Clash of Titans
Games featuring a future Hall of Fame coach on each sideline.
October 30, 1920: Notre Dame @ Army
Knute Rockne vs Charles Daly
Knute Rockne's third Notre Dame team won their first four games by a combined 125-10. Then they went to The Plain to meet Army, which was also undefeated through five games.
The schools had met six times with the Ramblers (as they were commonly called be­cause they traveled widely to meet foes) winning four, including the last two.
The Associated Press article the day of the game began like this: "River craft, trains and automobiles this morning began unloading hundreds of football enthusiasts here to see the class between the Army and Notre Dame this afternoon. Both teams were keyed to a high pitch. The weather was cloudy and the field heavy from the rains of the last two days."
The Ramblers had been pointing to this game all season, as explained in an article from South Bend. "'Whipping West Point' is the goal of this Indian eleven every year. ... They've practice for hours on the old charging machine. They've ripped the sawdust out of the tack­ling dummy with zest and they've battered the hard-boiled freshmen into a boiling mass."
Featured Player
George Gipp was the undisputed star of the 1920 Notre Dame team. The 6' 175lb triple-threat halfback had compiled these statistics through the first four games of the 1920 season: 56 carries for 496y and six touchdowns; 13-of-35 pass completions for 275y. He was also Knute Rockne's kicker and best defensive back.
Gipp grew up in the rough mining area of Upper Peninsula Michi­gan. He attended Calumet High School but did not graduate. For three years after high school, he worked on his pool game, drove a taxi, and played various sports, including semipro baseball.
One of Gipp's baseball teammates had been an outstanding catcher on the Notre Dame baseball team coached by Jesse Harper, who was now the athletic director. Harper offered Gipp a baseball scholar­ship. So in 1916, Gipp applied for admission to Notre Dame.
Because Gipp did not have enough high school units, the Director of Studies admitted him as a "conditional freshman." That meant that Gipp had to make up the credits in his first year or in summer school. He would also have to pay for his books, supplies, fees, and other expenses.
So Gipp came up with "his own private job plan." He would earn his keep by playing pool and cards in downtown South Bend. He was so successful that he quit his job waiting on tables after one semester and eventually moved out of the dormitory on campus.
Meanwhile, 22-year-old Gipp wowed everyone with his play on the freshman football team. His top feat was drop-kicking a 62y field goal against the wind.
Knute Rockne became the head coach the following year (1918). In his autobiography, he recalled his emotions regarding Gipp: "I felt the thrill that comes to every coach when he knows it is his fate and his responsibility to handle unusual greatness–the perfect performer who comes rarely more than once in a generation."
A natural athlete, he still holds, a century later, the Notre Dame records for average yards per rush in a season (8.1), career ave­rage yards per play of total offense (9.37), and career average yards per game of total offense (128.4).
Gipp set all those records despite being a constant discipline prob­lem at the university. Several times he came precariously close to being expelled from Notre Dame.
He ignored his studies and skipped classes. When he did attend a class now and then, he picked an easy course that didn't require much work.
He also left campus in the evenings to mix with South Bend's disreputable elements. Perhaps worst of all, Gipp gambled, with poker being his favorite game, and placed sizable bets on football games.
How much Rockne knew about Gipp's shenanigans is unclear. But there is no doubt that the coach considered Gipp his pet reclamation project and was willing to overlook his faults to keep him on the team.
Gipp was elected captain of the football team shortly before Christmas in 1919. But the school authorities finally expelled him in March 1920 for cutting too many classes and flouting other school regulations.
Students and townspeople protested the expulsion and rallied to his defense. However, Gipp showed no signs of repentance. He knew many other colleges would be glad to have him on their teams. A congressman even got Gipp an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy.
In the end, it was Notre Dame President James Burns C.S.C. who would make the final decision on Gipp's readmission. Prominent businessmen in South Bend appealed to Burns, pointing out that a strong football team was necessary for the area's economy.
While Burns prized academic excellence more than football success, the pressure became so great that he reinstated Gipp in late April 1920.
Burns probably assumed that the Gipp incident would soon be forgotten. He had no way of knowing that Gipp would become Notre Dame's first Walter Camp All-American that fall, die December 14, 1920, be quoted by Rockne at halftime to rally his team to victory over Army in 1928, and be immortalized in a 1940 movie in which he was played by future president Ronald Reagan.

