2020 Notre Dame Football Preview

Digital Edition

Blue & Gold Illustrated: 2020 Notre Dame Football Preview

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Page 5 of 163

4 ✦ BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED 2020 FOOTBALL PREVIEW UNDER THE DOME BY LOU SOMOGYI W hen the coronavirus pandemic infiltrated the United States in March and popularized the term "social distancing," it had the most profound impact ever on sports in American history. March Madness basketball tournaments and spring football prac- tices were quickly canceled, spring sports were also truncated, and every realm of professional sports was scrubbed. The questions now revolve on how long this will last, whether foot- ball will fully take place this autumn and when "normalcy" will return. It was just more than 100 years ago, 1918, that the Spanish Influ- enza epidemic ravaged the world. In the winter of 1917-18, Notre Dame assistant coach Knute Rockne, an All-American receiver under head coach Jesse Harper for the 1913 Fighting Irish, excitedly accepted the open head coaching position at Michigan Agricultural College, known as Michigan State today. And then fate intervened. A close relative of Harper in Kansas had passed away, prompting him to take over the family ranching business back home. Harper urged the university to hire Rockne as his successor. That 1918 debut for Rockne saw college football have two globally colossal setbacks. The first was thousands of young men in college were leaving the United States to engage in World War I that was rag- ing in Europe. Approximately 2,200 Notre Dame students entered the uniformed service, and 46 were killed in action. Their names are the ones memorialized at the "God, Country, Notre Dame" side entrance of Sacred Heart Church on campus. Only four monogram winners from the 1917 team returned, al- though one of them was superstar halfback George Gipp. Rockne's head coaching debut occurred on Sept. 28, 1918, in Cleveland with a 26-6 victory versus Case Tech (now Case West- ern Reserve) after falling behind 6-0. Gipp scored twice for Notre Dame, but the initial touchdown of the Rockne era was tallied by Earl Louis "Curly" Lambeau, who later would leave school because of tonsillitis. In August 1919, he began a professional football league with the founding of the Green Bay Packers. The second setback was likewise deadly to the world. How It Began In late September, the Spanish Influenza ep- idemic that would afflict 20 million Americans and kill about 675,000 in the States had hit. Worldwide, approximately 500 million peo- ple — about one-third of the world's popula- tion back then — became infected and the death toll was estimated at 50 million. The genesis of the epidemic in the United States struck in Boston before infiltrating Camp Devens, about 30 miles east, where 50 soldiers died Sept. 25. The spread hastened from there. • In Washington, D.C., all of the nurses at George Washington Hospital caught the flu, bringing the services there to a halt. • On Oct. 10 , Philadelphia suffered 528 deaths. • A week later (Oct. 17) in Chicago on "Black Thursday," 381 died and 1,200 new cases were reported. It was decreed that no more than 10 mourners could attend a funeral. • At Camp Grant in Rockford, Ill., 10,713 soldiers took ill, and at Camp Dodge, Iowa, the barracks had to be made into hospital wards for approximately 8,000 patients. • In Modesto, Calif., school lessons were published in the local newspaper, and the children mailed their completed assignments to teachers at the closed schools. Throughout the country, any area of assemblage — theaters, bars, schools, churches, sporting events, etc. — were ordered closed in ef- forts to keep the disease from spreading. (The World Series, won by the Boston Red Sox, was played Sept. 5-11.) Per The Charleston (S.C.) Post and Courier, 18 schools did not play football in 1918 because of the flu and the war. Notre Dame was not hit as harshly, but about 200 cases were re- ported there, among them a nun nurse, and nine students died. From 1917-18, life expectancy in the United States fell about 12 years, to 36.6 years for men and 42.2 years for women. Because of the epidemic, Notre Dame's scheduled October games with Army (the service academies suspended intercollegiate athletics), Wash- ington & Jefferson, Kalamazoo, Purdue and Camp Custer were canceled. Resuming The Season By late October, the epidemic began to ebb, but paranoia remained. The scheduled game at Nebraska Nov. 2 was called off when right before the Notre Dame players were to board the train for Lincoln, a telegram arrived from the school's administration reporting that "the Lincoln city council has voted to keep the ban on sporting events in effect because of flu, even though state has lifted ban." Eager for normalcy, Rockne called fellow Notre Dame graduate DELAY OF GAMES? The 2020 season might be remembered as the 21st century's version of 1918 Fans wearing masks were a common occurrence in 1918 at college football stadiums across the country — including this contest at Georgia Tech — due to the Spanish Influenza epidemic that afflicted 20 million and killed about 675,000 Americans. PHOTO COURTESY GEORGIA TECH

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