal. Point machine. A defense that garnered 6 shutouts to the Irish’s 2.

Worthy opponent? Wild crowd? A lynch-mob-mentality in the whole community? Four potential All-Americas?  Mere mortals are intimidated. But this situation, this unforgiving moment is precisely why Knute was born of woman, specifically OF Martha Pederstatter Gjermo, the wife of Lars Knutson Rokne(the original Norwegian spelling) in Voss, Norway, on March 4, 1888.

Knute had seen his team suffer some injuries, and was depleted at fullback. Rock looked at his speedy, back-up halfback Bucky O’Connor, and decided that he would play fullback against the Trojans. But Rock had another surprise up his sleeve for his buddy, Howard Jones. Rock had the swift O’Connor and the tough, but S-L-O-W Dan Hanley, the last man standing at fullback change JERSEY NUMBERS!

When the game began, the 6-shutout defense of Troy thought it was Hanley back there.  Bucky O’Connor’s disguise fooled ’em. It was the most successful disguise caper since Jacob’s disguise convinced Isaac that he was Esau. O’Connor scored two touchdowns, including a shocking 80 yarder. There was a shutout pitched, but it was by the Irish, 27-0. Lots of long faces in LA!!

Carideo and Schwartz were first team All-Americas. Carideo would have won the Heisman, but it did not begin being awarded until 1935. Guard Bert Metzger won some All-America honors.

While Alabama was awarded the championship by Football Research and Sagarin, the Irish were the overwhelmingly clear choice, winning the national championship from :

  • Billingsley
  • Boand
  • Dickinson
  • Dunkel
  • Helms
  • Haugate
  • National Championship Foundation
  • Parke-Davis
  • Poling

The Irish had won 19 games in a row against a take-on-all-comers NATIONAL schedule. Notre Dame fans celebrated their second successive National Championship, in their shiny new stadium. Rockne, championships, stadium. The future was bright, and then……

Epilogue

Rockne was not resting, as head football coach or as a parent. At the age of 43 he was on his way to Hollywood to help with the film “The Spirit of Notre Dame.” He stopped in Kansas City to see his two sons who were in boarding school there.  Then on that 31st day of March, 1931 he boarded the plane which flew west into skies with some turbulence.  Over Bazaar, Kansas, the storm overwhelmed the plane and it crashed, killing everyone on board.

And, poof, just like that he was gone.

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10 comments

  1. Judy 10 months ago

    My sister has 2 unused ticket to the 1930 Notre Dame vs Army game…are these valuable? know

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  2. Tex Noel 1 year ago

    Great research on the National Championships won by the Irish, in Rockne’s last two years under the Golden Dome.

    As a college football StatHistorian, I enjoyed the flashbacks to the days of old and learning more Notre Dame’s historic past.

    I am far from being winner of any spelling bee’s; but here’s something for you to make note of.

    • Loas Angeles…Should be Los Angles
    • Haugate…Houlgate
    • Southern Cal…per USC Sports Information Office, the team is known as USC or Southern California, not Southern Cal. (I’ve seen it written Southern Cal for years—and still do today.)

    I publish a free monthly newsletter, “The College Football Historian” and would like to personally invite you to join the over 640 world-wide subscribers that each month learn more of their favorite sport—as written by other subscribers, contributors or myself.

    In addition, you can work on ND Football–as others have done.
    Since March 2008, issues are sent bcc…questions, please contact me.
    Keep-up the outstanding work.

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  3. Barry Fontaine 3 years ago

    I was born/raised in Bellows Falls, Vt and grew up knowing Paul “Bucky” OConnor as “Uncle Paul”. He is my grandfathers brother. I have just spent hours reading about Uncle Paul’s Notre Dame time. In my younger years, I dont remember talk about Notre Dame football…it was always about family. Great read…I’ve learned quite a bit. Thank you.

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  4. tolivr 4 years ago

    This was a great Notre Dame team, and it is unfortunate that it did not play the other 1930 national champion, the Alabama Crimson Tide. That year, Alabama fielded Wallace Wade’s best team and it was selected as national champions by the College Football Researchers Assn, Sagarins Rating, and Parke Davis. 1930 Alabama surrendered only 13 points that year, shutting out 8 of its 10 opponents, including PAC 8 Champion Washington State, and won the Rose Bowl 27-0.

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  5. HudiBlitz 4 years ago

    Duranko, you’ve gone astray here in viewing this season through the lenses of ND’s rivalries with Army and Southern Cal. Nationally, the single most important game in the entire 1930 season was Notre Dame at Northwestern in the Wildcats’ season finale. NU was 7-0 (5-0) and in all likelihood would have been a consensus national champion had they defeated ND. The game was tight, with ND scoring an insurance TD after a late Northwestern turnover to make the outcome appear less close than it actually was.

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  6. Mike Sullivan 4 years ago

    You are a rock, Duranko.

    Thanks for the history.

    Happy Day of Independence!

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  7. charlie kenny 4 years ago

    Please check the facts

    In the movie Rockne All-American and elsewhere it states that he was headed to LA for a Studebaker sales meeting, where he was a VP and the first motivational speaker ever hired by corporate America.

    Charlie

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    1. Ron Burgundy 4 years ago

      Ok, Rockne died in the crash of an airplane — TWA Flight 599—in Kansas on March 31, 1931, while enroute to participate in the production of the film The Spirit of Notre Dame (released October 13, 1931).

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  8. duranko 4 years ago

    what is vexing is that he was on the way to consult on and star in the movie “The Spirit of Notre Dame” With Rockne starring in it, can you imagine what a recruiting tool it would have been?

    The other thing, is that we really don’t know how long the dark cloud of doom hung over the Notre Dame program.

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  9. poppyitis 4 years ago

    One may wonder what history / records he may have left if he had not dies so early. Another 15 years of coaching and who knows.

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