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Original Documentaries

Tour Documentary Short: Civil Rights

New York Sports Lit Notre Dame Lore

In December 2020, four months after former New York Jets head coach Lou Holtz was a featured speaker at the Republican National Convention, he received the Presidential Medal of…

Babe Ruth ‘Crashed’ DNC After Riot

Although newspapers documented the behavior of Babe Ruth for years, headlines about the New York Yankees legend from a five-day stretch in June 1924 stand out for …

DiMaggio to City: Be Tough in This Crisis

When New York City was being hammered by a fiscal crisis in 1978, legendary New York Yankees centerfielder Joe DiMaggio co-scripted and delivered …

New York Sports Lit Notre Dame Lore

New York Sports Experience Exclusive

In December 2020, four months after former New York Jets head coach Lou Holtz was a featured speaker at the Republican National Convention, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. 

In 1976, this development would have likely proven inconceivable by Jets fans. That year, Holtz notched only three wins in 13 games in his only season with the Jets.

Holtz went on to serve as head coach of Notre Dame’s storied football program, at a university whose reputation has been significantly boosted by New York sports developments.

Lou Holtz appears as the new head coach of the New York Jets, at the 21 Club in Manhattan on February 10, 1976


The famous Notre Dame rallying cry “Win one for the Gipper,” borrowed as a political slogan for the 2004 Republican National Convention at Madison Square Garden in Manhattan, rose from sports action at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. Francis (Frank) Wallace, the New York sportswriter who introduced the Gipper story that became legend, is also credited with Notre Dame’s acceptance of the now-iconic Fighting Irish nickname.


“We may always be worthy of the ideal embodied in the term ‘Fighting Irish'”

Military units from the 69th Regiment in Midtown Manhattan, who did battle in the Civil War, World War I and other conflicts, may have helped deliver the nickname to Indiana-based Notre Dame. The regiment’s Fighting Irish moniker, a reference to many Irish immigrant members, predates Notre Dame’s. The nickname was in use starting years before the regiment’s massive and still-standing 69th Regiment Armory was opened on Lexington Avenue in 1906.

Soldiers exit from the front entrance of the Fighting Irish’s 69th Regiment Armory in Manhattan on August 20, 1917

Longtime New York City sports columnist Jimmy Cannon was among the New York City natives who saw the connection. “We were proud of Notre Dame because they were called the Fighting Irish, just as we were honored because the 69th regiment was referred to as an Irish outfit,” Cannon wrote in 1956, nearly half a century after he was born in Manhattan.

After Wallace graduated from Notre Dame in 1923, he landed in Manhattan as a sportswriter for the New York Post. He was unhappy with such Notre Dame nicknames as Ramblers and Rovers. Used by news outlets to describe the long distances the football team would travel via ground transportation to many away games, the names struck Wallace as insinuations that Notre Dame players were not as dedicated to school work as other college athletes.

While the Fighting Irish was being used by some reporters to describe Notre Dame football, Wallace failed at the Post to gain traction for his contrived Blue Comets nickname for the team. In 1927, Wallace moved from the Post to New York’s larger-circulation Daily News, embraced the Fighting Irish name and, in doing so, convinced others throughout the country to do the same.

Wallace’s move was the tipping point for the school. The same year, Notre Dame’s president gave his blessing, stating, “The university authorities are in no way averse to the name ‘Fighting Irish’ as applied to our athletic teams… I sincerely hope that we may always be worthy of the ideal embodied in the term ‘Fighting Irish.'”

For a dozen years starting in 1918, the Notre Dame football program was well known because of fiery head coach Knute Rockne, a former Fighting Irish player-captain. Following Notre Dame football’s undefeated season in 1919, for which it would be awarded a couple retroactive national championships, the team’s visits to the New York were always a popular draw.

Army, based in Greater New York, would become the Fighting Irish’s biggest rival. Subway Alumni, the nickname now standard to describe Notre Dame supporters in and out of the United States who never attended the college, started with New Yorkers who took the subway to Notre Dame-Army games.

In addition to winning seasons and a geographically widening schedule that Rockne requested, the school’s football rise is due in large part the result of famed motivational speeches by Rockne and the coach’s ability to land favorable coverage of the team by newspaper and radio reporters in large markets outside the school’s South Bend home.

Rockne saw major benefits in having a hustling student publicist for each of his teams, to pitch stories and arrange photo opportunities. Wallace had served as Rockne’s student press aide, and recognized the media and marketing power of New York City.

“The Four Horsemen Rode Again”

A year after Wallace graduated from Notre Dame, Grantland Rice, writing for the New York Herald Tribune in his popular nationally syndicated column, introduced the nickname the Four Horsemen in reference to four seniors who played in the Notre Dame backfield in a game versus Army at Manhattan’s Polo Grounds.

