No other football program wakes up the echoes among college football fans like Notre Dame. Some love the Fighting Irish; some love to hate them. But it’s hard to be neutral about the “golden domers,” especially when your team is playing them, as LSU does Tuesday in the Music City Bowl (2 p.m., ESPN). The history of Notre Dame football is in many respects the history of the game itself, indelible and inseparable. Here’s a look at some of the famous features of Notre Dame football:
The Four Horsemen
“Outlined against a blue, gray October sky, the Four Horsemen rode again ...”
It’s the most famous opening line in sportswriting history, penned 90 years ago by the legendary Grantland Rice as he covered Notre Dame’s 13-7 victory over Army at New York’s Polo Grounds on Oct. 18, 1924. The Four Horsemen were Notre Dame’s Harry Stuhldreher (quarterback), Don Miller (halfback), Jim Crowley (halfback) and Elmer Layden (fullback), who later coached the Irish from 1934-40. They were the centerpieces of Notre Dame’s unbeaten national championship team that season, still perhaps the most famous four players on one college football team ever.
George Gipp was Notre Dame’s first All-American. He contracted strep throat during a game Nov. 20, 1920, against Northwestern and died Dec. 14. Legend has it that on his deathbed he asked Rockne to tell the team to “win just one for the Gipper.” There are questions as to whether Rockne was even at Gipp’s side as he died, or that he possibly invented the story. Either way, eight years later Rockne took an injury-riddled team to Yankee Stadium to play unbeaten Army and told his players, “The day before he died, George Gipp asked me to wait until the situation seemed hopeless, then ask a Notre Dame team to go out and beat Army for him. This is the day, and you are the team.” The Irish won 12-6. In 1940, future President Ronald Reagan, in his most famous role, played Gipp in the movie, “Knute Rockne, All-American.”
Knute Rockne was the father of Notre Dame’s football legacy. He went 102-12-5 from 1918-30 with three national titles, his win total and .881 winning percentage still unsurpassed. Lou Holtz decided he couldn’t bear to beat Rockne’s win total, stepping down in 1996 after 11 seasons and 100 wins. Rockne was more than a coach. While playing for Notre Dame, he boxed semi-pro, wrote for the school newspaper and yearbook, played the flute in the school orchestra, had roles in every major campus play and even reached the finals of the school marbles tournament. While coach, Rockne also served as Notre Dame’s athletic director, wrote three books and a weekly column, opened a brokerage firm and was the principal designer of Notre Dame Stadium. He died March 31, 1931, in a plane crash near Bazaar, Kansas. After his death, children at the Sacred Heart School in Hilbigville, Texas, voted to rename their community Rockne.
The most famous walk-on ever, Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger was all of 5-foot-6 and 185 pounds when he finally made it onto the field for the final two plays against Georgia Tech on Nov. 8, 1975. His story was made into a movie in 1993, with Sean Astin (“Lord of the Rings,” “Memphis Belle”) in the title role. As the movie depicts, Rudy did actually sack Georgia Tech’s quarterback — coincidentally named Rudy Allen — on the game’s final play. But the movie scene in which Irish players lay their jerseys on coach Dan Devine’s desk to get him to play is pure Hollywood fiction. Former LSU coach Gerry DiNardo, an All-American guard at Notre Dame, was Ruettiger’s teammate. Today the 66-year-old Ruettiger is a motivational speaker and lives in Las Vegas.
Though Notre Dame has only had one Heisman Trophy winner in the last 50 years — Tim Brown in 1987 — the Irish still are tied with Ohio State and Southern California for the most Heisman winners with seven. Its other Heisman winners include Angelo Bertelli (1943), John Lujack (1947), Leon Hart (1949), John Lattner (1953), Paul Hornung (1956) and John Huarte (1964).
Best fight song ever?
LSU fans will say nothing beats the first four notes of “Hold That Tiger,” and a certain LSU coach/former Michigan guard probably knows all the words to his alma mater’s fight song, “The Victors.” But Notre Dame’s fight song may be the most recognizable of them all. The famous chorus goes like this:
Cheer, cheer for old Notre Dame,
Wake up the echoes cheering her name,
Send a volley cheer on high,
Shake down the thunder from the sky.
What though the odds be great or small
Old Notre Dame will win over all,
While her loyal sons are marching
Onward to victory.