ND's Most Under-Rated Player

Feb 02, 2017

As most of you, know, I have been writing a book about early (1887-1917) Notre Dame Football.  The outstanding play of Charles Emile “Gus” Dorais has jumped out at me during my research.  Among our greatest players, I pick him as the one who deserves much more mention for his great career.

Gus and Knute Rockne, who would become his life-long pal, each enrolled in the Fall of 1910.  Most football fans know the story of their friendship and being roommates.  Books and movies have shown how their summer job at Cedar Point, OH, helped prepare them for the aerial attack which Coach Jesse Harper would use to upset West Point, in 1913, in one of the most celebrated games in college football history.

Rockne, a track star, was the ND starting fullback in the first game of the 1910 season.  That was the final time he saw the field that year.  Gus was a sub LH in our first game and sub QB in the next two.  He started the next three, playing the entire game each time.  In the 1911 season, Rock was the LE in six of the eight games, with Gus being the starting QB in seven of the eight.  Rockne played only the final four games of the 1912 season, with Gus playing QB in all seven.  During the 1913 season, Rockne played in six games; with Dorais helming the Irish in all seven.  Gus captained ND in 1912, with Rockne taking over in 1913.

In 27 games, Dorais scored 183 points (11 TD’s; 87 XP’s; and 11 field goals).  Gus is ranked third in scoring during our first 30 years of football.  Rockne scored only two TD’s in his 17 games played, including one in the famous Army “forward passing” game, of November 1, 1913.

Lee Mathews was the starting QB for the first three games of 1910.  After losing to Michigan State, 17-0, Mathews was shifted to half back and Gus took over at QB, winning the final three games.  During the 1911 season, ND gave up only three points all year, in a 6-3 win over Wabash on a Monday away game.  Wabash was led by an equally diminutive QB named Ward Lambert.  Nicknamed “Piggy", he would later achieve legendary status as Purdue’s Basketball Coach.  His record for 29 years was 371-152.  Among his star players was John Wooden.  Lambert was elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1960. 

The only blemish on ND’s 1911 record was a 0-0 season-ending tie with the “Blue and Gold”  of Marquette University, the second year in a row they tied the Irish on their home field in a Thanksgiving game. 

The Irish were 7-0-0 in 1912.  For six of those games, the average score was 64-4.  The only close game was a 3-0 win over Pittsburgh, played in bad weather, in Forbes Field.  Dorais drop kicked a 25 yard field goal for the win.

ND was undefeated (7-0-0) for the third year in a row, in the Senior Year of Dorais and Rockne.  Thus, Gus never lost a game as ND’s starter, finishing 22-0-2.  

Here’s what the New York Times said about Dorais in the famous game at West Point, versus the Black Knights of the Hudson:  “The Eastern gridiron has not seen such a master of the forward pass as Charley Dorais, the Notre Dame quarterback. A frail youth of 145 pounds, as agile as a cat and as restless as a jumping-jack, Dorais shot forward passes with accuracy into the outstretched arms of his ends, Capt. Rockne and Gushurst, as they stood poised for the ball often as far as 35 yards away.”…“Little Dorais then got five on a quarterback run.  He then hurled a long pass to Pliska which netted thirty yards. Dorais followed this With a beautiful placed heave of thirty-five yards to Rockne.”  In those days, any pass thrown further than 10-15 yards would be noteworthy.  “Dorais ran the team at top speed all the time.”…“The little quarterback displayed great judgment at all times, and was never at a loss to take the Cadets by surprise. He got around as if on springs, and was as cool as a cucumber on ice with the forward pass. Half a dozen Army tacklers bearing down on him in full charge didn't disconcert the quarterback one bit. He got his passes away accurately, every one, before the Cadets could reach him. He tossed the football on a straight line for 30 yards time and again.”  This next section describes the key innovation that the Dorais to Rockne preparation brought to the new passing attack:  “Dorais hurled the ball high and straight for twenty-five yards and Rockne, on a dead run, grabbed the ball out of the air and was downed in midfield.”  Being “on a dead run” meant that the pass was thrown ahead of speedster Rockne, for him to run under it, instead of to a stationary receiver which had been the previous practice.  This final item from the Times shows that the Army defenders were not aware that the strong arm of Dorais would require them to run so far downfield:  “The ball went high and straight, and Pliska was far out of the Army's reach when he caught it. The partisan Army crowd for the moment forgot that the Army was being defeated, and burst forth in a sincere cheer for the marvelous little quarterback, Dorais, and his record toss of thirty-five yards.”  Besides his heroics as a passer, Gus also was five for five with his extra points, played well on defense, and was our primary kick returner.

