Notre Dame Football
Notre Dame Fighting Irish Football
Notre Dame Football is the most famous college football team in American sports. Notre Dame was the premier football program in college football for much of the 20th century.
The Fighting Irish of Notre Dame are still the only college football program to ever have an exclusive rights television contract with a major tv network, NBC.
For the past 18 years (since 1991), Notre Dame has had every home football game broadcast on NBC, and Notre Dame still has the record for the most consecutive games telecast.
That kind of national coverage is a sign of the unparalleled tradition that Notre Dame’s football team has had. No college program has had more legendary coaches: Knute Rockne, Frank Leahy, Ara Parseghian, Dan Devine and Lou Holtz. Between these coaches’ stints with the Irish, comprising 52 seasons of first class college football, Notre Dame Football has claimed 11 national titles.
Notre Dame Football Players
When you win 11 college football national titles, you’re going to have a lot of famous football players on your squad over the years. The list of legendary college football players who have gone to school at the Golden Dome is seemingly endless, from their Four Horsemen Backfield to their 7 Heisman Trophy Winners to iconic Notre Dame Fighting Irish players like Joe Montana and Joe Theismann.
Following is a list of Heisman Trophy winners who attended the University of Notre Dame
- Tim Brown, Heisman Trophy Winner in 1987
- John Huarte, Heisman Trophy Winner in 1964
- Paul Hornung, Heisman Trophy Winner in 1956
- Johnny Lattner, Heisman Trophy Winner in 1953
- Leon Hart, Heisman Trophy Winner in 1949
- Johnny Lujack, Heisman Trophy Winner in 1947
- Angelo Bertelli, Heisman Trophy Winner in 1943
As you can see, Notre Dame has gone 45 years with only one Heisman Trophy winner, which is a sign of the fading results over the decades of the football program, despite several national titles since that time. Theismann even changed the pronunciation of his name from [thise-man] to [thees-man] to rhyme with Heisman, hoping to tout himself in the running for that trophy. Unfortunately, that didn’t help Joe win the award.
Notre Dame Football – Knute Rockne
Notre Dame became a football power when Knute Rockne became head coach in 1918. From that time until Rockne’s death in a plane crash in 1930, Notre Dame won 105 games to only 12 losses and won 6 national championships. This stretch included 5 undefeated seasons, including 1919, 1920, 1924, 1929 and 1930. There’s no telling how many more national championships would have come had Knute Rockne died tragically in his mid-40′s.
During these years, famous events including George Gipp, aka The Gipper, who died of strep throat in 1920, but was immortalized by Ronald Reagan in 1940 when Reagan portrayed the Gipp in the movie Knute Rockne All American, where he delivered the (apparently true) immortal line, “Win One For the Gipper”. Gipp apparently asked Knute Rockne to ask his team to win a game for him sometime when they were “up against it”, which Knute Rockne did as an underdog in a 1928 game against unbeaten Army.
From 1922 to 1924 Notre Dame Football featured the Four Horsemen of Football, a backfield consisting of Harry Stuhldreher (QB), Jim Crowley (HB), Don Miller (HB) and Elmer Layden (FB). These players played 30 games on the Notre Dame varsity squad and only lost to one team, Nebraska, in 1922 and 1923.
In 1924, the Four Horsemen achieved lasting immortality (and their name, given to them by a New York City journalist) by upsetting an Army squad, then defeating Stanford in the Rose Bowl to go undefeated and win the national title.
The Four Horseman actually had a reunion in 1930, when Notre Dame fielded an all-star team against the NFL’s New York Giants. The game was a charity event to help the homeless of New York City in the early days of the Great Depression and the Fighting Irish were a favorite to defeat the upstart pro squad, as college football was the bigger sport at the time.
Instead, the New York Giants easily defeated the Fighting Irish, prompting Knute Rockne to say the Giants were the best football squad he had ever seen and his guys were lucky to avoid getting hurt. The game conferred credibility on the NFL and professional football.
Unfortunately, this was the swan song for Rockne. Months later, Knute Rockne would be dead in a plane crash.
Notre Dame Football – Frank Leahy
After 10 years of frustration following Rockne’s death, Notre Dame hired Frank Leahy, a former Knute Rockne Irishman player. Frank Leahy has the highest winning percentage of any coach in college football history. Leahy led his Notre Dame football teams to 6 undefeated seasons, 4 national titles and 87 wins from 1941 to 1953, though he did not coach the team in 1944 and 1945, when Leahy served in the U.S. Navy during World War II.
