Things were much the same at Notre Dame last week. The weather was awful, and everything looked gray and tired except the football team, which knows better. Terry Hanratty's hair was combed a little longer in front, the better to protect his advancing forehead, he said. Underneath he is still the same shy, humble, modest, prudent, cow-eyed quarterback opponents learned to dread the sight of last fall. He still throws the football with greater accuracy and more revolutions-per-minute than anybody Ara Parseghian ever coached. "You ought to catch him sometime," said Ara on the morning of the Oldtimers game. "You ought to go out and let him throw you a couple. No wasted movement, no wobbles, real tight. Plenty of rpms. And he doesn't have to wind up. He's like Namath. He comes back here to the ear and wham! a shot."
Coley O'Brien, the best second quarterback in college football, was still on his 5,000-calories-a-day diabetic's diet, gulping orange juice and chocolate bars. Chocolate bars? Yes. Chocolate bars, he said. Diabetes is a more attractive disease than it used to be. While he is working to beat Hanratty out of a job, Coley continues to win friends with his midshipman's manners and his resourcefulness. People do not realize how good Coley O'Brien is (he being only No. 2) until they look again at the film of the 10-10 tie with Michigan State and see that insulinized little body rallying the Irish in the second half.
Jim Seymour, the sophomore end who caught all those passes and made (with Hanratty) all those magazine covers last fall, has added to his self-assurance, which was already considerable. Seymour is doing a regular week-night radio show on WSND. He sometimes doubles as a disc jockey. He admits he is getting good at it. He is not likely to pass from natural self-assuredness to cocky self-possession, however, because while he was on the bench tending a bruised shoulder last Saturday Hanratty and O'Brien found a couple of other guys who can catch a football—Paul Snow and Dan Harshman—and they each caught six passes, sometimes spectacularly. The anticipated rout of the oldtimers was undiminished by Seymour's absence.
The score of the annual spring game was 39-0, but that is unimportant. Important is what should have been obvious to rival coaches who were hoping to see otherwise: success has not spoiled Notre Dame's young stars. Notre Dame is here to stay another year, perhaps two or three, unless the bad recruiting season they are now having catches up with them. For those who mourn the graduation of such names as Conjar, Eddy, Page and Lynch, here are just a few new ones to remember: Jockisch, Ziznewski, Gladieux, Racanelli and Kuechenberg, if you can—or try Konieczny, Kuzmicz or Vuillemin. Just try.
The Oldtimers game was a brainstorm of Knute Rockne. It has been played every year but two since 1929 as a service to Notre Dame nostalgics. It does not, unfortunately, do what it was cut out to do—provide the varsity with some revealing competition at the conclusion of spring practice. The varsity reveals very little. Neither does it provide much nostalgia, because the oldtimers are mostly not old. They are seniors fresh off the previous varsity (e.g., Eddy, Conjar, Lynch) and a large detachment of scrubs on loan from the incumbent varsity.
Former Irish luminaries are brought in to dress up the show, but they have usually become goodtimers with midriff bulge, and when they make an appearance it is brief. They try to keep out of harm's way. The professional players who show up are those of modest achievement; if they were not, the pro team would not let them risk injury.
The oldtimers have been coached since 1946 by Bill Earley, a former assistant to Frank Leahy who went on to a richer life selling cardboard in South Bend. Earley is a round-faced man with a voice that roars across a crowded room. He gets a kick out of the game and has the high humor to appreciate his position.
Earley is a regular at the Knights of Columbus lodge, and on the week of the game he can be found there and other places watching for a familiar face or an able body. "Oh, is Pietrosante in town? Tell him I'm looking for him, will you?" Earley is considered an amazing coach because his teams have won four of the 22 games since 1945. Each time his team won, he said, he had worked a proven formula: a heavy contingent of graduating seniors and a quarterback worthy of the name. His four winners were Johnny Lujack, John Mazur, Bob Williams and Ralph Guglielmi.
Earley's window dressing this year was to include Leon Hart, the big end who starred for Leahy's national champions in 1949 and then for the Detroit Lions. Hart had a business commitment. Nick Pietrosante, the fullback of the Browns, was in town the night before the game but had to leave again. Halfback Johnny Lattner, his hair now silver, got in for one poor punt. Red Mack of the Packers played more than any of the legitimate oldtimers and caught four passes. Tackle Gus Cifelli made his 18th straight appearance a brief one.
Earley says it gets tougher to put together a team every year, and Parseghian admits there will have to be a change in the format. Notre Dame alumni are spread out all over the country, and there is no travel budget. Those who come in for the game usually arrive on Thursday, and Earley figures if all goes well he will have one day, Friday, to practice. On Thursday night he consorts with a group of Ara's assistants at Eddie's, and they rib him about running up to the press box to hide before the game was over in 1965, when the final score was 72-0.