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Notebook: Notre Dame

Nov 24, 2021

THE STANFORD FOOTBALL season comes to an end Saturday against Notre Dame at Stanford Stadium. The Cardinal will be happy to put a current 3-8 record behind it and begin to strengthen the program for 2022. 

"The to-do list is as long as you think it is," said David Shaw, Stanford's Bradford M. Freeman Director of Football. "The mode is really two-fold: One is never lowering our expectations. We will not. I will not be a part of that, and that will not be a part of this program. We expect to compete for Pac-12 championships. 

"No. 2 is really doing a deep dive with a lot of different things, both in process and structure. I like who we have. It's getting that swagger back, and we believe we've got guys on this football team that can help us do that.

"Look at everything we're doing, utilizing the skills and abilities of our players, but also getting back to being very physical and aggressive on both sides of the ball. 

"I hate the word 'identity,' because we're going to be whatever we need to be, whatever our guys do best. That's really what the off-season's going to be about -- me looking at a lot of things that I've done, what works now, what didn't work, and what needs to work. And getting back to the business of being one of the winningest programs in the country."
 
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Steve Thurlow scores against Notre Dame in this 1963 clipping from the San Francisco Examiner.

IN RECOGNITION OF 100 years of Stanford Stadium, Notre Dame's first visit to The Farm in 1963 was a grand affair, given Stanford and Notre Dame's legendary meeting in the 1925 Rose Bowl.  

By Oct. 26, 1963, the schools had met twice, in the Rose Bowl and in 1942 at Notre Dame -- both Irish victories. 

Notre Dame's visit could not come at a worst time for Stanford. John Ralston was struggling in his first year as Stanford's coach, with his team 1-4 and on a four-game losing streak. Notre Dame, with future pro receiving standout Jack Snow, was 2-2 under Hugh Devore, but a 12-point favorite. The Associated Press predicted a 30-13 Notre Dame victory. 

The matchup was big, especially in the context of the legendary Rose Bowl. The Notre Dame heroes from that game, the Four Horsemen (Harry Stuhldreher, Don Miller, Jim Crowley, and Elmer Layden), all were on hand. 

Of course, the lore of the Four Horsemen is the greatest piece of sportswriting in history. In the words of Grantland Rice in the New York Herald Tribune after a 1924 Notre Dame victory over Army: "Outlined against a blue-gray October sky, the Four Horsemen rode again. In dramatic lore their names are Famine, Pestilence, Destruction, and Death. These are only aliases. Their real names are Stuhldreher, Miller, Crowley and Layden."

Also in attendance was Ernie Nevers, the Stanford great who played in the 1925 Rose Bowl on two broken ankles, and Clark Shaughnessy, who coached Stanford to a 10-0 record and share of the national championship in 1940.

Stanford played with a "Three-Arm System," with sophomore Dick Berg at quarterback and ex-QB's Steve Thurlow and Dick Ragsdale as throwing threats on option plays. Berg would become an executive with the 49ers, coining the phrase "49er Faithful," and with a new soccer franchise in San Jose that he named the "Earthquakes." 

Stanford trailed 14-10 at halftime, but shut out the Irish in the second half to pull off the upset, and Ralston was carried off the field on the shoulders of his players. 

"In one of those tremendous efforts that could spring only from complete dedication to a cause, Stanford humbled proud Notre Dame 24-14, before 55,000 stunned spectators in the big earthen campus bowl at Palo Alto yesterday," wrote Curley Grieve in the San Francisco Examiner.

A strong running attack was the catalyst in the victory, with Thurlow running for two scores and throwing to Ray Handley for a fourth-quarter 7-yard clinching TD.

Defensively, Stanford tackle Al Hildebrand "ripped the heavy Irish line to bits," Grieve wrote. "He pushed it back and tied it into knots. He made tackles that should be put into movies. He was the epitome of what a great lineman looks like on his best day."

