1943: 9-1-0 Frank Leahy

The 1943 national championship team featured the talents of two Notre Dame legendary quarterbacks – Angelo Bertelli and John Lujack as well as the new “T-Formation” introduced by head coach Frank Leahy. A young team (only two returning starters) and a schedule that featured seven of 10 games on the road, left a mark of uncertainty as the season began.  But the shift of Bertelli from tailback to quarterback to direct the new scheme provided the Irish with a potent offense that scored 340 points – smashing the 1942 season total of 184 points.

Any questions about the 1943 team were answered early and convincingly as the Irish started quickly with six consecutive wins.  The Irish were ranked No. 1 by the third week of the season and never lost their top ranking from that point on.  In that third week, the No. 1 Irish were matched against then No. 2 Michigan, with Notre Dame coming away with a convincing 35-12 win over the Wolverines.  A few weeks later, the top-ranked Irish pounded No. 3 Navy, 33-6.  Against Michigan, Bertelli threw for two touchdowns and All-America running back Creighton Miller, son of Notre Dame great Red Miller, gaining an average of 16 yards per play.  The Navy game proved to be the last for Bertelli, who was called into service by the Marine Corps to serve his country during World War II.  Sophomore John Lujack took over signal calling to lead the Irish to two more convincing wins before Notre Dame lost its season finale to Great Lakes.  Despite the loss, the Associated Press crowned the Irish as national champions and Bertelli became the first Notre Dame player to win the Heisman Trophy.

The 1943 national title team also provided Leahy with the dual honor of playing on the 1929 national title team and coaching the 1943 team.  Which held the greatest thrill for Leahy? “It would be most ungracious for me to say that the 1943 team, which I coach, was better than the 1929 team on which I played….There is honor and glory enough for all Notre Dam teams, winning or losing, and I, for one, refuse to be drawn into any arguments over which was the ‘best’ Notre Dame team.  They are all great in my book.  But, it would be unfair for me and most unkind to my present players, however, if I did not give them the credit they so richly deserve.”