An excerpt from Forgotten Four: Notre Dame’s Greatest Backfield and the 1953 Undefeated Season
Donald J. Hubbard ’84J.D., Mark O. Hubbard ’72
The Great Milk Riot happened on February 28, 1952 in the Dining Hall.
Traditionally, Notre Dame men were allotted five glasses of milk each day from ten ounce glasses, two at breakfast, one at lunch, and two at dinner. The practice stopped on February 28, at dinner, when the students began to receive their two dinnertime glasses from eight ounce glasses for the first time.
Why the change? The University later stated that the administration had decided that the students had wasted too much milk during the day drinking from the large glasses, so borne out of a concern for conservation, the slightly smaller glasses were purchased and introduced to the students. It is difficult to believe this, because at that time Notre Dame had not reached its financial status of, to excuse the pun, becoming a cash cow. It was on the verge of realizing millions of dollars from nouveau rich alumni donations and from the sale of every Fighting Irish novelty in creation, but at the time the school more closely resembled the Depression era college that had almost folded, but for the introduction of the Naval courses and training during World War Two.
As an economic measure, the smaller glasses provided a bust. Quite spontaneously, students figured out that their finite allotment of milk had shrunk even more, and the hated glasses began to get smashed against the floor of the dining hall by angered students. The shorter and squatter glasses did not break as easily as the older glasses, so the University’s bowlers began to stack the glasses up at the end of the long varnished wooden tables, pyramid fashion, only to be busted up by a single glass whipped down the table like a bowling ball. No one kept count but apparently few gutter balls resulted and hundred of broken glasses began to fragment on the floor of the venerable dining hall.
Feeding the rage were rumors that the administration had added saltpeter to the milk to lower the amorous ardor of the young men, and when some claimed their milk poured out foamier than the previous day’s fare, this apparently confirmed their most deeply seated fears. Satisfied that they not only had received less milk, but also tainted sex-inhibiting liquid, one of the ringleaders yelled out, “We’re not going to drink this s—-!” Which of course prompted a hail of glasses smashing against the wall and floors.
The revolt continued outside when several students palmed the glasses and removed them from the dining hall, only to smash them against the rust colored exterior brick. As many as 800 glasses shattered that night. Black Mac McCarragher most likely went into meltdown that evening but in order to squelch the insurrection, he most likely would have had to dismiss over 90% of the student body who resided on campus. He would have done it too, but cooler heads, like that of Fr. Ted Hesburgh, prevailed.
The South Bend Tribune picked up the story and soon The New York Times ran a piece. To curtail the embarrassment to the University, Fr. Hesburgh met with the students to address two pressing concerns: the smaller milk glasses and the lack of toilet paper in dorms. Fr. Hesburgh did not defend very strenuously the glass issue, but he did point out that since toilet paper had been thrown as streamers at football games, not much was left over to meet the purpose for which the paper was intended.
Since the football season had long since concluded, the toilet paper was not likely to be thrown around the stadium for at least another seven months so that issue easily rectified itself. Because the eight ounce glasses had largely and almost completely disappeared from campus, the University had little choice but to restore the larger glasses and the revolt was quickly suppressed through almost total abdication by the administration to the student body.
It is tempting to ascribe too much significance to the milk riot, that it constituted some deep seated revolt against the strictness of the University and the Faith on the cusp of Vatican II. Mostly, it began as a spontaneous revolt more likely directed against the quite long and harsh Indiana winters, a rage less against the machine and more against nature itself. Perhaps it had something to do with the Leap Year, as more and more ND young men figured out that the woman of their daydreams did not intend to ask for their hand in marriage that year.
Whatever the cause, the students had won a small and immature battle, one they never forgot. It proved to be the last one for some time.
The student body may have erupted, but at Breen-Phillips, Frank Leahy still reigned unchallenged over the football team, at least in all matters concerning student-athletes. With the oncoming spring, two big events captured the attention of most of the freshmen on campus, the upcoming Class Dance on Friday, May 9, 1952, and the Old Timer’s Football Game the next day. In virtually every other college in the country, no conflict would have existed in the events held on separate days, but Dan Shannon knew that he did not attend most colleges and he figured Coach Leahy demanded his players’ undivided loyalty and focus on the annual scrimmage.
Competing with this near-certainty was a profound desire to invite his girlfriend Kitty to the Class Dance, so expecting little, he and his old Mt. Carmel teammate Paul Matz screwed up the courage to visit Leahy at his office and ask permission to attend the cotillion. Courteously, Leahy greeted the two young men and asked the “lads” what he might do for them.
Shannon gulped, and then started his prepared spiel, “Coach, there is a big class dance on Friday and some of the guys wanted to know if…”
At that point, Leahy jumped out of his seat and bolted right up. Both Shannon and Matz figured they were finished. “I want you and every other Freshman,” bellowed Leahy, “to attend the dance and to be perfect gentlemen to your dates!” With that, the two friends profusely thanked their coach and told their girlfriends and all of their teammates what Leahy had ordered.
Fortunately for Shannon and Matz, the Varsity walloped the Old-Timers, 33-6, keeping alive the hopes of future dancing football players for the years ahead. The lop-sided score reflected not only a resurgent Irish eleven, but also regretfully a rather sudden and irreversible decrease in ardor for the contest on behalf of alumni. In part, the trend may have reflected a disdain of professional coaches to potentially sacrifice the health of their stars in a meaningless exhibition, but in two short years since Leon Hart and his friends insisted on winning, the match had fallen on difficult times.
Copyright Corby Books.
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