April 13, 2012 - History of the Old Timers Game

By Olson

Editor's Note: This is the first guest post in the new series by Olson. Our many thanks for his hard work researching and putting together these contributions. ~IrishTrpt07

Notre Dame's annual spring football game was played between the varsity and 'old-timers' from 1929 through 1967. The game was originated by Knute Rockne who felt that such a game would bring out a better effort by his varsity than an inter-squad scrimmage. The tradition was ended in 1968 when Ara changed the format to a 'Blue-Gold' inter-squad game. The Spring Game has been the annual Blue-Gold game ever since.

The Old Timers game was played every year between '29- '67 except for 1930 and 1943. The 1930 game was cancelled because Rockne was recovering from an illness in Florida; the '43 contest was cancelled due to WWII.

Until 1937 the 'Old Timers' were primarily made up of graduating senior and a few other recent graduates (augmented by the 'loaning' of a few varsity reserves). In 1937 the game was played as the 'O'Brien Memorial' game. Assistant Coach Johnny 'One Play' O'Brien had been killed in a car accident in March of 1937 and the proceeds of this game went to his widow. O'Brien had been know as 'One Play' since his winning TD reception in the 1928 Army game (the 'Win one for the Gipper' game).

Many 'Old Timers', including all of the Four Horsemen, returned to play in this game and a tradition was born (NOTE: that one of the Four Horsemen-Elmer Layden was the HC of the Irish in 1937).

The 'Old Timers' won 7 games during the series:

  • 1933: OT 7 Varsity 0
  • 1936: OT 18 Varsity 13
  • 1944: OT 19 Varsity 0
  • 1945: OT 19 Varsity 6 (note that in both '44 & '45 the OTs added all players about to go into Military service to their roster-despite year in school)
  • 1948: OT 20 Varsity 14 (the only game the Irish varsity lost in a 4 year period-Lujack QBed the OTs which also had many graduating seniors from 1947 on their roster.
  • 1950: OT 25 Varsity 7 (which should have been a clue that the undefeated run of the late 40s was about to come to an end)
  • 1958: OT 37 Varsity 36 (Pro Ralph Guglielmi QBed the Old Timers)

Other notes:

  • Former player and assistant coach Bill Early coached the Old Timers from 1946 through the end of the series in 1967. Early claimed that the games that he won during those years were due to having a strong QB on his team (although he never won in the years that Paul Hornung QBed the old timers).
  • During the 1966 OT game, freshman (soon to soph) QB Coley O'Brien was 'lent' to the OTers and led them on a 60 yard drive. Soon after the drive, Coach Early felt a tug on his elbow. It was an ND student manager with this message: 'Ara wants Coley back.' Early refused, but eventually O'Brien changed jerseys and along with classmate Hanratty wore the OTers out with passes to another classmate-Jim Seymour. Seymour caught 10 passes in the game for 166 yards.
  • Gus Cifelli, who played on all of the great Irish teams of the late 40s, played T/G for the old timers in 18 straight contests.
  • Johnny Lattner and Leon Hart played in many of the games through the mid 60s(both made an appearance in the final contest in 1967). Lattner was knocked out of the 1962 game when fullback Pete Duranko ran over him. These two ND Heisman Trophy winners were both involved to a great OTer goal line stands in the '64 contests. Both Hart and Lattner took turns making key tackles inside the 5 yard line to turn back a Varsity scoring threat.
  • Paul Hornung played in a number of games in the late 50s through early 60s. Hornung threw a 20 yd td pass to Monty Stickles in the 1960 27-15 loss to the varsity. Hornung also kicked XPs and punted in various contests-once running a fake punt for a big gain.
  • Red Mack (Steelers,Eagles,Packers) was a particularly strong player in many games. Red scored all 3 varsity tds in the 59 21-7 Varsity victory. He caught a 40 yd td pass from Izo in the '64 game, and had 4 catches in the very last game in 1967.
  • The star of the final game, a 39-0 blow out for the varsity was Paul Snow (younger brother of Jack) who caught 6 passes for 122 yds and a TD.
  • Among the Old Timers who came back to play were over the years were former stars Dan Shannon, Dick Lynch, Nick Pietrosante, Pottios, Heap, Worden, Wightkin,Ecuyer.
  • The 1964 OT team included 6 current pro players: Mack, Pottios, John Powers (all w/ Steelers), Lind (49ers), Carollo (Rams) and Izo (Redskins); along with many retired pros: Leon Hart, Gus Cifelli, Wightkin among them. The Varsity won 30-23 with Sandy Bonvechio throwing 2 td passes to Jack Snow.
  • In that game Pro QB George Izo threw 2 td passes himself, to Red Mack (40 yds) and Jim Kelly (27 yds).
  • After the 39-0 game in 1967, Ara changed the format in order to create a more competitive game. The active pros no longer showed up-fearing injury (or not being contractually allowed to participate anymore).

As an aside: In the first Blue-Gold game in 1968 (I plan on a year by year post on Blue-Gold games later), Freshman (sophomore to be) QB Theismann had 310 total yards, 277 passing. Gladieux kicked XPs left footed, and Kuechenberg returned to spring practice from the baseball team where he had started at 3B and had just gone 5 for 5 against Cincinnati.

Speaking of baseball, the 1936 ND Scholastic write-up on the Old Timers game was quite depressed that the varsity was upset 18-13. The reason was that many of the graduating stars of the Irish didn't play for the OTers. Andy Pilney was playing baseball instead, and had just hit a home run in the bottom of the 9th vs Illinois for a walk off victory (although they didn't call it that in 1936). William Shakepeare 'was in the infirmary' and Don Elster was running track.

Keywords: football, blue gold game, old timers game, knute rockne, ara parseghian, world war ii, johnny obrien, win one for the gipper, four horsemen, elmer layden, johnny lujack, ralph guglielmi, bill early, paul hornung, coley obrien, jim seymour, terry hanratty, gus cifelli, johnny lattner, leon hart, pete duranko, paul hornung, monty stickles, red mack, paul snow, jack snow, dan shannon, dick lynch, nick pietrosante, sandy bonvechio, george izo, jim kelly, joe theismann, william shakespeare, don elster, scholastic

Posted On: 2012-04-13 00:15:03 by Olson


      Were you there? Have more to add? Leave a comment and let us know!

   Posted By: Lou Falzarano at 2017-04-04 11:12:58[#1]
Is there a copy of the program for that first inter-squad scrimmage in 1968?
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