Notre Dame Fighting a Global Pandemic Football: 1918 vs 2020


A lot of people keep saying that this college football season is one that is unlike any other, and that’s not entirely true. We did have college football during the last serious global pandemic, the Spanish Flu crisis of 1918.

That season was actually quite similar today in that it started later than usual, was shorter than standard in duration and saw some games cancelled due to an outbreak of the nasty, deadly virus. Saturday brings game six of the 2020 Notre Dame season, a campaign that is, always has been, and always will be defined by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Fighting Irish (5-0, 4-0 in the ACC) will enter week (sort of) six ranked #4 in the country and set to visit Georgia Tech (2-4, 2-3 ACC) on Halloween. The Irish are 20 point favorites in a game that will kick off at 3:30 EST on ABC.

In 1918, the Irish only played six games in total, and went 3-1-2 on the season. Only one of those games was at home, because the South Bend area was hit especially hard by the influenza pandemic. The worst of it came in the month of October, when ND didn’t even play a single game.

Looking at the schedule from that season, there are only two opponents you would recognize- Purdue (a 26-6 win) and Michigan State (known as Michigan Agricultural at the time, and they were the Aggies instead of the Spartans, in a 13-7 loss). They also had wins over the Case Scientists (now known as Case Western Reserve, with their mascot the Spartans) and the Wabash College Little Giants.

They also had ties against Nebraska and the Great Lakes Naval Academy. All in all, it wasn’t that consequential a season, at the time. Looking back at it now, well, it’s actually Year 1 Anno Domini in the Year of Our Lord for Notre Dame football.

Why? It was the very first season in which a then 30-year-old head coach named Knute Rockne was at the helm. His star player, the one and only Gipper. Yes, this was the very first Irish team (they weren’t even the Fighting Irish then, go here for more about the 1924 fight between the student body and the Ku Klux Klan, which many believe is the etymology of the Fighting Irish moniker) of both Rockne and George Gipp.

This was the season where the first seeds of the Notre Dame mystique were sown. You all know the “win one for the Gipper” speech, a plaque of it adorns the ND dressing room.

So while 1918 Notre Dame has its place in history, what about the 2020 edition?

Their de facto season opener is November 7, at home against #1 Clemson.

Paul M. Banks runs The Sports Bank, partnered with News NowBanks, the author of “No, I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry,” has regularly appeared in WGNSports IllustratedChicago Tribune and SB NationFollow him on Twitter and Instagram.

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