Clash of Titans
Games featuring a future Hall of Fame coach on each sideline.
January 1, 1925: Rose Bowl - Notre Dame vs Stanford
Knute Rockne vs Glenn "Pop" Warner
Having finished 9-0 and universally acclaimed as clearly the nation's best team, all Notre Dame could do was await the hoped-for Rose Bowl invitation. 7-0-1 Stanford, champions of the Pacific Coast Conference, seemed to have a lock on the host spot in the Pasadena classic.
Word from the West Coast, however, had Stanford not wanting to play Knute Rockne's team because of his alleged unethical recruiting practices and because the Catholic college was a second-rate academic institution. Notre Dame supporters countered that Stanford Coach Glenn "Pop" Warner had no room to criticize anyone when it came to recruiting.
The money and publicity to be gained by playing Notre Dame persuaded Stanford to accept the bid, and in early December the matchup was announced, provoking articles like this one in the Woodland (CA) Daily Democrat.
The two greatest football coaching systems in the United States will clash when Stanford and Notre Dame meet in the Rose Bowl at Pasadena New Year's Day. POWER - the grinding, crushing, irresistible offensive of "Pop" Warner's team will be pitted against the SPEED and PRECISION required in the famous Notre Dame shift of Knute Rockne.
The contest should bring out some of the best football ever seen on the Pacific Coast. Although the colorful Catholic aggregation relies mainly on speed, it is by no means without punch. On the other hand, that the Cards do not have to bank entirely on straight football to gain ground was proved in the California-Stanford game when Warner's team scored two touchdowns in the last five minutes of play on forward passes. ...
Neither team has been defeated and the winner will have a strong claim on the foot­ball championship of the United States. Stanford's chances to take the South Bend­ers into camp will depend largely on whether or not Ernie Nevers and Norman Cleaveland will be able to play. The former was kept out of the Big Game with a cracked ankle bone and Cleaveland was declared ineligible. Nevers' physician says that the big fullback will be in shape to perform and investigation may prove Cleave­land eligible.

L-R: Knute Rockne, Ernie Nevers and Coach Glenn "Pop" Warner
That write-up was typical of many that would follow in the weeks leading up to the game. It focused more on the coaches than the players. Warner had just completed his first season at Stanford after nine years at Pittsburgh and, most famously, eight years before that at Carlisle Indian School where he taught Jim Thorpe to play football.
Notre Dame's backfield had become nationally famous thanks to the nickname given them by Grantland Rice in his New York Herald Tribune article on the Notre Dame-Army game of October 18.
Outlined against a blue-gray October sky, the Four Horsemen rode again. In dramatic lore they are known as Famine, Pestilence, Destruction and Death. These are only ali­ases. Their real names are Stuhldreher, Miller, Crowley and Layden. They formed the crest of the South Bend cyclone before which another fighting Army football team was swept over the precipice at the Polo Grounds yesterday afternoon as 55,000 spectators peered down on the bewildering panorama spread on the green plain below.
"The Four Horsemen of Notre Dame"
Four Horsemen of Notre Dame
L-R: Jim Crowley, Elmer Layden, Don Miller, Harry Stuhldreher
53,000 fans, paying close to $200,000 for tickets, gathered on the hot (90+°) afternoon for the much-anticipated matchup. The game was broadcast by Westinghouse on all the stations of its radio network, centered at KDKA in Pittsburgh and including a Chicago sta­tion. Nevers, who had broken both ankles during the season, started and played most of the game.
Following the policy of "If it ain't broke, don't fix it," Rockne started the second string as he had many times that season. Stanford took the opening kick and ripped off three first downs before bogging down in Notre Dame territory. Murray Cuddeback's place-kick attempt from the 46 missed, but he would soon get a chance to redeem himself.
With Notre Dame taking over on its 20, Rockne inserted the "Four Horsemen and their seven corporals." Stuhldreher fumbled on the very first play, and Stanford recovered on the 15. Three plays gained only 5y; so Cuddeback booted a 27-yd field goal. Now Rockne did what the Wisconsin and Carnegie Tech coaches had done - choose to kickoff. A piling on penalty on the runback gave the Cardinals good field position on their own 39. But with half-a-yard to go on fourth down, Stanford chose to punt, Cuddeback's boot going over the goal.
The Four Horsemen behind three of the "Seven Mules." Captain Adam Walsh at center; LG John Weibel LG; RG Noble Kizer
Four Horsemen behind the Seven Mules
Even with a month of practice, no team could adequately prepare for the confusing, lightning-quick Rockne offense. "Every play was something new and the combination of deceptive shift, hidden ball, effective interference and magnificent individual running was something that probably no team in the country could have solved at first sight," Stan­ford's Bill Henry told the Los Angeles Times after the game. Starting at its 20, Notre Dame marched relentlessly into Stanford territory. The big plays were Crowley's 20y scamper around right end and plunge over left tackle for 15, and Notre Dame's first pass of the game, from Stuhldreher to Miller to the 21. Two plays later, Miller carried around left end to the nine. But after a timeout, the defense stiffened. On fourth and goal from the 11, Ted Shipkey broke through and hurried Harry's pass, which fell far from any receiver. After the play, "a doctor was called to bandage Stuhldreher's injured ankle. Cardinal boosters noted with satisfaction that Ernie Nevers' ankles were holding out and going strong." The Notre Dame quarterback remained on the field when play resumed.
