Throwback Thursday: Irish win on Thanksgiving Day 1973

Margaret Fosmoe
South Bend Tribune

Every Notre Dame home football game since 1966 has been a sellout — except the Nov. 22, 1973 matchup against Air Force. The game originally had been scheduled for Nov. 24, but was rescheduled for Thanksgiving to provide a televised college football doubleheader on ABC: Notre Dame vs. Air Force, followed by Alabama vs. LSU.

Many students already had left campus to spend the holiday with their families. 

Attendance was announced as 57,236, about 1,800 short of the stadium's 59,075 capacity in those days.

It was the first Thanksgiving Day game for Notre Dame since 1963 and the first one at home since 1921.

But the Irish historically were no strangers to playing on that holiday.

"In the first three decades of Irish football, the (Thanksgiving) holiday game was the rule, rather than the exception," Tribune sports editor Joe Doyle wrote the day before the 1973 game.

The 1921 home game on the holiday pitted Notre Dame against Michigan State. The Irish, led by coach Knute Rockne, won 48-0 before a crowd of 15,000 at Cartier Field.

Earlier Thanksgiving games, nine in all, ended in 1901.

In 1963, led by coach Hugh Devore, the Notre Dame football team traveled to New York to play Syracuse on Thanksgiving Day in Yankee Stadium. The Irish lost 14-7.

During halftime and at a pep rally the evening before the Thanksgiving Day game in 1973, the campus paid tribute to the memory of legendary Irish football coach Frank Leahy, who had died the previous June. Some members of the Leahy family and about 100 of Leahy's former players attended the game.

Notre Dame was 8-0 and ranked No. 5 in the nation going into the game, while the unranked Air Force Falcons were 6-3. The Irish already had been invited to play in the Sugar Bowl on Dec. 31.

"Irish thankful for Falcons," read the headline in the next day's South Bend Tribune.

View the Tribune's coverage of the game here:

Three times in the first quarter, the Falcons fumbled the ball away to Notre Dame: at the 46, the 11 and the 29. Each time, Irish quarterback Tom Clements directed the short touchdown marches. He also took advantage of good field position at the 46 after a short Air Force punt and got the third touchdown in a quick nine-play drive.

The Irish led 28-0 after 12 minutes of play.

Air Force managed a pair of touchdowns and the longest-ever (at that point) field goal of 51 yards in Notre Dame Stadium. The Falcons' kicker, middle guard Dave Lawson, missed both extra point attempts.

Notre Dame coach Ara Parseghian used more than 60 of his players in the game, including some seniors who were making their first and final appearances, the Tribune reported.

The Irish totaled more than 500 yards, 414 on the ground.

Irish running back Art Best rushed for 125 yards, gaining 69 of it on one play that ended with a 15-yard penalty against Best for spiking the football. Parseghian benched him for the rest of the game.

The Irish won, 48-15.

See video of the 1973 Notre Dame-Air Force game here:

Nine days later, Notre Dame beat Miami on the road, 44-0. The undefeated Irish went on to beat No. 1-ranked Alabama, 24-23, in the Sugar Bowl on New Year's Eve and claim the 1973 national championship.

In the bowl game, Clements completed a third-and-9 pass to tight end Robin Weber from his own end zone with two minutes left to secure the victory. | @mfosmoe

Notre Dame football action from the Thanksgiving Day game vs. Air Force in 1973. (SBT Archive Photo)
The Notre Dame Marching Band takes to the field during the Thanksgiving day game on Nov. 22, 1973. (SBT Archive Photo)
There were some empty seats visible in the stands during halftime of the Notre Dame vs. Air Force football game on Thanksgiving day 1973. Prior to this game, every home game since 1966 had been a sellout. (SBT Archive Photo)
Notre Dame students have some fun with signs during the Thanksgiving day football game vs. Air Force on Nov. 22, 1973. (SBT Archive Photo)
The American flag and the U.S. Bicentennial flag fly during the Notre Dame-Air Force football game on Thanksgiving day 1973. (SBT Archive Photo)

Our weekly Throwback Thursday story comes a day early this week because of the holiday. Happy Thanksgiving!