This era also saw four Heisman Trophy winners from Notre Dame Football (1943, 1947, 1949 and 1953). Leahy’s national championships came in 1943, 1946, 1947 and 1949. After four years with no titles, Frank Leahy left Notre Dame after 1953. At the time, he was said to have left for health reasons, though he later admitted it was because he felt the school no longer wanted him.
Notre Dame Football – Ara Parseghian
Ara Parseghian came to Notre Dame ten years after Leahy retired, coming in after a decade that saw a downturn in the Irish’s fortunes. The Parseghian Era saw the Notre Dame Fighting Irish come into the modern era of college football, as Notre Dame football lifted its 40-year ban on entering college bowl games. In the 1969 season, Notre Dame played the #1 Texas Longhorns in a classic Cotton Bowl matchup, losing in the final minutes.
1971 saw the first African-American quarterback start a game for Notre Dame football, as Cliff Brown started for Parseghian. During the 1964 to 1974, Ara Parseghian led the Irish to 2 national titles, 2 undefeated seasons and five bowl appearances. Parseghian retired due to medical reasons after the 1974 season, being one of only three Notre Dame coaches to finish their career with over an .800 winning record.
Notre Dame Football – Dan Devine
Dan Devine came into Notre Dame as a highly-successful college football coach. In his six seasons, Devine won a national title and 3 bowl games and Dan Devine had 53 wins and 16 losses. After a 5-2 start to Devine’s first season replacing Ara Parseghian, fans began to lobby for Devine to be fired.
Even in his 1977 national championship season, fans booed Devine’s reign as Notre Dame head coach. He would eventually leave after only six years with the program.
The Dan Devine Era saw a couple of notable other events. One, Joe Montana was the Fighting Irish’s quarterback during several of these years, though Montana missed the 1976 season with a separated shoulder. Montana led the team to 9 straight wins to end the 1977 season, including a victory over the #1 Texas Longhorns and that year’s Heisman Trophy winner Earl Campbell in the 1978 Cotton Bowl.
Also, the 1976 season under Dan Devine saw the appearance of Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger in a Notre Dame game. This storyline would later be depicted in the movie “Rudy” in 1991, where Dan Devine was wrongly depicted as the heavy.
Notre Dame Football – Lou Holtz
After five mediocre seasons under former high school coach Gerry Faust, the Irish hired Lou Holtz in 1986. Lou Holtz would reestablish Notre Dame as a national power and win an NCAA Championship, adding 100 total wins in his seasons with the Fighting Irish.
Lou Holtz coached Heisman Trophy winner Tim Brown in 1981, led his team to a big upset victory over Jimmy Johnson’s #1 ranked Miami Hurricanes and eventually won the national title in 1988 and established the latest golden age of Notre Dame football.
It was during these years that Notre Dame became so marketable that they signed their tv contract with NBC. Lou Holtz would leave the program in 1996.
Later Coaches of Notre Dame Football
After Lou Holtz left Notre Dame, the team has struggled to retain its elite status. Bob Davie, Tyrone Willingham and Charlie Weis have had largely failed lengths of service as head coach (by ND standards) of Notre Dame football. Several factors have held back this elite college football program in the 21st century.
Notre Dame, a private Catholic institution which has always had higher enrollment standards than most college football powers, has had trouble recruiting the best talent. Schools in the (largely) better climates of the SEC, Big 12 and Pac-10 conferences tend to win recruiting wars, while Notre Dame, which is located in South Bend, Indiana, has to contend with long winters. Universities in the same region, like Ohio State, have continued to recruit well.
Also, the television contract might be a detriment to Notre Dame recruiting, because kids are probably more likely to watch ABC or CBS on Saturdays to see big conference contenders play than flip over to NBC to watch Notre Dame football games.
Perhaps the lack of a home conference also hurts the Notre Dame hype, since the Fighting Irish are about the last major independent college football program without a conference.
That being said, Notre Dame is still considered the most prestigious college football program there is. College bowl games often invite Notre Dame to participate in their bowl games over teams with better records, because of the overall prestige of having the Fighting Irish in your bowl and because of the large following of fans Notre Dame football has.
The Fighting Irish are kind of the official college football team of all American Catholics (at least those who are football fans). In fact, many football experts compare Notre Dame’s status in college football to that of the New York Yankees in Major League Baseball and that of the Dallas Cowboys in the NFL.
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