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Bob Birge's Irish Eyes Are Smiling


August 26, 2009 4:58 AM

1964: The season that saved Notre Dame

For Fighting Irish fans old enough to remember, 1964 remains a special season in the program's storied history (No, I am not quite that old).

Ara Parseghian didn't come riding in on a white horse, but his arrival in South Bend that fall ushered in the "Era of Ara." He proved to be Notre Dame's savior and that 1964 season is regarded as a turning point for the Irish.

Jim Dent, the author of Junction Boys, has written another book about college football. This one chronicles the story of the 1964 Fighting Irish, who produced one of the greatest comeback seasons in the history of the sport.

"Resurrection: the season that saved Notre Dame" is a must read for all Notre Dame fans. I haven't bought it yet, but I will and I won't wait for the paperback edition. I might even read it in church because I suspect this history lesson is going to be akin to a religious experience.

The Fighting Irish floundered in the late 1950s and early 1960s, enduring six straight losing seasons from 1958-63. Notre Dame football had reached an all-time low, and surely Knute Rocke was turning over in his grave.

The program was hampered by poor coaching hires and equally inept management. Even worse, interest in the program started to wain, and many believed that Notre Dame's days as a national power were long past, that Notre Dame could no longer compete on the national stage in the modern era.

The hiring of Parseghian, who came to Notre Dame from Northwestern, was not universally supported. He was the first Fighting Irish football coach brought in from outside the Notre Dame family.

While not an especially religious man, Parseghian seemingly worked a miracle his rookie season. Notre Dame won its first nine games in 1964 before a shot at an unlikely national championship was squashed with a loss at Southern California in the season finale. Notre Dame finished third in the final Associated Press poll.

Now 86 years young, Parseghian remains a beloved member of Notre Dame's "Holy Trinity" of coaches along with Rockne and Leahy. Lou Holtz, who won Notre Dame's last national championship in 1988, doesn't quite make the list.

Parseghian only lasted 11 years at Notre Dame, citing burnout. But they were 11 memorable years. He won two national championships and posted a record of 95-17-4, a winning percentage of 95-17-4.

Charlie Weis loses 17 games in two seasons, or so it seems.

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