On October 18, 1924, the four players — Jim Crowley, Elmer Layden, Don Miller and Harry Stuhldreher — led the Fighting Irish to a 13-7 upset win en route to an undefeated Notre Dame season. The game brought the only defeat of the year for Army.

George Strickler, Rockne’s student publicist after Wallace graduated, had suggested the Four Horsemen nickname to Rice in New York. During game week, Strickler had seen The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, a feature film about the biblical figures of Death, Pestilence, Famine and War. At halftime at the Polo Grounds, Strickler offered the analogy to a group of reporters that included Rice.

In a story about the contest that appeared on the front page of the Herald Tribune, Rice wrote, “Outlined against a blue-gray October sky the Four Horsemen rode again. In dramatic lore they are known as Famine, Pestilence, Destruction and Death. These are only aliases. Their real names are Stuhldreher, Miller, Crowley and Layden. They formed the crest of the South Bend cyclone before which another fighting Army team was swept over the precipice at the Polo Grounds this afternoon, as 55,000 spectators peered down upon the bewildering panorama spread out upon the green plain below.”

In his 2010 Notre Dame football book The Gipper, veteran New York Times sportswriter Jack Cavanaugh reports Rice’s Four Horseman line “is considered the most memorable, and best, lead ever written by a sportswriter under deadline pressure.

With a boost from Strickler, who coordinated a photo of the four players on horseback two days after the game, the nickname was cemented. The quartet rode the recognition for years after college. For one-game contracts, they joined existing professional teams that would advertise that the games featured the Four Horsemen. “One week, we each made $4,000,” Miller recalled years later.

Eighty four years after the Four Horsemen game at the Polo Grounds, a United States postage stamp with the 1924 photo of the players on horseback was issued in commemoration of the foursome.

“Out of this came the legend of ‘The Gipper'”

On November 10, 1928, Notre Dame came to Yankee Stadium for its final game of the season, with two losses versus undefeated Army. At the stadium, Rockne reportedly delivered his now-iconic “Win one for the Gipper” speech, invoking a nickname for the late George Gipp. In 1920, the same year he became first Fighting Irish All-America football player of the 1920s, halfback Gipp died of pneumonia at age 25.

The Fighting Irish went on to upset Army, 12-6. After a scoreless first half, Notrre Dame’s Jack Chevigny had scored on a short touchdown run. Wallace would write that Chevigny shouted “One for the Gipper” immediately following the touchdown.

Many accounts, including in Rockne’s 1931 autobiography, have Chevigny scoring the winning touchdown. In reality, teammate Johnny O’Brien did. Rockne said when he had visited a dying Gipp in the hospital, Gipp asked the coach to tell Notre Dame players to win for Gipp as motivation against Army. With Army an annual opponent that had defeated Notre Dame in 1925 and 1927, many question why Rockne waited eight years after Gipp died. No media reports filed the day of the 1928 game mention the speech.

Wallace was the first to report of Rockne’s address, after he said Joseph Byrne, a top Notre Dame alumni representative, told him about it over Sunday drinks the day after the game, at the Ritz Carlton hotel on Madison Avenue in Manhattan. Although many accounts have the speech being delivered at halftime — including on a walkway plaque outside the location of the original Yankee Stadium — Wallace wrote that the speech came before kickoff.

“Football people knew that Rockne would fire the boys up in his speech before the game,” reported Wallace in time for a Sunday evening edition of the Daily News. Wallace, who would become president of the Notre Dame Alumni Association in 1949, said Byrne was among those present at the pre-game speech.

In his Daily News story, Wallace wrote, “This is what he told them — and then, perhaps, you can understand the cold forgetfulness of self of those Irish kids. ‘On his deathbed George Gipp told me that some day, when the time came, he wanted me to ask a Notre Dame team to beat Army for him.”

Perhaps sensing that some readers may have been skeptical, Wallace continued, “It was not a trick. George Gipp asked it. When Notre Dame’s football need was greatest, it called on its beloved ‘Gipper’ again.”

Wallace’s details were made even sharper thanks to headlines crafted by Daily News sports copy editor Harry Schumacher. A banner headline read, “Gipp’s Ghost Beat Army.” A subhead reported, “Irish Hero’s Deathbed Request Inspired Notre Dame.”

Celebrated New York Daily News columnist Jimmy Breslin would write many years later about Wallace’s Daily News piece, “the story of George Gipp soon became an American legend, as common to sports fans as a familiar fairy tale is to a sleepy-eyed youngster. The Gipp myth gained fantastic momentum through an era of newspaper sports writing that saw athletes likened in print to Greek gods. Out of this came the legend of ‘The Gipper.'”

