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The Gipper's greatest comeback

Terence P. Jeffrey on

Some newspapers in the Midwest in 1920 referred to the Notre Dame football team not as the Fighting Irish but as "the Catholics."

Notre Dame's star player, however, was not one.

George Gipp grew up in a small northern Michigan town, where he did not play high school football and his father was a Baptist pastor.

He arrived in South Bend in 1916 as a baseball prospect.

Joseph Meyer -- who later became the football coach at Xavier -- was a senior baseball player at Notre Dame when Gipp was a freshman. In 1920, he recalled how Knute Rockne discovered his ultimate star.

"One day, he wandered out on the gridiron and began kicking the ball around while the team was practicing," Meyer said of Gipp. "Someone showed him how to dropkick, and it wasn't long before he booted a field goal from the 62-yard line.

 

"His boot was reported to the coaches," Meyer recounted. "They snared him right away and put a uniform on him."

By his senior year, sportswriters were hailing Gipp as the greatest player in the game.

The New York Herald explained why in a story published after the 1920 Army-Notre Dame game.

"Gipp played the greatest individual game seen at West Point since the afternoon when Jim Thorpe of the Carlisle Indians defeated the Cadets single handed and single footed," the paper said.

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