The week before college football season starts is the perfect time to look back at the storied history of a famous football program. There was a time, for Catholics of a certain age, when you cheered for two college football teams - your favorite state college, and, of course, Notre Dame. Notre Dame had historic teams and memorable coaches, such as Knute Rockne, Frank Leahy, Ara Parseghian, and Lou Holtz. But, the memories of the teams of Rockne and Leahy were in jeopardy in the 50s and early
60s. It took Ara Parseghian to lead the team out of the wilderness back to the promised land in 1964. It's that story that Jim Dent tells in Resurrection: The Miracle Season That Saved Notre Dame.
Dent's story is about a group of underdogs, overcoming adversity to triumph. It's the story of a coach, his staff, and a group of dedicated young men who brought a community together. At one time, during the 1963 season, eighteen people showed up for a pep rally for the football team. It was the lowest point of enthusiasm for the Notre Dame football program.
How did a powerful football school, Notre Dame, fall to that place? Blame it on President Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, who wanted to clean up the image, destroy the football factory image, and make Notre Dame the Harvard of the Midwest. As he slashed scholarships, and hired poor coaches because they were somehow connected to Notre Dame, he brought the university's football program to the point of collapse. And, young men, who had been actively recruited by Notre Dame, sat on the bench for three years, played just a few minutes at a time, and watched their dreams of playing for Notre Dame collapse. Dent tells how bad the coaches were before Parseghian when he says, "The problem with Kaharich and Devore is that neither knew if a football was blown up or stuffed."
By 1964, Notre Dame was losing students, fans, and monetary support. Ara Parseghian, an Armenian Presbyterian, was hired after Northwestern refused to renew his contract, despite his successful seasons. He came to Notre Dame, and motivated and excited players, such as John Huarte, Jack Snow, Tony Carey, Nick Rassas, Nick Eddy and Alan Page. Dent's book is successful because it focuses on the characters that drove Notre Dame's reputation into the ground, and the people that resurrected the school's football program. He doesn't focus on statistics, but on people. His interviews of those men allows readers to see into their hearts, their despair in the years before 1964, and the changes in attitude brought about by a man who wasn't going to allow them to fail.
The 1964 team was a Notre Dame team that caught fire in the imaginations of the country, but, most of all, in the hearts and imaginations of the players, the students, and the alumni. It was a team that reminded even Father Hesburgh that a university needed spirit.
Jim Dent's book, like so many stories of underdogs that rise to greatness, is inspiring and passionate. Resurrection: The Miracle Season That Saved Notre Dame is a book for all fans of Notre Dame football, and anyone who appreciates the history of an outstanding football program. And, it's a book that can only be summarized in one way.
"Cheer, cheer for Old Notre Dame
Wake up the echoes cheering her name
Send the volley cheer on high,
Shake down the thunder from the sky."
Resurrection: The Miracle Season That Saved Notre Dame by Jim Dent. St. Martin's Press, ©2009. ISBN 9780312567217 (hardcover), 320p.