this is a story of 2 of Leahy's Lads: Zeke O'Connor & Marty Wendell........and the 7 straight seasons they either faced each other as rivals or were teammates(...teammates both with & against Notre Dame by the way)
1943 Polo Grounds (Dec 13)
The first meeting between Wendell and O'Connor(as HS rivals)
Mt St Michaels Mounties of the Bronx NY vs St George Dragons of Evanston Ill.
a game billed as the High School National Championship(I have posted about this game in the past)
Chicago City Champs vs New York City Champs
40,000 in attendance(largest crowd to see a HS game in NYC)
Undefeated Mt St Michaels led by star senior end Zeke O'Connor 6'4 210..who had played as an underclassman for 2 years along side star tackle Art Donovan-taking over as his team's star after Donovan graduated & headed to Notre Dame on a football scholarship
Undefeated St George-winner of the Chicago City Championship game over Phillips(19-12), led by star QB Marty Wendell
Both coaches in this game were ND grads:
Howie Smith of Mt St Michael had been a HB on the '30 Irish squad
Max Burnell of St George had played HB on the '38 ND team(and later sent a son (Max Jr) to play for the Irish in the late '50s)
9 of the players in this contest would eventually end up at Notre Dame
St George would win a thriller 25-20, with Mt St Michaels inside the Dragons 5 yd line as the game ended.
Both Zeke O'Connor and Marty Wendell, two of the most highly recruited players in the country, would end up as teammates/classmates at Notre Dame.
O'Connor would start at end for the Irish from day one(Frosh were eligible due to WWII)
Wendell took a little longer to play as a frosh, likely because Marty was converted from HS QB to ND Fullback and Linebacker, but both played well and lettered on the 7-2-1 Irish.
Wendell and O'Connor remained teammates-but this year they were both in the Navy and playing football on the Great Lakes Naval team coached by Paul Brown.
O'Connor started at end(opposite the other end Bud Grant-future HC of the Minnesota Vikings)
Wendell was the star defensive player on the team from his LBer position
On Dec. 1 they met Notre Dame.
O'Connor would catch a td pass in the contest(ironically from another former ND player-QB George Terlep). Wendell would spent the day making tackles all over the field and shutting down the Irish offense.
Final Great Lakes 39 ND 7
This would be the last Notre Dame loss in the decade of the 1940s
Both Wendell and O'Connor were out of the Navy and back at Notre Dame.
Wendell was moved from fullback to center on offense(still playing LB too) and lettered again...having a few very strong games at LB
O'Connor backed up returning vet Jack Zilly at end and 2 frosh named Jungle Jim Martin and Leon Hart
The Irish went undefeated and won the National Championship
Wendell moved to guard this season(also still a LB too) and lettered yet again.....later billed as the first ND player to win 3 letters at 3 different positions(FB/C/G)
O'Connor was injured in the preseason, and although on the team, never played a down
The Irish went undefeated again and won their 2nd straight National Championship
The Notre Dame Old Timers game
Wendell started at guard for the varsity
O'Connor started at end for the Old Timers(now healthy after sitting out the season)
The ND 'Old Timers' upset the Varsity 20-14 (the only loss the Irish Varsity suffered between 1946 through '49...though of course it was an 'unofficial' loss).
Old Timers QB, graduating senior Johnny Lujack completed 15 of 25 passes and led the OTers to 3 long td drives. OTers end Zeke O'Connor caught 8 of Lujack's 15 completions in the upset.
Zeke O'Connor would be the 160th player selected in the '48 NFL draft-by the Rams(18th rd) -even though he hadn't play a down of football during the season....Zeke chose to play in the rival AAFC conference instead(drafted by the Buffalo Bills in the 4th rd)
Marty Wendell was drafted too in 1948 (NFL by Phil. rd 8; AAFC rd 6 Buffalo-just like O'Connor)
But Wendell decided to stay at ND for his final year of eligibility instead of going pro.
Marty Wendell would start at guard & linebacker for the undefeated '48 Irish, earn his 4th ND letter, and be named to a number of All American teams.
After that season, Frank Leahy would call Marty Wendell the best LB that he ever coached.
Now both in pro football- AAFC, the 2 rivals/teammates met for the last time-twice actually.
O'Connor started at end for the Cleveland Browns and his old Great Lakes coach Paul Brown. Wendell was a starting LB for the Chicago Hornets.
The teams played twice; with Cleveland winning both games against the Hornets (35-2 & 14-6) on their way to the AAFC championship.
This was Wendell's one and only season of pro football.
He retired and became a very successful businessman in his hometown.
Wendell was later inducted in the Chicago Sports Hall of Fame
Marty died in 2012.
Zeke O'Connor played a few more season, most notably catching the winning td pass in the 1952 Grey Cup for Toronto Argonauts.
O'Connor would become a color commentator for Canadian football and annouce every Grey Cup from 1956 through 1981
O'Connor would later meet Sir Edmund Hillary(the first man to climb Mt Everest) and form a charity that provided hospitals and schools for the people of Nepal. Zeke has been raising money now for over 40 years for this cause.
Zeke wrote a book about his travels in 2012 and still makes it back to Notre Dame regularly.