Nevers ran from punt formation, but Weibel nailed him for a 3y loss. So Warner followed the common strategy of the day and ordered Cuddeback to punt out, the boot traveling only to the 32. On second down, Sleepy Jim gained 13 over T. On third down, Layden smashed up the middle to the 10. On fourth down, Layden dove headlong to the seven for first-and-goal as the opening period ended.
Crowley twisted through right tackle to the three. On the next play, Layden dove through left guard to paydirt. Crowley's PAT kick was blocked by Johnston "with his brawny chest." Notre Dame led 6-3. No one suspected at the time that this would be the only offensive touchdown of the day for Rockne's machine.
Warner now returned Rockne's earlier favor and elected to kickoff. The strategy paid off as the Cardinals forced a three-and-out and took over on its 20 after Layden's booming punt rolled into the end zone. Two plays netted 20. Three plays later Lawson gained 16 to the Notre Dame 39. On 4th-and-4, Layden stepped in front of a Nevers pass at the 30 and, after batting and juggling the ball, carried it down the sidelines to the end zone. Crowley converted to make 14-3.
Stanford again kicked off and forced a punt after three plays, during which LT Joe Bach left the fierce battle because of bruised ribs. He was replaced by John McMullan (6-0 204), who would play an important role in the contest. Fred Solomon ran back Stuhl­dreher's punt 15y to the midfield stripe. But the good field position led nowhere because two plays later Stuhldreher intercepted Nevers on the 38.
Harry showed Ernie how to do it, hitting Crowley for 30, but on fourth down, Stuhl­dreher's pass fell incomplete. Stanford took over on its 30. Not gun shy after two inter­ceptions, the Cardinals started passing their way down the field. After several first downs, Nevers shot a pass to Solomon who dashed to the 10. But LHB Kelly fumbled, and Walsh covered it on the 15 to end the threat as the half ended.
The heat and bruising play were taking their toll on both teams but especially the lighter boys from the midwest. "I was quite worried between halves as my men seemed all tucker­ed out," Rockne told the Los Angeles Times after the game. "And they frankly told me that they didn't think they could last the second half." His season-long strategy of playing two and even three strings would come in handy in the second half.
Notre Dame punted on its first possession, and Stanford started a march from its 24, even overcoming a 15y penalty. Cuddeback passed to Shipkey who ran to the Notre Dame 25. On 4th-and-10 Cuddeback's place-kick from the 31 sailed wide.
Layden punted on third down to set up Stanford in good shape again at midfield. Nevers hit Solomon to the 33. But Walsh and company held, forcing still another errant field goal from Cuddeback. Stanford again forced a punt but lost the momentum with another mistake. Solomon fumbled Layden's boot on his 20. Huntsinger "shoved Solo­mon away from the ball, scooped it up and ran across a clear field for a touchdown." Crowley's goal made it 20-3.
Down 17, Warner again chose to kickoff. Considering how his defense had dominated Rockne's offense, this was a sage move, and it paid off in spades. Nevers intercepted Stuhldreher's 3rd-down pass on the 20. Three runs up the middle by Big Ernie gained a first at the 10. He pounded out three more, then another three. Two more made it fourth-and-goal at the two. Stanford chose that moment to pass, Ed Walker tossing to Shipkey in the end zone. Cuddeback's PAT made it 20-10. Take away the fumble return for a touchdown, and Stanford had dominated the period, which ended several plays later without a Notre Dame first down.
On the second play of the fourth quarter, Baker intercepted Crowley's pass and re­turned it to the 34. The PCC champs plowed ahead to a first down on the six. Nevers rammed through the middle to the three, but Walker failed to gain at right tackle. At that point, Rockne sent T McMullan into the game. Since, by rule, he couldn't communicate any sideline instructions until after the play, he contented himself with stopping Ernie at the one. Stuhldreher then asked him what message coach had for his beleaguered troops. "Rock said to hold 'em." And that's what they did. On fourth down, Nevers tried McMul­len's spot again but fell short by a mere 8".
Layden boomed a punt from the end zone into enemy territory, Solomon returning to the 36. Crowley snagged Walker's long pass but came down out of bounds. Nevers passed to Shipkey for nine, then gained four more through left guard. Two plays later, Nevers broke loose up the middle to the 35. On the next play, Crowley got his interception on the 10. But the Horsemen were again unable to gain a first down. This time Layden punted only to the 37.
Needing two scores with time running out, Stanford took to the air. After an incomple­tion, Nevers threw another interception. In a rerun of a first half play, Layden returned it 65y to paydirt. Crowley converted. The scoreboad read Notre Dame 27, Stanford 10 with less than a minute to play.
After Layden's second interception return, Rockne removed him from the game. When Elmer reached the sidelines, he was crying. "Why are you crying?" Rockne asked. "You just put the game on ice." "I know why you're taking me out. You saw it!" sobbed Layden. "Saw what?" "I thought you saw me carry the ball in the wrong arm on that play," Layden replied.
Stanford won the statistical battle in most categories. But one important tally went Notre Dame's way and determined the victor.
  • 164y of offense to 134 for Notre Dame.
  • 17 first downs to Notre Dame's seven–all in the first half.
  • Notre Dame only 3-7/48y passing compared to 12-17/146y for the Cardinal.
  • Stanford had SIX turnovers–four interceptions and two fumbles. Notre Dame threw two interceptions and lost one fumble.
Newspapers across the land blared headlines like the one in the Alton (IL) Evening Tele­graph: "NOTRE DAME BEATS STANFORD, WINS FOOTBALL TITLE."