L-R: Chet Wynne, Joe Brandy, Rog Kiley, John Mohardt, Frank Coughlin
(University of Notre Dame Dome Yearbook Class of 1921)
The Notre Dame and Army players organized a betting pool for the game. Each side raised $2,100 (the price of a new house in South Bend at the time). Hunk Anderson and (who else?) George Gipp collected Notre Dame's share. A West Point shoemaker held the winner-take-all purse.
If the 10,000 fans came to see Gipp, they were not disappointed. As the New York Times put it, "A lithe limbed Hoosier football player named George Gipp galloped at will through the Army on the plains here this afternoon, giving a performance which was more like an antelope than a human being. Gipp's sensational dashes through the Cadets and his mar­velously tossed forward passes enabled Notre Dame to beat the Army by a score of 27 to 17."
Army Scores First, But Notre Dame Answers Back
Notre Dame moved quickly into Army territory before a hard hit on Chet Wynne caused a fum­ble that derailed the advance. The Cadets took advantage of the turnover to break the scoring ice. The big play was a 40y run by Army's star FB Walter French to the ND 23. Charles Law­rence then broke free through the right side and shook off several potential tacklers into the end zone. The PAT made it 7-0 Army.
Notre Dame came right back with a touchdown drive of their own. The biggest gainers were Gipp's "zig-zag dash" around left end for 25y before French, the only Cadet between him and the goal line, made the tackle. The drive almost ended when QB Joe Brandy fumbled, but Gipp recovered it. George tossed a beautiful pass to Rog Kiley, who ran to the five. John Mohardt rammed over from there. Gipp booted the point to make it 7-7.
The Ramblers took the lead early in the second period. After a holding penalty moved the Cadets back to their five, French punted from the end zone. Gipp caught the ball and raced to the Army 38. Then he threw a pass to Kiley who caught it on the 30 and contin­ued to the end zone. Notre Dame 14 Army 7

1920 Notre Dame-Army action (University of Notre Dame Dome Yearbook Class of 1921)
60y Punt Return Ties Score
Rockne's crew got the ball back after a punt to their 25. Wynne fumbled and was for­tunate to recover the rolling pigskins on the 10. So Gipp punted from the end zone, boom­ing a spiral all the way to the Army 40, where French caught it. He then "dazzled the crowd with a 60-yard gallop which carried him on a dizzy trip through the whole Notre Dame team for a touchdown." The PAT tied the score at 14.
Before the half ended, the Cadets moved the ball to the ND 20 from where French kicked "a goal from placement" to lead 17-14 at the break.
At halftime, Rockne gave the usual instructions and revisions for the second half. Then he turned to Gipp, who was leaning against a wall smoking a cigarette. "What about you, Gipp? I don't suppose you have any interest in this game?"
Gipp replied, "Look, Rock. I got $400 bet on this game, and I'm not about to blow it."
Gipp Leads Two Touchdown Drives
In the third quarter, "Gipp made his only mistake of a perfect day." His 37y field goal sailed wide. He made up for the error on ND's next possession when he scampered 25y to his 40. Brandy kept calling Gipp's number, including a 23y pass to Mohardt. George ripped off two gains of 10y to put the ball on Army's 20 when the quarter ended with the Cadets still leading by three.
After the teams changed ends, Gipp carried twice to the 10. Then Mohardt raced around end to the corner of the end zone to put Notre Dame on top. Gipp kicked the extra point to make it Notre Dame 21 Army 17.
Army inexplicably chose to kick off rather than receive the kick. Gipp "caught the ball and dodged and twisted his way through the whole Army outfit for a hair-raising gallop of 48 yards" to the Army 45. Showing no signs of tiredness, George hurled another long pass to 215lb Frank Coughlin, who took it 15 more yards. Notre Dame then faked a "criss-cross play." "While the Cadets were tumbling toward the wings to get the man with the ball, Wynne smashed his way right through the center of the line" for another touchdown to make the final score Notre Dame 27 Army 17.
Notre Dame gained 20 first downs to just four for Army. Gipp ran for 129y on only 10 carries and completed four passes for 128y.
Notre Dame would finish the season 9-0 and claim the national championship. However, their celebration was muted by the death of Gipp on December 14 from a streptococcal throat infection and pneumonia.
References
Shake Down the Thunder: The Creation of Notre Dame Football, Murray Sperber (1993)
Rockne of Notre Dame: The Making of a Football Legend, Ray Robinson (1999)