Notre Dame and the Game That Changed Football: How Jesse Harper Made the Forward Pass a Weapon and Knute Rockne a Legend

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Between 1880 and 1905, more than 325 deaths were reported in college football, and several major football schools, including Princeton, Harvard, Columbia, and Penn, threatened to drop the sport. President Theodore Roosevelt even called a White House conference to eliminate football's violence. One result was the development of the forward pass, which reduced the frequency of dangerous collisions between helmetless players. Enter Jesse Harper, head football coach at Notre Dame. Harper recognized the potential of ...

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Overview

Between 1880 and 1905, more than 325 deaths were reported in college football, and several major football schools, including Princeton, Harvard, Columbia, and Penn, threatened to drop the sport. President Theodore Roosevelt even called a White House conference to eliminate football's violence. One result was the development of the forward pass, which reduced the frequency of dangerous collisions between helmetless players. Enter Jesse Harper, head football coach at Notre Dame. Harper recognized the potential of the forward pass, and, by the summer of 1913, along with star players Knute Rockne and Gus Dorais, had perfected an efficient, overhand throwing motion. With this new offensive weapon, the Fighting Irish marched into West Point that fall to face the Eastern powerhouse Army, and routed the Black Knights 35–13. This victory not only changed the way football would be played, it also established Notre Dame as a football power. This is the story of Jesse Harper and his tremendous impact on the game we know today. Drawing from years of original research, Frank P. Maggio brings the classic victory to life and recounts Jesse Harper's role in Notre Dame's evolution into college football's most successful and storied program, and an elite university.

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Editorial Reviews

Allen Barra
With vivid detail, Frank P. Maggio recreates a mythic game, which, though it made an enormous impact in the national press, had never been the subject of a book.
—The Washington Post
Washington Post Book World
With vivid detail, Frank P. Maggio recreates a mythic game, which, though it made an enormous impact in the national press, had never been the subject of a book.
Publishers Weekly

On November 1, 1913, Notre Dame's 29-year-old football coach, Jesse Harper, defeated Navy by having his team rely heavily-and successfully-on the forward pass, which had been legalized only seven years earlier. Notre Dame's surprising victory was the start of its football program becoming a sports powerhouse, Maggio believes, and it forever changed how the game was played. The book's first half is excellent, as Notre Dame alum Maggio (he graduated from the law school in 1963) offers a well-researched, insightful look at football's beginnings and the school's early struggles, highlighting just how important that victory was for the survival of two future American institutions. Bafflingly, after the historical game, Maggio devotes countless pages to summarizing every game associated with Harper, who was also Notre Dame's athletic director from 1931 to 1933. Without interviews from players and coaches to offer new insights into these games, the rest of the book reads like eight years' worth of box scores punctuated by letters between Harper and Rockne: his friend, former player and coaching protégé. Even die-hard Fighting Irish fans will have trouble enduring Maggio's lack of narrative flair and focus. Photos not seen by PW. (Sept.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Kirkus Reviews
How the Fighting Irish used their 1913 game against favored Army to become a national football power. Debut author Maggio begins his history by describing the origins of Notre Dame University and of football in America. The sport began as an activity more similar to soccer than to rugby, with prohibitions against using anything but the feet or head to advance the ball. As it evolved into a more violent contact game, its popularity rose-and so did the controversy surrounding it. In the early years, players did not wear padding or helmets, they could not tackle below the waist and the forward pass was not used as a means of advancing the ball. As a result, the sport became notorious for terrible, sometimes fatal injuries. From 1880 to 1905, more than 325 deaths were reported in college football, a figure that prompted the intervention of President Theodore Roosevelt, himself an admirer of the game. To curb fatalities and injuries, new rules were instituted, including the legalization of the forward pass. The use of this new offensive weapon as a winning strategy came in 1913. Coached by legend Jesse Harper and led by star Knute Rockne, Notre Dame defeated the heavily favored Army team 35-13. This victory revolutionized how football was played and elevated Notre Dame to the college football elite, proving Harper was both a brilliant innovator and a dynamic coach. Unfortunately, Maggio completes his recounting of the historic 1913 game before the text's midpoint. The remaining pages describe the mostly successful seasons that followed under Harper, Rockne's ascendance as coach and Harper's eventual return after Rockne's death. They often read like an extended box score and are anticlimacticin the extreme. A fascinating event in the history of football, told in a humdrum style.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780786720149
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press
  • Publication date: 7/11/2007
  • Pages: 278
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Frank P. Maggio, a lifelong Notre Dame football fan, is an attorney with an active commercial law practice in northern Illinois. He graduated from Regis College in Denver, Colorado, in 1960 with a B.A. in Philosophy and from the University of Notre Dame School of Law with a J.D. in 1963. He has practiced law in South Bend, Indiana, and with the legal department of the Dupont chemical company in Wilmington, Delaware, and returned in 1968 to his hometown of Rockford, Illinois, where he still lives. Maggio is the father of 4 and the grandfather of 6. He has known and worked with Jim Harper, the son of Jesse Harper, since 1985.

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