The only close game ND played in their undefeated (7-0) 1913 season was six days later when ND traveled to State College, PA, to take on a Penn State team, during “Penn Day”.  Allegedly, Penn State had not lost a home game in 19 years.  ND won 14-7.  “The Philadelphia Evening Bulletin” described the star of the game:  “‘He's (Dorais) the best quarterback in the country'," said (Billy) Morice.  I go all over the country officiating, and I will say that he is the king of them all this season. He can toss that pass like a baseball.

He throws it, he flings it right at the man; he does not lob it so that while a fellow is waiting to get it, someone else comes along and nails him. He runs with the ball in front of him like Fred Geig, the Swarthmore coach did when he played. That enables him to shift it to either arm, and use the other arm to straight-arm off a tackier. He is a great open-field runner, and, above all other things, he is a great field general. There is nothing in the East as good as Dorais”.  The only QB who received more All American mention than Dorais was Ellery Huntington, Jr., of Colgate.  (I will get an email from Dr. Dick Kiekbusch on this name and its violation of our theory of Nominal Determinism.)

In the first 30 years of Notre Dame Football, Notre Dame successfully kicked 29 field goals.  Dorais made 11 of those.

Here’s the min-bio I have created on “the most under-rated GREAT player in Notre Dame Football”:

Dorais, Charles Emile, “Gus”

b. 7/2/1891, Chippewa Falls, WI; d. 1/3/1954 (62), Birmingham, MI.  5’7, 145.

At ND 1910-1914, LLB. Father born in Canada. Chippewa Falls had the world’s largest lumber mill when Gus grew up there. One of three seniors selected to deliver the Bachelor’s Orations at ND Commencement. Worked as busboy and lifeguard at Cedar Point, OH, with Knute Rockne, during the Summer of 1913. They worked on the forward pass which would later put Notre Dame, and this new stratagem, on the national college football landscape when “The Catholics” defeated Army later that fall. The SCHOLASTIC reported a Dorais anecdote that many older Notre Dame grads can identify with. “Dorais, the great little general, was completely outdone last Monday. The football team was rendered a banquet at St. Mary's after which they were taken through the building by a prefect. In spite of Dorais' generalship the team never got nearer than a corridor's length to one of the St. Mary's students: The St. Mary's guide was some general. Attention Walter Camp”. Played Pro ball with the Fort Wayne Friars and Massillon Tigers.“Occupying the Chair of Commercial Law” and Football Coach, Dubuque College (now Loras College), 1914-1917. Athletic Director, Camp MacArthur, during WWI. Rockne’s Assistant Coach-1919, also coaching ND Basketball. Athletic Director and Head Coach forGonzaga “Irish”, 1920-1924. He was the first Head Coach of their team, which had been founded by ND’s first Football Captain, Dr. Henry Luhn. Dorais led them to the 1922 Northwestern Football Championship, coaching Ray Flaherty, Gonzaga’s all-time greatest player. Head Coach and Athletic Director, University of Detroit, 1925-1942 (113-48-7). Elected to the Detroit City Council and served from 1940-1948.With Sammy Baugh at quarterback, Guscoachedthe 1937 College All-Stars, to its first ever win over the NFL championship team, a 6-0 defeat of the Green Bay Packers. He featured Baugh’s passing and many substitutes, to wear down the pro team, which had a smaller roster. The College Football All Star Game, like the Major League Baseball All Star Game, was the brainchild of Chicago Tribune Sports Editor (and ND man) Arch Ward. Gus was one of the main speakers at the dedication of the Rockne Memorial Fieldhouse. Coached the Detroit Lions, 1943-1947 (20-31-2). Backfield Coach, Pittsburgh Steelers, 1952. Elected to College Football Hall of Fame-1954. His death notice in the ALUMNUS indicated “When the late Knute Rockne was named Head Football Coach at Notre Dame, Gus Dorais suggested to him that Arch Ward be appointed Athletic Publicity Director. Rockne agreed and Ward functioned in that capacity as an undergraduate during 1919 to 1921 the first position of its type at N.D.” Arch Ward would later go on to become the Sports Editor of the Chicago Tribune and create the Major League Baseball Game; the Golden Gloves; the College Football All Star Game; and the All American Football Conference. Gus’ younger brother, Joe, followed him to ND as a football player.

Here’s an oops from one of my prior posts—I forgot to include an ND interhall football player who later made the Major Leagues.  

Tillie Shafer spent a short time at ND, starring in interhall football and indoor track, before moving on to his third college.  He became a fine player for the New York Giants before quitting baseball just as he appeared to be reaching his potential.  He was one of the first American baseball players to go to Japan to teach the game.

Here’s another oops--I forgot to include three significant men in my post on “Who was watching the game?”

When Notre Dame played Army, at West Point, in 1913 and 1914, there were three famous military men likely to have watched the game.  Future President Dwight Eisenhower was in the West Point class of 1915, and, according to lore, would have played in the 1913 game except for injuries.  Future Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Omar Bradley, was a classmate of Ike’s.  Future Army Chief of Staff Mathew Ridgway was in the Class of 1917.


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