Feb 23, 2014, 4:49 PM EST
Craig Chval, the official 2013 football beat writer for the Strong & True blog, is currently a junior at the University of Notre Dame. Over the course of the year Craig will bring you insight from within the student section, interviews with Fighting Irish players and previews of each game. You can follow Craig (and the rest of the Notre Dame student beat writing staff) on twitter at @JrNDBloggers.
And finally here we are in the top 10. At this point rankings pretty much stop mattering. Many of these are very different players, competing anywhere from the 1910s to the 2010s. They all left an indelible mark on the program and are household names among even the most casual Irish fans.
One more edition after this. There are still four Heisman winners we haven’t gotten to yet, so the last five are easy to guess. But what’s the order and who’s No. 1?
#10: Manti Te’o – Linebacker – 2009-2012
Unanimous All-American (2012), 2x 2nd-team All-American (2010, 2011), 2nd in Heisman (2012), Maxwell Award (2012), Walter Camp Award (2012), Bednarik Award (2012), Nagurski Trophy (2012), Butkus Award (2012), Lombardi Award (2012), Lott Trophy (2012)
2010: 133 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 3 pass break ups, 1 forced fumble
2011: 128 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss, 5 sacks, 2 pass break ups, 1 forced fumble
2012: 113 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, 4 pass break ups, 2 fumble recoveries, 7 interceptions
Manti Te’o is a curious player to rank, and for more reasons than just his huge jump from 2011 to 2012. He was only an All-American in his senior year, but what a season it was – I’m sure I don’t have to remind you. He became the most decorated player in college football history (the recent proliferation of awards helped), and his second-place Heisman finish is the highest ever for a purely defensive player.
He won various awards in 2012 that declared him to be the best linebacker, best defensive player, and best overall player in the country. He is third in career tackles for the Irish with 437 (behind Crable and Golic), and his seven interceptions in 2012 are the most in a season by a linebacker.
But what sets Te’o apart are his qualities that supersede the stat sheet. Of course, he wasn’t the only player to graduate after 2012, but the defense went from allowing 12.8 points per game in 2012 to 22.4 the following year. I think much of the discrepancy has to do with Te’o’s talent, but also his unparalleled leadership. I’m not sure you can name another single defensive player who carried a team like Te’o carried that 2012 team.
Finally, I think Te’o’s place in Notre Dame history factors heavily in his ranking, whether fairly or not. Most of the top players on this list came at high points for the program. Would Notre Dame football look very different today if John Lattner or Angelo Bertelli had not played for the Irish? Perhaps, but if Notre Dame wins a national championship in the next five years, history will remember Te’o as the player who brought the program back.
Some other players can claim similar status – Tim Brown in ’87 or John Huarte in ’64. But the 1994-2011 stretch of Irish history is unparalleled in its futility, even compared to ’54-’63. If that dark period truly is over, Te’o might have been the turning point.
#9: Ross Browner – Defensive End – 1973-1977
2x Unanimous All-American (1976, 1977), 5th in Heisman (1977), Maxwell Award (1977), Lombardi Award (1977), 2x UPI Lineman of the Year (1976, 1977), Outland Trophy (1976), 2x National Champion (1973, 1977)
1976: 97 tackles, 28 tackles for loss, 7 pass break ups, 4 fumble recoveries, 1 block
1977: 104 tackles, 18 tackles for loss, 5 fumble recoveries
The best purely defensive player in school history, Ross Browner doesn’t just own several Notre Dame records – he dominates them. 340 career tackles for a defensive lineman (Steve Niehaus is next with 290), 28 tackles for loss in a season (Anthony Weaver has 21), 77 tackles for loss in a career (Kory Minor has 44.5), and 515 yards lost from tackles in a career (Walt Patulski has 264).
Oh, and he has 203 yards lost from tackles in a season in 1976, far ahead of the second-place player with 130 – Ross Browner in 1977.
