A Notre Dame return to the Bronx with vivid memories in their Pinstripe Bowl win

By Rich Mancuso

This was not the game that was titled, “The College Football Game of the Century” of November 9, 1946 at the old Yankee Stadium. Army and Notre Dame then came into that game undefeated and the result was a 0-0 tie. The Irish of Notre Dame have had a previous and illustrious history playing football in the Bronx.  

That history continued Saturday afternoon at Yankee Stadium in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl with a Notre Dame 29-16 win over Rutgers.  There was limited drama in this one with the exception of Tommy Rees, passing for 319 yards in his final college game for the Irish and five field goals kicked by Brian Brindza.

Notre Dame came into this game ranked 25th in the nation. Then it was not a Bowl game, but two undefeated college football teams playing for supremacy in the Bronx, a game that was played yearly in the Bronx before 70,000 or more in the old stadium.

“Army featured two Heisman Trophy winners in that game, Doc Blanchard and Glen Davis,” notes Bronx football historian Prof. Victor Mastrovincenzo. He lectured this past week at various libraries in the borough about the historic games played in the Bronx.  Of course, this Pinstripe Bowl will now be a part of the history.

This time the Notre Dame seniors with 21 wins over the past two years, for the last time sang their fight song.

“We needed to run the ball in today and we did,” commented Notre Dame Coach Brian Kelly. “A good season that could have been a great season,” he said about their 9-4 campaign.  Notre Dame may have a better chance at a national championship run soon when the new college football playoff system begins to determine who is really number one.

The Irish improved to 17-6-3 at games in the old and new Yankee Stadium.  And there were references to Notre Dame changing spikes because of the hard stadium turf which was so reminiscent of the famous “Sneaker Game played at the old Polo Grounds across from the stadium.

That was the NFL championship game on December 9, 1934 when the New York Giants got rid of their spikes at halftime and wore sneakers, borrowed from Manhattan College. The Giants would go on and defeat the Chicago Bears 30-13.  

The Notre Dame Coach at the time in that Game Of the Century was Frank Leahy who had Fordham University and Irish roots, part of the famed horseman of the offensive and defensive line.

Kelly may have had a little of both Saturday afternoon, though the field goals were not reminiscent of that great game in the Bronx years ago. This was a game that could have gone to Rutgers but Rees was the obvious difference maker. He had no problems with the turf and playing in the spotlight of New York City.

“I am a Tommy Rees fan for life,” said Kelly.

Kelly and the opposing Rutgers team said it was great to be in New York this past week. Though the 47, 121, in attendance Saturday does not compare to the 74,121, of that greatest game played it will do for the Pinstripe Bowl. The game has also become a successful and annual event for the New York Yankees organization.

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