Hank Anderson is among those who have questioned reports about the words attributed to Gipp, a noted gambler and playboy. Anderson would serve as Notre Dame’s head coach in the early 1930s, had been a teammate of Gipp and, according to Kavanaugh in The Gipper, was “the last player to visit and talk with Gipp before he died. ‘I doubt very much he would have said that,’ Anderson told the author shortly before he died in 1978. Anderson and some others who knew him best said it would have been out of character for Gipp, even on this deathbed, to have made such a request to Rockne.”

The call to “Win one for the Gipper!” was not part of the public story of the speech until Rockne reported a similar line in a 1930 story ghostwritten for him for Collier’s magazine a year before Rockne died in a plane crash. Collier’s was a national weekly magazine, with its editorial offices in Manhattan.

The Collier’s story claims Gipp told Rockne, “I’ve got to go, Rock. It’s alright. I’m not afraid. Some time, Rock, when the team is up against it, when things are wrong and the breaks are beating the boys — tell them to go in there with all they’ve got and win just one for the Gipper. I don’t know where I’ll be then, Rock. But I’ll know about it, and I’ll be happy.”

Knute Rockne, All American

Wallace’s report of the speech differs from its portrayal in the 1940 feature film Knute Rockne, All American. The movie places the speech during halftime, which aligns with Rockne’s autobiography.

In the film, the inspiration for Rockne’s speech was dramatized by Ronald Reagan, who played Gipp. The Gipper name became semi-synonymous with Reagan, who always claimed Gipp was his favorite role and promoted the connection during his successful campaigns for the United States presidency.

The line came nearly full circle in 2004, 80 years after Madison Square Garden played host to the only Republican National Convention held in New York before or since.

Among the more memorable Garden scenes from the Republican convention, where George W. Bush accepted his party’s second presidential nomination, were from the third night. During a memorial for Reagan, who had died the same summer, many delegates and other attendees, including former president George H. W. Bush and his wife Barbara Bush, hoisted signs that read, “WIN ONE FOR THE GIPPER.”

Barbara Bush displays a Gipper sign at the 2004 Republican National Convention at Madison Square Garden[/caption

Babe Ruth ‘Crashed’ DNC After Riot

New York Sports Experience Exclusive

Although newspapers documented the behavior of Babe Ruth for years, headlines about the New York Yankees legend from a five-day stretch in June 1924 stand out for their claims of illicit activity both on and off the field.

Babe Ruth (left) presents a bat to Democratic presidential nominee and New York governor Al Smith at Smith’s campaign headquarters on the day Ruth “covered” the Democratic National Convention

For a wire story published on June 24, The Brooklyn Standard Union opted for the header “BABE RUTH DRAWS $50 FINE FOR RIOT AT DETROIT.” On June 25, a day after the opening night of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) held at Manhattan’s Madison Square Garden, The San Francisco Examiner topped a syndicated piece with “Babe ‘Crashes’ Convention as Reporter.”

The latter story was a first-person account by Ruth of the opening day of the DNC.

Also on the first day of the DNC, Ruth played in a Yankees-Washington Senators game at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. As touched on during a live 2020 virtual video tour now available exclusively to New York Sports Experience guests, Ruth’s Yankees career had already generated significant national acclaim. The Yankees were the defending World Series champions. The previous October against Manhattan’s New York Giants, the Yankees won the first of the franchise’s 27 championships.

The scene at the Democratic National Convention is shown on June 24 1924, the day Ruth wrote about happenings there

Ruth’s DNC story hinted at an incident that had occurred the same month in a road contest against the Detroit Tigers, a game the Tigers had forfeited to the Yankees. In the top of the ninth inning with the Yankees leading, players and fans rioted on the field, including against police. Yankees players claimed Tigers pitcher Bert Cole was aiming to bean the opposition, including a pitch to Ruth’s head that Ruth barely dodged.

Cole and Yankees player Bob Meusel, who charged Cole after being hit by a pitch, received fines and suspensions. In issuing the $50 punishment to Ruth, American League president Ban Johnson cited Ruth’s “frenzied effort to participate in the trouble.”

Ruth brought a friendly pitching foe, the Senators’ part-time comedian Nick Altrock, to at least part of Ruth’s DNC adventure. On the day of the convention’s launch, they showed up together at the Midtown Manhattan campaign headquarters of Democratic presidential nominee hopeful and New York governor Al Smith.

