The historic 1946 football match between Army and Notre Dame is known as “The Game of the Century.” In front of throngs of Subway Alumni this was not a random pairing, but a face-off of immense historical weight. An air of tension rippled through the crowd of 76,000 at Yankee Stadium on November 9, 1946, when the #1 Army Cadets crossed paths with the #2 Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
The rivalry traced back to the roaring 20s, when sportswriter Grantland Rice named the Notre Dame backfield – quarterback Harry Stuhldreher, halfbacks Jim Crowley and Don Miller, and fullback Elmer Layden – the “Four Horsemen” after their triumphant game against Army in 1924. In the 1928 edition of this rivalry, Notre Dame’s Coach Knute Rockne gave his famous “Win one for the Gipper” speech, leading the Irish to a comeback victory against Army.
Fast forward to 1946, both the Army and Notre Dame brought into the game formidable offensive records, averaging over 30 points per game. Army’s 25-game winning streak stood testimony to their potency on the field, with the last defeat coming from Notre Dame back in 1943. The Black Knights boasted a line-up of stellar players like Doc Blanchard, the defending Heisman Trophy winner also known as “Mr. Inside”, Glenn Davis, the current Heisman winner, nicknamed “Mr. Outside”, and the celebrated quarterback, Arnold Tucker. The Fighting Irish were no less equipped, with Johnny Lujack, the future Heisman winner, at quarterback.
The 1946 Game
Despite the grandeur of their offensive history, the 1946 game surprisingly evolved into a defensive standoff, which ended in a 0-0 deadlock. The much-anticipated clash witnessed a nerve-wracking exchange when Tucker intercepted a pass from Lujack, only to have Lujack make a touchdown-saving tackle on Blanchard soon after. The formidable “Touchdown Twins”, Blanchard and Davis, were held to just 79 yards by the Fighting Irish’s defense.
The gripping game saw seven linemen nominated for the Lineman of the Week honors by the Associated Press, reflecting the intense defensive struggle. Army guard Joe Steffy clinched the honor, recognized for shutting down Notre Dame’s running game. He was closely followed by Notre Dame’s right tackle George Sullivan and freshman lineman Jim Martin, who managed to suppress Army’s running attack.
Captured in the picture above is the pivotal moment of 1946’s “Game of the Century” when Notre Dame’s Bill Gompers daringly dashed around the corner on 4th down, the goal line tantalizingly within reach. However, the grand finale wasn’t to be – Gompers fell short, not even breaching the 2-yard line to secure a first down. This near-miss encapsulated the tense, defense-dominated match, which saw no further serious scoring threats and culminated in an iconic 0-0 deadlock.
After this unforgettable game, both teams remained undefeated, with this single tie as the only blemish on their records. However, it was Notre Dame who got the nod for the national championship from the Associated Press, pushing Army to second place. The Army Black Knights, though, hold onto their pride, listing the 1946 team as national champions in their media guide.
The fateful face-off of 1946 marked the end of an era, with Army’s winning streak snapped the next year after the graduation of key players like Blanchard, Davis, and Tucker. Yet, the echoes of this epic game persist, with the Sporting News naming the 1944-45 Army team and the 1946 Fighting Irish among the greatest teams of the 20th century.