Wrote Examiner columnist Prescott Sullivan: "Stanford gave The Fighting Irish a thorough working over. There was nothing flukey about it. Fact is, the score might well have been more one sided. Those Stanford fellas really meant business."

The loss sent Notre Dame into a five-game tailspin to close the season, finishing 2-7. Stanford lost three straight after that to finish 3-7, but Ralston steadily built the program into the squad that won back-to-back Rose Bowls in 1971 and 1972. 

Notre Dame did not return to Stanford Stadium until 1989. In their 16 games at Stanford Stadium, Stanford leads 9-7. 
 
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STANFORD MUST MAKE some hard roster decisions going into next year when the maximum number of scholarships will once again be capped at 85 after a year of COVID-influenced scholarship expansion. 

Players opting to go pro, graduate transfers, and even undergraduate transfers will play a part in who will remain. Regardless, there will be a mix of sixth-, fifth-, and fourth-year seniors, as well as the rest of the roster, in the mix for those scholarships. 

"Every college program in America is dealing with this," Shaw said. "It will probably be one of the strangest off-seasons in college football history, with the number of people who have football to play and where they will play it. It's going to be the wild west out there."
 
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Harrison Phillips lifts the Legends Trophy, awarded annually to the Stanford-Notre Dame winner, in 2017. Photo by Don Feria/ISIphotos.com.

WITH THE CARDINAL on a six-game losing streak and coming off a disheartening 41-11 Big Game loss to Cal, the incentive of playing Notre Dame and closing the season strongly has given Stanford motivation to regroup.

"We've got a lot of seniors playing their last games as Stanford football players," Shaw said. "And they're playing against one of our rivals. I don't need to have any rah-rah speeches this week. We've got a chance to put that game behind us last week, and guys are locked in." 

Said offensive tackle Walter Rouse: "We haven't been able to play the way I know we can play, to the level that we've preached even before the season. We're really focusing on doing what Stanford football is meant to be. This is the last game of the season, against Notre Dame. You have a trophy (the Legends Trophy) on the line. This is our season for us." 
 
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NEWLY-INDUCTED Pro Football Hall of Famer John Lynch will be honored Saturday. Lynch is among four Stanford alums in the Hall, along with Ernie Nevers (enshrined in 1963), James Lofton (2003), and John Elway (2004). 

Lynch was Shaw's teammate from 1990-92 and David's father Willie was the Cardinal's defensive coordinator when Lynch switched from quarterback to safety in 1991. Lynch played 15 years in the NFL as a safety, made nine Pro Bowls, and won a Super Bowl with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Now, he is an executive with the San Francisco 49ers. 

"It's rare that you find a quarterback that ends up being one of the biggest hitters of his generation, at safety," Shaw said. "Those big hits that he made in games, he made a lot of those in practice too. There was a lot of tiptoeing going around on our practice field when John Lynch was roaming the secondary."
 
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John Lynch's clinching interception. San Francisco Examiner, Oct. 4, 1992.

AT NOTRE DAME Stadium on Oct. 3, 1992, John Lynch essentially launched his career. 

The Cardinal was 3-1, but had yet to coalesce despite outstanding personnel. Bill Walsh was in the twilight of his coaching career, had lost some of his focus and had stocked his staff with several of his former players who were new to the coaching profession. 

But as the game drew closer, Walsh's fire returned.

"He had us believing we were going to beat Notre Dame," said Lynch in a 2009 interview. "That game, Bill Walsh flat-out outcoached them. You saw why he was regarded as 'The Genius.'"

The game started poorly for Stanford. Steve Stenstrom was sacked in the end zone for a safety on the game's first play and Lynch was knocked cold during the first quarter, the only concussion he suffered during his football career, as Notre Dame built a 16-0 lead.

Lynch emerged from his fog at halftime and changed the game. On the first play of the second half, the Fighting Irish sent its battering ram of a fullback, 250-pound Jerome "The Bus" Bettis, charging off tackle.