He’s the only defensive end ever to win the Outland Trophy, and the only ever two-time winner of the UPI Lineman of the Year Award. Oh, and he won the Maxwell Award for best player of the year in 1977, along with the Lombardi Award for best lineman/linebacker.
A starter on both the ’73 and ‘77 championship teams, Browner accumulated a 39-7 record during his time at Notre Dame. He and Luther Bradley are the only two players to start on two title teams since the ’40, and he was a captain in ’77 along with Terry Eurick and Willie Fry.
Inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1999, Browner was a first-round selection in the 1978 NFL Draft by the Bengals, where he set a Super Bowl record for tackles by a defensive lineman.
#8: Paul Hornung – Quarterback / Halfback / Fullback – 1954-1956
2x 1st- team All-American (1955, 1956), Consensus All-American (1955), Heisman Trophy (1956), 5th in Heisman (1955)
1955: 46 completions on 103 attempts for 743 yards, 92 carries for 472 yards, 6 kickoff returns for 109 yards, 15 total TDs, 10 INTs; 5 defensive interceptions, 2 fumble recoveries; 5 PATs, 2 FGs
1956: 59 completions on 111 attempts for 917 yards, 94 carries for 420 yards, 16 kickoff returns for 496 yards, 10 total touchdowns, 13 INTs, 2 defensive interceptions, 55 tackles, 7 pass breakups; 14 PATs, 33 punts for 1,242 yards
The most versatile player in Notre Dame history, the “Golden Boy” made an impact wherever he was on the field. In 1956, he won the Heisman after leading his team in passing, rushing, scoring, kickoff returns, punt returns, pass breakups, PATs, and punting. He was second on the team in tackles and interceptions. Perhaps such dominance is why he remains the only Heisman winner to post a losing record (2-8).
By virtue of being a tremendous athlete, Hornung was able to contribute everywhere for Notre Dame, whether that was making a block, a tackle, or a pass. Though he played multiple positions, he was selected as a consensus All-American at halfback in 1935, and then made the first-team as a quarterback the next year.
Hornung is one of five Irish players to make both Halls of Fame, inducted as a college player in 1985 and as a pro in 1986. His NFL career was as spectacular as his college one. A four-time NFL Champion and winner of Super Bowl I, he was two-time All-Pro and the 1961 NFL MVP.
Honestly, I felt a little bad at first “only” putting the Golden Boy at eighth. My reasoning was this: he never won a national championship, and he had one of the worst records for a starting quarterback in Notre Dame history. I’m not taking anything away from him – a team is certainly more than just the quarterback – but I couldn’t put him ahead of any of the next seven guys.
#7: Raghib Ismail – Flanker – 1988-1990
2x 1st-team All-American (1989, 1990), Unanimous All-American (1990), 2nd in Heisman (1990), 10th in Heisman (1989), Walter Camp Award (1990), National Champion (1988)
1989: 27 receptions for 535 yards, 64 carries for 478 yards, 2 TDs, 20 kickoff returns for 502 yards, 2 TDs, 7 punt returns for 113 yards, TD
1990: 32 receptions for 699 yards, 2 TDs, 67 carries for 537 yards, 3 TDs, 14 kickoff returns for 336 yards, TD, 13 punt returns for 151 yards
Robbed of the Heisman in 1990 by Ty Detmer and his 412 interceptions*, “Rocket” Ismail was one of the most electrifying players ever to play the game of football. He started at flanker all three years at Notre Dame, including as a freshman on the national championship team.
Arguably Notre Dame’s best-ever return man, Rocket returned two kickoffs for touchdowns in a game on two separate occasions – once against Michigan in 1989. In that game he had 192 kick return yards on just three returns. His five career kickoff return touchdowns are an Irish record.
But his return game was just the tip of the iceberg. He led the team in receiving and averaged 8.0 yards per carry on his 67 rushes. He scored from catches, rushes, kick returns, and punt returns.
