Men’s Basketball: On New Year’s Eve in 1935, Northwestern and Notre Dame tied


Source: Northwestern Archives

The 1935-36 Northwestern men’s basketball team pose for a team photo. The team played Notre Dame on Dec. 31, 1935 and tied 20-20.

Peter Warren, Print Managing Editor

Men’s Basketball

In college athletics, the period surrounding New Year’s is typically known as a time for college football. But during the Great Depression, the Midwest was treated almost every year to a special New Year’s Eve rivalry basketball game.

Starting in 1929, Northwestern and Notre Dame starting playing one of their two yearly contests on New Year’s Eve. The holiday game, called the “high spot of the holiday season in basketball circles” by the Chicago Tribune, became a tradition for the two rivals known for engaging in hard-fought battles on the hardwood. They played nine times between 1929 and 1941. Patten Gymnasium — the Wildcats always hosted the contest — drew capacity crowds, with many of the fans dressed to the nines to celebrate the forthcoming New Year.

“The annual series between Notre Dame and Northwestern has developed into one of the best rivalries in the central states,” Chicago Tribune reporter Wilfrid Smith wrote in 1932. “Year in and year out the teams stage a slam bang battle which keeps the crowd in an uproar.”

These New Year’s Eve matchups featured many memorable games — only two of the games had a final margin of victory greater than five points — but none compares historically to the clash on Dec. 31, 1935, which featured the rarest result in the sport.

While the action on the court was exciting, the true drama did not occur until after the final buzzer. When the game concluded, the scoreboard read 20-19 in favor of NU, as did the scorebooks of each team’s student managers. The two teams shook hands and headed to the showers with the Cats thinking they had avenged their 40-29 loss two weeks prior and the Fighting Irish believing they would enter 1936 on a two-game losing streak.

But the reporters in the stands were shocked — every one of them had the score tied at 20-20. The discrepancy was in the number of free throws made by Notre Dame’s Raymond Meyer. The student managers had him at one made free throw. The sportswriters had him making two.

By the time this inconsistency was brought to the attention of both teams, players were either in the showers or dressed to leave. The two referees refused to make a decision, and a small investigation was held to decide the true final score. The next day, NU Athletic Director Tug Wilson announced the game would be accepted by NU as a draw.

“The game was obviously a tie,” Notre Dame’s Hall of Fame coach George Keogan said after the game. “The thing to do is to play it over. Notre Dame is willing to play Northwestern at any place at any time.”

NU would finish the year strong with a 13-6-1 record and 7-5 conference mark that placed it third in the Western Conference, which is now the Big Ten.

The Notre Dame game was never rescheduled. Wilson said the Cats could not add another game to their schedule because they were already at the maximum amount allowed by the conference.

“Just call the game a tie, and mark it down as another manifestation of the intense rivalry between Notre Dame and Northwestern,” Wilson said.

Notre Dame, led by National Player of the Year Johnny Moir and All-American Paul Nowak, tore through the rest of its schedule. It defeated powerhouses NYU and Kentucky and only lost one game the rest of the way to finish with a 22-2-1 record. The 22 wins was a record at the time, and the Fighting Irish would be retroactively awarded the Helms Foundation National Championship for the season.

They are the only college basketball national champions to ever tie a game.

According to NCAA’s 2019-20 record book, 31 current Division I teams have tied a game. And according to research done by The Daily, the most recent tie featuring a Division I basketball team was on Feb. 15, 1949 when Saint Francis (PA) drew Division III Juniata 62-62.

But it appears the last time two Division I teams battled to a stalemate was that fateful New Year’s Eve in 1935.

The Cats and Notre Dame stopped playing on New Year’s Eve in 1941, before they played five more times on the holiday between 1952 and 1960. In those games, the Fighting Irish won eight and NU won five — plus the tie.

Whenever the two rang in the New Year, basketballs fell through the hoops like balloons from the ceilings. But the result on Dec. 31, 1935 provided the most fireworks.

“No conference basketball series has grown to such proportion of interest in midwestern territory as that between Northwestern and Notre Dame,” Smith wrote in The Tribune. “(The 1935) game is another chapter in the series.”

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