Nick Altrock (seated) of the Washington Senators and Babe Ruth appear in a skit performed before the first game of the World Series at the Polo Grounds in Manhattan on October 4, 1922

A Smith campaign official, future president Franklin D. Roosevelt, had asked Ruth to support he governor’s presidential bid. After Ruth noted Smith’s rise from poverty on Manhattan’s Lower East Side and a shared Catholic upbringing, he signed on.

“If I could handle the delegates the way you handle the bat, the result would be all right,” Smith told Ruth at their June 24 meeting. Ruth came with a bat that he had signed with a message for Republican President Warren Harding. After Harding died in 1923 before Ruth could present him with the bat, Ruth signed the same bat with a note to Smith.

Babe Ruth (left) and 1924 Democratic presidential nominee John W. Davis appear together on October 19, 1928, in support of Al Smith’s presidential run

Smith would fail in his 1924 nominee bid to attorney John W. Davis, but four years later became his party’s presidential nominee with Ruth among his campaigners.

The 1924 DNC was held at the second Madison Square Garden, which overlooked Madison Square Park until its 1926 destruction. In addition to Altrock, Smith and Harding, Ruth’s DNC story included mention of several more personalities, including Yankees manager Miller Huggins and journalist Hendrik van Loon. Two months earlier at a newspaper publishers event, Ruth had met with van Loon at the original Waldorf-Astoria hotel then located where the Empire State Building stands today.

Journalist Hendrik van Loon (left) meets with Babe Ruth at the original Waldorf-Astoria on Fifth Avenue on April 26, 1924

Also mentioned in Ruth’s dispatch are noted sportswriters Grantland Rice and Ring Larder, humorist Will Rogers (“Bill,” to Ruth), cartoonist Rube Goldberg, and New York-based syndicated columnists Mark Sullivan and Arthur Brisbane.

Ruth’s story also references “Bryan,” presumably Williams Jennings Bryan, who was the Democrats’ 1896 nominee for president and had become a newspaper editor.

Will Rogers (left), Babe Ruth and Ruth’s wife Claire Ruth meet with hospital patient Merrill Cohan in Boston on April 25, 1929

Bryan’s brother Charles Bryan became Davies’ 1924 vice presidential running mate after the longest presidential nomination process in DNC or Republican National Convention history. At Madison Square Garden, Davis was chosen after 103 ballots.

The below footage shared during some New York Sports Tours visits to the 69th Regiment Armory (the primary home arena of basketball’s New York Knicks in the team’s early years) shows celebration on the south side of the Garden on the left with the curved-roof armory down the street on the right.

Ruth’s DNC writing gig was assigned by the Christy Walsh Syndicate, run by Ruth’s marketing agent Christy Walsh. Walsh would often employ ghostwriters for articles.

If copy style is a guide, Ruth may have written the DNC piece himself. An editor’s note that introduces the story sets the scene: “Babe Ruth attended the Democratic convention today to write his impressions. He was accompanied by a stenographer with instructions from Babe to ‘take down everything.'”

Christy Walsh (left), whose publication syndicate published Ruth’s Democratic National Convention story, poses with Ruth at the World’s Fair in New York in 1939

Ruth’s published piece, which started after a Madison Square Garden dateline, follows in italics below

This looks like the world series with a roof on it.

I’ll bet a Republican would be about as popular in here as I was in Detroit last week.

When does the show begin?

Here comes Will Rogers and Rube Goldberg. It looks like all us writers are on the job today.

I got permission from Manager Huggins to be absent from practice in order to get my lame back rubbed. What’ll he do when he finds out where I’ve been? Don’t know, unless he refuses me permission for the next Democratic convention.

No kidding—my back’s sore. Caught cold and then strained it in yesterday’s game.

Move over for Will Rogers. Here, Rube, room for you, too!

What do you think of this thing, Bill? Me—I”m supposed write a story from a ballplayer’s standpoint. Look out, that’s my sore back.

Where’d you get that press badge, Bill? All they gave me was this. I’m supposed to be sitting up there in the gallery, but nothing doing. If they’re going to change me from a ball player to a paper reporter, why, I’m going to sit right down here with Brisbane, Mark Sullivan and Lardner and Bryan and all the rest. Do you know Hendrik van Loon? Mr. van Loon this is Mr. Rogers.

Say Bill, you ought to have been with us. We just came from Governor Smith’s headquarters. Nick Altrock was along. Also a banker from Los Angeles and a publisher from Santa Barbara. You see I keep good company when I’m not playing ball.

You ought to have seen the governor shaking hands. I thought signing balls was bad enough. I got the best of Al Smith because I do my hand shaking with fountain pen, while he’s got to stand around and have his arm pumped by everybody in New York who happens to wear one of his buttons. I gave the governor a bat. About a year ago I had my picture taken with President Harding at the stadium and he asked me for an autographed bat. By the time we played again at Washington President Harding was dead.