Also a track star for the Irish, Ismail left Notre Dame after his junior year and signed an unprecedented contract with the CFL Toronto Argonauts, forgoing a possible first overall selection in the NFL. Had he stayed for his final year at Notre Dame, it’s not hard to imagine how far up this list he’d be.
*OK, fine, it was 28
I guess because getting robbed is a theme of Rocket’s career, here’s a video of his punt return touchdown against Colorado in the 1991 Orange Bowl that got called back for a questionable clipping call.
And a couple more videos…
#6: Tim Brown – Flanker – 1984-1987
2x 1st-team All-American (1986, 1987), Unanimous All-American (1987), Heisman Trophy (1987), Walter Camp Award (1987)
1986: 45 receptions for 910 yards, 5 TDs, 59 carries for 254 yards, 2 TDs, 25 kickoff returns for 698 yards, 2 TDs, 2 punt returns for 75 yards
1987: 39 receptions for 846 yards, 3 TDs, 34 carries for 144 yards, TD, 23 kickoff returns for 456 yards, 34 punt returns for 401 yards, 3 TDs
The first wide receiver ever to win the Heisman, Tim Brown had an impact so evident that he was the decided best player in college football at a position that rarely gets so recognized. Also the winner of the Walter Camp Award for best college player, Brown remains the only Notre Dame player to win both awards.
An tremendous returner and dangerous threat in both the passing and running game, he broke all sorts of records in his time at Notre Dame. His 1986 season remains the highest for all-purpose yards with 1,937 – and he only returned two punts that year. His Heisman-winning season of 1987 is third on the list behind Golden Tate’s 2009.
In the Notre Dame stats archives, there is a sheet for each season that lists team statistics, individual rushing, individual passing, etc. On the 1987 sheet, there is a section titled, “Tim Brown’s All-Purpose Yardage.”
A 2009 inductee of the College Football Hall of Fame, Brown will surely become the sixth Notre Dame player to be a member of both Halls once the NFL finally lets him in. He was a nine-time Pro-Bowler with the Raiders and owns several NFL records.
Some Tim Brown videos:
6. Tim Brown
7. Raghib Ismail
8. Paul Hornung
9. Ross Browner
10. Manti Te’o
12. Frank Carideo
13. Ken MacAfee
14. Chris Zorich
15. Terry Hanratty
17. Emil Sitko
18. Aaron Taylor
19. Marchy Schwartz
20. Bob Crable
22. Bill Fischer
23. Michael Stonebreaker
24. Jim Lynch
25. Ed Beinor
27. Luther Bradley
28. Bob Williams
29. Bob Golic
30. Ralph Guglielmi
32. Jeff Samardzija
33. Mike McCoy
34. Walt Patulski
35. Brady Quinn
37. Joe Kurth
38. Elmer Layden
39. Monty Stickles
40. Bob Dove
42. Jim Crowley
43. Golden Tate
44. Tom Gatewood
45. Jim Seymour
47. Al Ecuyer
48. Bobby Taylor
49. Clarence Ellis
50. Creighton Miller
52. Alan Page
53. Vagas Ferguson
54. Jack Snow
55. Greg Marx
57. Tom Regner
58. Tony Rice
59. Gus Dorais
60. Jim White
62. Shane Walton
63. Tom Clements
64. John Scully
65. Kevin Hardy
67. Mike Townsend
68. Jim Kelly
69. Jack Cannon
70. Pat Filley
72. Christie Flanagan
73. Dave Casper
74. Dave Huffman
75. George Kunz
77. Tommy Yarr
78. Pete Demmerle
79. Nick Rassas
80. John Yonakor
82. Wayne Millner
83. John Smith
84. Dick Arrington
85. Art Boeringer
87. Jeff Burris
88. Mirko Jurkovic
89. Nick Pietrosante
90. Gerry DiNardo
92. Frank Rydzewski
93. Eddie Anderson
94. Jack Robinson
95. Chuck Sweeney
97. Reggie Brooks
98. Bob Kelly
99. Ziggy Czarobski
100. Frank Dancewicz
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