On November 9, 1946, the second-ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the first-ranked Army Cadets play to a historic 0-0 tie at Yankee Stadium in New York. Notre Dame-Army was college football’s biggest rivalry, and more than 74,000 people crowded the stands. At a time when football tickets typically cost $1 to $5, many fans had paid scalpers as much as $250 for their seats. The game had been sold out since June.
The two schools had played some exciting games over the years, but none was more thrilling than this one. The Irish had beaten the Cadets every year between 1931 and 1944, but then many of their best players and their coach, Frank Leahy, had gone off to war. As a result, by the mid-1940s Notre Dame was fielding a team of “kids and military rejects,” as one player put it. Army’s players, on the other hand, were in officer training school and thus didn’t have to go overseas, so the Cadets went undefeated in 1944 and 1945. In 1944, they crushed their rivals at Notre Dame 59-0. The next year was almost as bad: The Irish lost 48-0. The team from West Point won the national championship both years, and outscored their opponents 504-35 in 1944 and 412-46 in 1945.
But in 1946, Leahy and his fellow vets were back from overseas, and they were ready to make up for lost time. Notre Dame fans had been sending taunting postcards, signed “SPATNC” (Society for the Prevention of Army’s Third National Championship), to Army coach Red Blaik all season long, and one of the favorite cheers on the South Bend campus was “Fifty-nine and forty-eight/This year we retaliate!” That year’s big game, one local newspaper reported, would be “a vengeful vendetta in which Leahy and his legions who had listened to those (1944 and 1945) games overseas would demand repayment in kind for the humiliation.”
Of course, no one was humiliated that day in the Bronx. The game was a cautious battle between two great coaches, each of whom was just playing not to lose. The Irish neared the Cadet end zone only once, in the second quarter–they got to the four-yard line but were stopped on downs. (Coach Leahy didn’t believe in field goals. As one of his players remembered, “if you couldn’t ram it in, he thought taking three points would be an insult. He thought Notre Dame was too tough for that.”) That same quarter, Army’s Doc Blanchard broke free and headed for what seemed to be a certain touchdown, until Notre Dame’s Johnny Lujack sprinted across the field, grabbed him by the ankles and knocked him down at the 37. An Irish interception at the 8 preserved the scoreless tie.
Both teams remained undefeated for the rest of the season, but at the end of the year Notre Dame finished first in the AP rankings. Army finished second. The November 9 game was the only one in college football history that featured four Heisman Trophy winners: Army’s Blanchard (’45) and Glenn Davis (’46) and Notre Dame’s Lojack (’47) and Leon Hart (’49).