Nov 13, 2013, 1:09 PM EDT
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.
My countdown of the top 100 Notre Dame players of all time continues today with #91-95.
When people think of the best players on a team (or over 126 years of a program), their first thoughts naturally go to the skill players. Fast, flashy guys like Tim Brown and Raghib Ismail, or poised, game-changing quarterbacks like Johnny Lujack and Paul Hornung.
Today is all about the guys on the line. Sure, many of them get exposure (see #91), but it’s easy to overlook the centers, guards, tackles, and ends that grind out victories. Here are some of the best in Notre Dame history.
#95: Chuck Sweeney – End – 1935-1937
Consensus All-American (1937)
Chuck Sweeney was so good that in 1937 he took captain Joe Zwers’ starting spot at right end, becoming one of the best players on the 6-2-1 team that finished 9th in the AP poll. But he wasn’t just better than Zwers – in his only year starting, he solidified himself as the best right end in the country, earning consensus All-American honors.
On the defensive side, Sweeney had several crucial blocked punts, including one that forced a safety against Navy for a 9-7 win. He also blocked a Minnesota extra-point to preserve a 7-6 victory. In the team’s 7-0 defeat of Northwestern, Sweeney had the only touchdown (on his blocked punt) and forced three turnovers.
His sophomore year, Sweeney also played on the basketball team that went 22-2-1.
#94: Jack Robinson – Center – 1932, 1934
Consensus All-American (1934)
While I’m not sure he would have called it fortunate, Jack Robinson might have been lucky the season he had to miss was 1933 – the first losing one for the Irish since 1888. Robinson played his whole career with eye troubles that were so severe that he was sidelined for that entire campaign.
However, he made his two years on the team count. Somehow with bad eyes, he intercepted five passes in 1934, becoming Notre Dame’s only player to appear on an All-America team during that season.
Although Robinson helped bring the Irish from 3-5-1 in ’33 to 6-3 in ’34, his senior team would be the last one to lose at least three games until 1950. After Robinson graduated, Notre Dame went 116-17-9 from 1935 to 1949. Hey, maybe he helped the team turn the corner.
#93: Eddie Anderson – End – 1918-1921
Consensus All-American (1921)
While we’ve had several military veterans already on this list, I think Eddie Anderson is the first doctor (and yet another veteran). After graduating from Notre Dame, Anderson went on to coach college football for 39 years – while also practicing as a physician.
His college career was just as impressive, though, as he captained Rockne’s 1921 squad and led the team in receptions in both his junior and senior seasons. Over Anderson’s last three years, the Irish went 28-1. The official NCAA record books list Princeton, California, and Notre Dame as national champions in 1920, Anderson’s undefeated junior season. Of course, since it is not a consensus title, Notre Dame does not claim a championship.
#92: Frank Rydzewski – Center – 1915-1917
Consensus All-American (1917)
One of only two players in these rankings to come before Rockne’s head coaching days, Frank Rydzewski was just the second consensus All-American in Notre Dame history. As a two-year starter for Jesse Harper, his teams went 14-2-1 over that period in the final seasons before Rockne’s promotion to head coach.
During his final year, Rydzewski blocked for a certain freshman halfback named George Gipp, who might be making an appearance later on in the rankings. After graduation, he went on to have a seven-year career in the NFL, playing for such teams as the Chicago Tigers and Milwaukee Badgers.
#91: Tyler Eifert – Tight End – 2009-2012
1st-team All-American (2011), 2nd-team All-American (2012), Mackey Award (2012)
2011: 67 receptions for 803 yards, 5 TDs
2012: 50 receptions for 685 yards, 4 TDs
Looking at Eifert’s numbers, it seems really hard not to place him higher. He broke Ken MacAfee’s single-season reception and receiving yards record, and MacAfee was the greatest tight end in modern Notre Dame history.
But like I’ve said, it’s too hard to compare numbers across eras. I’d argue MacAfee’s production in the late ‘70s is much more impressive since Eifert lives in the best time for receiving tight ends. Such is life.
But obviously Eifert’s career was extremely, extremely impressive. He followed the “Tight End U” line of Fasano, Carlson, and Rudolph and outshone them all. It speaks to how many amazing Notre Dame players there have been over the years that he is only #91.
Eifert burst onto the scene when Kyle Rudolph went down for the season in 2010. The then-sophomore started the final eight games, collecting 27 catches for 352 yards and two touchdowns. It was a harbinger for his final two years for the Irish, which included his record-breaking junior year and Mackey Award-winning final campaign.
His great hands and ability to line up wide made him a matchup nightmare for defenses, and he was always a favorite target for Tommy Rees and Everett Golson. I said earlier I could only fit five players who were not Heisman finalists or consensus/two-time All-Americans. Trust me, Eifert’s status was never in question.
During the bye week, I’ll hopefully get these up with a little more frequency, so stay tuned. And don’t forget to voice your complaints in the comment section.
91. Tyler Eifert
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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