I’ve had the bat ever since and thought it would be nice to give it to Governor Smith. He sure took it seriously and when I told him how I had put the bat aside to give to President Harding there was a tear in the governor’s eyes. He’s a human fellow, alright.

In between handshakes the governor and I talked. He had a black suit and a close shave. Funny thing, never says a word to me about politics, all he asked about was baseball. I told him I wished him worlds of luck and just as he started to say something about my chances for home runs, a lady delegate from Texas comes along and I’m out.

It wasn’t long after that till I found myself in an argument with the big cop running the press gate at the garden. He and Van Loon got into an awful argument as to whether I belonged in the “active press” or not. While they argued I quietly “crashed the gate” and nobody ever knew who I was.

Now I’ve got to go and get my back rubbed before Huggins finds out where I’ve been.

DiMaggio to City: Be Tough in This Crisis

New York Sports Experience Exclusive

When New York City was being hammered by a fiscal crisis in 1978, legendary New York Yankees centerfielder Joe DiMaggio co-scripted and delivered a filmed message that blasted those who “never made a clutch hit in their lives,”  some who “fled the city” and “others who hid behind locked doors.”

Added DiMaggio, then 63, “But this city never gave up, never stopped building… Today we have a choice. We can chose whether New York lives or dies. Choose life… We’re going to be all right.”

The script was for a 90-second commercial for Manhattan-based The Bowery Savings Bank, a business that DiMaggio promoted in several other commercials from 1972 to 1992. Above, New York Sports Experience shows 60 seconds of the spot, the only known place where any portion of the commercial resides online. 

For the spot, DiMaggio was filmed during a 48-hour span in the city, including in Washington Square in Manhattan and the Yankees’ Yankee Stadium home in the Bronx. DiMaggio played his entire 13-season Major League Baseball (MLB) career with the Yankees and still holds the MLB record for recording at least one hit in the most consecutive games (56 straight in 1941).

The commercial was shot during trying times in the city that draw parallels to current fallout from the novel coronavirus pandemic. In the mid-1970s, New York City was on the brink of bankruptcy. The city was further hit when United States President Gerald Ford denied the city a federal bailout, a development famously captured in an October 1975 (New York) Daily News cover headline, “FORD TO CITY: DROP DEAD.” In August 1978, Ford’s successor Jimmy Carter signed a bill that extended federal loan guarantees to the city.

“The timing was such that New York was just getting the first evidences of federal support in the form of loan guarantees, and perhaps the first realization that businesses were retuning to New York,” The Bowery senior vice president of marketing Pazel Jackson explained in 1979 to freelance journalist and New York City native Mark N. Grant.

Ad copy that echoes the The Bowery commercial appears in the campaign’s below 1978 print component. Jackson said DiMaggio made changes to the script that stayed for the commercial shoot, including a portion that does not appear in the print version.

“The part about what you would do during a slump, how you would approach overcoming it,” shared Jackson. “The words written by the writer were quite different and Joe did not feel it was a realistic expression of what a person temporarily down and out would do. He meant you would step up and keep taking full swings each time until you finally came out of it. Ironically, it was the greatest response we’ve ever had from any commercial, and it produced deposits it was not geared to.”

DiMaggio’s remark in the commercial about “the coming of war” is also not in the print ad. After his first seven seasons with the Yankees, DiMaggio did not see MLB action for three years while he served in the United States military during World War 2.

In 1979, DiMaggio told Grant about work for The Bowery, “I didn’t like the commercials I was approached to do, until The Bowery people contacted me… I felt that you couldn’t go wrong telling people to put money in a bank. Also, I think I owed it to New York.”

The 1978 spot was directed by Independent Artists’ Richard Black, who collaborated with the bank’s Manhattan-based advertising agency Ogilvy & Mather. DiMaggio had found comfort with Black, who had directed other DiMaggio commercials for both the bank and Mr. Coffee. The 1978 spot showed “a new, heightened DiMaggio as guardian angel of New York,” Grant surmised.

Bob Spero, a writer on the Ogilvy creative team, is credited with the idea of signing DiMaggio to serve as a television spokesperson for the bank.

“After a decade of war, assassinations and Watergate, people were cynical about famous people of all kinds,” Spero told Grant in 1979. “I think people felt him to be an honest, decent person. I wanted him to talk as a person, not as a banker.”

On DiMaggio’s fiscal crisis message, Spero said, “It wasn’t a transformation. It was just that 90 seconds gave him a chance to flesh out.”