Pat Dolan is the youngest of eight children from Throop, Pennsylvania, a small town outside of Scranton. Being raised in a devout Irish Catholic family and in an Irish community in Pennsylvania, there were a lot of ND fans who influenced Pat from an early age to attend Notre Dame.
Both of his parents were widowed early in life, his father being left with three children and his mother being left with two of her own, when their parish priest intervened to introduce them and suggested that they marry each other which they did fairly soon after. They had three more children together to make eight, Pat being the baby after his younger brother Paul died as an infant. His older sisters were all nurses and paid for a lot of his clothing when he was in high school and college. Even though he was probably one of the poorest kids on the team at ND, his buddies used to borrow his clothes because his sisters had such good taste, some of which were never returned. Bob Williams (Notre Dame quarterback) showed up at their house in New Jersey years later wearing one of Pat’s shirts that he had tailored to fit his slimmer build!
After a career at Notre Dame that included the unforgettable win over Oklahoma in 1957 that broke their 47-game win streak, Dolan married his high school sweetheart Katie and pursued a career in coaching. They have one daughter, Erin Dolan, and Erin has three children: Connor ND 2012, Mary Fiona ND 2015 and Faelen who is in high school and hoping to be ND 2020.
Q: What lead you to play football at Notre Dame?
A: “Throop, Penn. was a very strong Irish Catholic community and many friends of our family and parishioners influenced me to attend Notre Dame. Not necessarily to play football, but to receive an excellent Catholic education. I was also exposed to Notre Dame football early on when they came to my high school, Scranton Technical High School, when I was a freshman to recruit one of my teammates, Bill Hollenbeck. Bill went on to become a specialist kicker at ND. After that exposure to the Fighting Irish I became much more interested in playing football there. Even though there were many top football programs who were recruiting me, the only other school that I was seriously looking at besides was the University of North Carolina.”
Q: What was the best part of playing football at Notre Dame?
A: “Just playing for Notre Dame, and traveling with the team itself was an amazing experience. We played some amazing teams, and there were some great players that I played with (too many to list Dolan says). I would not trade my time at Notre Dame for anything.”
“One of my best friends on the team was running back Dick Lynch. He went to Phillipsburg Catholic High School in Phillipsburg New Jersey, and I was familiar with the area even before I got to ND because my high school played Phillipsburg High School in football. When we got to Notre Dame Dick reached out to me being that we were from the same area and we became lifelong friends.”
“Dick was the hero in our big upset over Oklahoma in 1957. He was a defensive standout (played defensive back), but he also scored the only touchdown in that 7-0 win over the Sooners which broke their 47-game win streak. Dick went on to have a successful career in the NFL playing for the Washington Redskins and the New York Giants.”
“Our quarterback, Bob Williams, and I were also very close. He is the godfather to my daughter, Erin. There is nothing quite like the Notre Dame family. It stays with you forever.”
“I studied Physical Education at ND and played tackle for the offense and defense. Back in those days you played on both sides of the ball.”
Q: What was the media hype like leading up to the Notre Dame – Oklahoma game in 1957?
A: “The media has changed tremendously over the last 50 years, but the hype that the media placed on that Note Dame – Oklahoma match up was still quite intense. What made the story even bigger was the fact that in the previous 48 games Oklahoma only had one loss, and that one loss was at the hands of Notre Dame. And here we were headed into Norman to try and do the same thing that our 1953 counterparts had done when they upset the Sooners in their season debut by a score of 28-21.”
“Oklahoma was ranked No. 1 in the nation. Notre Dame had been 2-8 the season before in 1956 and headed into the Oklahoma game the Fighting Irish were 4-2, but were still not on anyone’s short list as being world beaters by any stretch of the imagination. So here was this nobody team from South Bend coming into Norman and we turned their world completely upside down.”
Q: Did you and your fellow teammates think you had what it took to upset Oklahoma’s apple cart?
A: “When you play for Notre Dame, you think you are capable of anything. That is what our coaches taught us. Go out there, do your best, and good things will happen. And that’s exactly how we ended up doing it.”
Q: What was it like being on the field at the end of the game and being the team that finally broke the streak?
A: “It was an incredible situation. Oklahoma was No. 1 and undefeated and no one truly expected us to come in there and pull off the upset. It was absolutely unbelievable. We were supposed to stay overnight in Norman after the game but because of the extraordinary situation they decided to fly us home for the various celebrations that were waiting for us (and to get out of Dodge before the place erupted).”
“As we were flying back to South Bend, the pilots kept announcing to us what the plan was and what was waiting for us when we got home. The towns below us kept turning their lights on and off in celebration of our big win and they even sang the fight song for us on the plane.”
“The airport was loaded with people when we arrived in South Bend, and there was a parade like atmosphere driving down the streets on our way to campus. When we arrived on campus, the students were waiting to welcome us at the circle. It was unforgettable.”
Q: Did you play professional football after your career at Notre Dame?
A: “I could have had a shot at it, but I decided to pursue a coaching career instead. My first coaching stop was at a little high school in Mt Clemens, Michigan, St. Mary’s High School. I coached the football team there for three years.”
“Then I moved to Franklin Township, New Jersey and took a job coaching the football team at Franklin Township High School. I started out coaching the football team and was eventually promoted to be their Athletic Director and stayed there until I retired in 1992.”
“In 1989 we were looking for a new head coach for the high school football team, and my old friend Dick Lynch gave me a call. He knew we were looking for someone, and knew a fellow Notre Dame alum that was looking for a job and suggested that I take a look at him. That alum was Charlie Weis, and we gave him his first head football coaching job. He coached our football team for one year and the team broke the state record for touchdowns that year as well as going to the New Jersey State Championship. Tremendous start to that young man’s career!”
Author’s note … at the end of my delightful conversation with Pat Dolan he asked me if I had ever heard of the Irish Blessing. Well, as an Irish girl, I’m sure I had but I asked to hear it from him all the same. And so I received an Irish blessing from one of Notre Dame’s greats. There truly is nothing like the Notre Dame family. God bless!
May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind always be at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
and rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.
I am so grateful that Pat Dolan was able to stop by the blog and walk down memory lane with us. Stay tuned, next up on “Where are they now?” is Notre Dame linebacker, Devon McDonald.