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Countdown to kickoff: Notre Dame vs. Ohio State only 79 days away

Todd Burlage06/16/22
Article written by:On3 imageTodd Burlage

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General exterior view of Notre Dame Stadium and the Frank Leahy statue. (Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire)

To preview one of the most anticipated games for Notre Dame this century and the official start of the Marcus Freeman era, BlueandGold.com is counting down the days to the matchup against Ohio State on Sept. 3.

This daily series of 99 stories celebrates by the numbers some of the most notable names, dates, moments and memories related to the past and present of Notre Dame football. 

Today, we look at No. 79 with the story of how legendary Fighting Irish head coach Frank Leahy won the first of his four national titles in 1943, 79 years ago.

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Long way from home

Despite growing up 800 miles away from South Bend in Winner, S.D., Leahy still held a deep passion for the Notre Dame campus and football program.

So much so, that Leahy wrote a letter as a high-schooler to Knute Rockne to share his respect for the Fighting Irish football coach and his desire to come there, play and study.

Rockne obliged, invited Leahy in as an offensive tackle, and the rest is history. 

As a player, Leahy won back-to-back national titles in 1929 and 1930, while at the same time, he sponged every drop of knowledge he could from Coach Rockne.

As a coach

Leahy eventually applied those lessons as the head coach at Boston College in 1939-40, then at Notre Dame where he went 87-11-9 and won four national championships in 11 seasons.

The first of those four titles came in 1943 when Leahy’s team went 9-1. 

Championship hopes became legit in Game 3 that season when No. 1 Notre Dame played at No. 2 Michigan and pasted the Wolverines 35-12.

Leahy’s Irish won their first nine games that season by an average score of 39-4 and pitched four shutouts. 

Among its other victims in 1943, Notre Dame beat No. 3 Navy, No. 3 Army, No. 8 Northwestern and No. 2 Iowa Pre-Flight. 

The lone Notre Dame loss came in the final game of the season in a 19-14 defeat to unranked Great Lakes in the closing seconds.

The upset loss wasn’t enough to keep Leahy and Notre Dame from claiming its fourth national championship in program history — but the first since 1930 when Leahy was a player and Rockne was his coach. 

Leahy claimed three more national titles (1946, ’47, ’49) and his four total at Notre Dame are more than any other Irish coach. 

But the one he won 79 years ago will remain the season that turned Leahy into a Fighting Irish legend and a College Football Hall of Fame inductee.