Remembering 1954 Notre Dame Fighting Irish Football Co-Captain Dan Shannon.
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Remembering Notre Dame’s Dan Shannon

Knute Rockne stated, “It isn’t necessary to see a good tackle, you can hear it.”

Never was that more true than on Nov. 8, 1952, when No. 10 Notre Dame defeated unbeaten and No. 4 Oklahoma, 27-21. Old-timers and college football historians still consider that contest — the first Notre Dame game to be nationally televised — one of the five best-played /memorable victories in Notre Dame Stadium’s 90-year history, joining the likes of 1973 USC, 1980 Michigan, 1988 Miami and 1993 Florida State.

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Head coach Terry Brennan (second from left) with 1954 All-Americans Frank Varrichione (left), Dan Shannon (second to right) and Ralph Guglielmi (right)
Head coach Terry Brennan (second from left) with 1954 All-Americans Frank Varrichione (left), Dan Shannon (second to right) and Ralph Guglielmi (right). (Fighting Irish Media)

A primary reason was Notre Dame sophomore Dan Shannon’s thundering hit on Oklahoma’s Larry Grigg that set up the game-winning Irish touchdown in the fourth quarter.

Shannon, a former Notre Dame All-American, 1954 co-captain and president of the Monogram Club, passed away this week at age 86. On the 125th anniversary of Fighting Irish football in 2012, ranked Shannon’s hit No. 24 on its list of greatest, timeless and most memorable plays in the program’s annals.

The feature attractions were Oklahoma’s Billy Vessels and Notre Dame’s John Lattner, the respective Heisman and Maxwell Award winners that year. Lattner also would succeed Vessels in 1953 with his own Heisman.

In this game telecast throughout the country, Vessels all but clinched the Heisman, carrying 17 times for 195 yards — and staking the Sooners to 7-0, 14-7 and 21-14 leads with a 20-yard touchdown reception and scoring jaunts from 62 and 47 yards. He also intercepted a pass.

Meanwhile, Lattner ran for 98 yards, caught two passes for 46 more, punted nine times and returned an interception 23 yards to the Oklahoma seven that helped knot the score at 14-14.

But the play of the game occurred early in the fourth quarter, after Notre Dame evened the score at 21. On the ensuing kickoff, linebacker Shannon raced full speed at return man Grigg, who built up his own head of steam. The sound of its impact, leather helmets and all, reverberated through the stadium.

It left Shannon unconscious and Grigg so flattened that he had to be carried off the field. The impact threw Grigg into a half-loop, knocked the ball into the air and was recovered by Notre Dame’s Al Kohanowich at the Oklahoma 22. Three plays later, quarterback Tom Carey snuck into the end zone and the Irish defense hung on through the final 12 minutes to snap the Sooners’ 13-game winning streak.

Remarkably, Shannon returned to the game, but he played purely on instinct.

“To tell you the truth, I don’t remember anything,” Shannon told Blue & Gold Illustrated in a 2000 interview. “When they revived me, I could see straight ahead but had no peripheral vision at all when I went back into the game. When it was over, I think it was [fullback] Tom McHugh who asked me how I was, and I asked him, ‘Who won?’”

The game-changing play made such an indelible impression on the Notre Dame student body, it would chant “Here comes Shannon! Here comes Shannon!” on every Irish kickoff the rest of his career.

During Shannon’s four seasons from 1951-54, Notre Dame was 32-5-3 and finished in the Associated Press poll’s top four each of his last three years.

As a 1951 freshman when he was eligible because of the Korean War, he recovered a team high four fumbles.

The next year Notre Dame defeated four conference champions or co-champs (Texas, Purdue, USC and Oklahoma) in which Shannon recovered three more fumbles and intercepted two passes.

In head coach Frank Leahy’s final season (1953) in which the Irish were 9-0-1 and finished No. 2, Shannon caught late touchdown passes in each half, the latter with six seconds left in the contest for the controversial 14-14 tie with No. 20 Iowa.

As a 1954 co-captain under first-year head coach Terry Brennan — whom he also played for at Chicago’s Mount Carmel High — Shannon joined quarterback Ralph Guglielmi and lineman Frank Varrichione as the three All-Americans on that 9-1 team, earning second-team notice from Sporting News.

Shannon was drafted by the local Chicago Bears (63rd overall pick) but went into the armed forces and played two years for Bolling Air Force Base in Washington, D.C. He went into private business in the Chicago area when his service commitment was finished.

Shannon’s son Gerard and grandson John followed in Dan’s footsteps and suited up for the Irish football squad. Gerard was a cornerback in the 1980s, while John graduated in 2020 after winning the Patrick Mannelly Award, recognizing the nation’s top long-snapper, in 2019.

During his tenure in Monogram Club leadership, including his time as president from 1995-97, Shannon aided efforts to further participate in awards for student-athletes, as well as make changes to Heritage Hall, located on the second floor of the Joyce Center and home to hundreds of photos, trophies and other pieces of memorabilia dating back to the beginning of Notre Dame athletics. It also houses the Ring of Names, which features the name of every individual who has earned a monogram at Notre Dame.

Also during Shannon's leadership tenure, the first women joined the Monogram Club Board as part of a concerted effort to represent the student-athlete population.

Survivors include his wife of 65 years, Kathryn “Kitty” Shannon, four children, 10 grandchildren, and a sister.


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