Lynch met him, full-force.

Lynch hit him so hard that Bettis's helmet and the football went flying, sending shock waves over silent Notre Dame Stadium. Stanford recovered the ball at the Irish's 22-yard line and scored three plays later. The comeback was on.

"I don't know if that ever happened to him before," Lynch said. "With a big back like Bettis, everyone goes low. I think I kind of surprised him."

Later, Bettis, who would star for the Pittsburgh Steelers, told Lynch, "Not many people took me on like that."

The nationally-televised collision not only got Stanford back in the game, but it was career-altering for Lynch. He wound up with nine tackles and an end-zone interception of a Rich Mirer pass that would have given Notre Dame the lead.

"Until you do it on a big stage, you don't really know how you're going to react in those situations," Lynch said. "After that game, I really felt I could play in the NFL."
 
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STANFORD'S RECEIVING CORPS will be missing John Humphreys and Silas Starr for this game. Running back Casey Filkins was unable to regain his health by the season finale, nor was outside linebacker Stephen Herron. Both are out. 
 
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NO. 6 NOTRE DAME (10-1) comes into the game on a six-game winning streak and all of its victories have come by double-digits. Shaw said this is the best team the Cardinal will face this season -- "No question." 

"They're appropriately ranked, a lot of very skilled athletes, very aggressive, very physical," he said. "It's a very good football team that knows who they are and how to win games. We've got to play our best football game. It's going to take our best effort of the year to give ourselves a chance. That's what we're aiming to do."
 
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Ryan Johnson, Walter Rouse. Photo by Al Chang/ISIphotos.com.

IN HIS FIRST season as starter, quarterback Tanner McKee has shown much promise. He played extremely well early and took control of the position. But since the Oregon game, there have been some bumpy moments. 

"What you see is a guy that's got everything," Shaw said. "Sometimes you have to go through some tough things before you get to the mountain top. I firmly believe, just like the first time I saw him throw the ball, it's not going to too long before he's one of the best in America, if not the best. He's got the leadership, personality. skill set, work ethic. He's got a chance to be really special. 
 
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JUNIOR INSIDE LINEBACKER Levani Damuni was second on the team in tackles last season, and this year leads the team with 79, including 44 solo. He had 12 each against UCLA, Washington, and Washington State. 
 
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WHAT CAN STANFORD take from its most recent victory, an overtime 31-24 triumph over then-No. 3 Oregon on Oct. 2?

"The belief we had in each other before the game and throughout the game, and the confidence we had – one mindset, one goal," Rouse said. "We could win this game if we played our style of football, and we did it. We can really use that against Notre Dame."
 
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ROUSE IS A biomechanical engineering major who has a goal of becoming a surgeon. He was drawn to engineering by a class he took early in his Stanford career and is especially interested in the 3D printing of organs. 

"A class I'm in right now is teaching me all about 3D printing, which is just the starting point for where I want to go," said Rouse, a junior. "I'm just getting to those classes where I can actually use what I've been learning and be hands-on in the lab and the workshop. It's been a great journey so far and I can't wait to see what's coming."
 
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Dalyn Wade-Perry. Photo by John P. Lozano/ISIphotos.com.

FIFTH-YEAR DEFENSIVE tackle Dalyn Wade-Perry also has an interesting academic background. For his capstone project in product design, Wade-Perry was part of a four-person group, along with graduated teammate Cameron Buzzell, that created "a car surveillance system for when you get pulled over and want some extra accountability," he said.

The project, called "Stopwatch," allowed others, even officers, to see what was happening in real time through crowdsourcing. 

"It was a great idea," he said. "And it turned out really smooth."
 
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SAID WADE-PERRY, "Going through what we've been going through the last couple of weeks hasn't been great, but nothing's going to change in terms of our preparation. We're still attacking this week like any other week. We're going to hope for the same result that we hope for every week, a 'W.'