Dec 29, 2013, 12:43 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.
After Notre Dame’s bowl win yesterday and Michigan’s loss, the Irish’s 9-4 season was good enough to surpass the Wolverines in all-time win percentage, thanks to a 2-6 finish by the former #1. But I’m not going to spend any more time talking about Michigan, so enjoy today’s rankings of the players who helped create that winning percentage.
#55: Greg Marx – Defensive Tackle – 1970-1972
Unanimous All-American (1972)
1972: 96 tackles, 6 tackles for loss
A captain on the 1972 team, Greg Marx was a prolific tackler on the line for Ara Parseghian’s defenses. He made at least 80 stops in each of his three years as a starter, solidifying a defense that held its opponents to single digits 18 times from ’70-’72.
Excelling both on the football field and in the classroom, Marx was a two-time Academic All-American who also graduated from Notre Dame Law School after spending a year in the NFL.
Marx’s 263 career tackles set a Notre Dame record among defensive linemen, and still ranks fourth all-time behind Ross Browner, Steve Niehaus, and Jeff Weston. After the 1972 season, his 96 tackles was just behind the single-season record teammate Mike Kadish set in the ’71 season.
#54: Jack Snow – Split End – 1962-1964
Consensus All-American (1964), 5th in Heisman (1964)
1964: 60 receptions for 1,114 yards, 9 TDs
523. That is the most receiving yards a Notre Dame player had ever had before 1964 (Jim Kelly set the record in 1962). In 1964 Jack Snow, who had 10 receptions for 128 yards in his career up until then, shattered that number, giving birth to the Notre Dame passing attack with 1,114 receiving yards and nine touchdowns.
That number would, for the most part, stand the test of time, as it is still the sixth best total in Notre Dame history. Snow’s 1964 season and Tom Gatewood’s 1970 season are the only in Irish history to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark before 2005.
The man throwing to Snow, John Huarte, ended up winning the Heisman in ’64 with the split end finishing fifth.
The only thing keeping Snow out of the top 50 on this list is that he just had the one great season after moving to receiver following his junior year. If he had the opportunity to play more than one year under Ara Parseghian, I suspect he’d be a lot higher.
#53: Vagas Ferguson – Halfback – 1976-1979
Consensus All-American (1979), 5th in Heisman (1979), National Champion (1977)
1978: 211 carries for 1,192 yards, 7 TDs
1979: 301 carries for 1,437 yards, 17 TDs
Still Notre Dame single-season records, Vagas Ferguson’s 1,437 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns in 1979 were good enough to secure him a top-five Heisman season in a year when Billy Sims couldn’t even win.
Ferguson is all over the Notre Dame rushing record books, from rushes in a season (1st) to rushes in a career (4th) to yards in a game (2nd and 7th) to career yards (3rd) to career touchdowns (4th). Most of those numbers were “1st” at the time of his graduation.
He was the MVP of the 1978 Cotton Bowl, which saw the fifth-ranked Irish pummel No. 1 Texas 38-10 to jump in the polls to a national championship. Ferguson had 100 rushing yards and three touchdowns in the game.
I can go on and on with these accolades, but it all just boils down to the fact (OK, my opinion) that Vagas Ferguson is the greatest Notre Dame running back of the last 45 years.
Here’s another great video from 125 Years of Notre Dame Football that has an interview with Ferguson. Link here if video doesn’t work.
#52: Alan Page – Defensive End – 1964-1966
Consensus All-American (1966), National Champion (1966)
1966: 63 tackles
I know I said in my intro that I only considered college careers in this list, but Alan Page’s life after Notre Dame is incredibly difficult to ignore. And being one of just five Notre Dame players to be in both Hall of Fames (college and pro) is just the tip of the iceberg. He was NFL MVP in 1971 and all-pro six times over his career.
While playing for the Vikings, Page was also pursuing a law degree from the University of Minnesota. During the offseason he worked at a law firm and in 1985 he became an assistant attorney general in Minnesota – only four years after his retirement from pro football. In 1992 he became the first African-American justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court.
But this list is about players and their college careers, and Page delivered on that front spectacularly, starting three years for Ara Parseghian. Along with Jim Lynch, he led arguably the best defense in Notre Dame history, surrendering just 3.8 points per game in 1966. Page has gone down in history as one of the most dominant players on one of the most dominant Irish teams ever.
I think some people will be upset that Page isn’t higher, so let me give my reasoning. I said in my intro that this list is based on All-American status, awards, and national championships. I said I had to move some players whose status transcends those indicators.
Page didn’t have eye-popping numbers, and he was only an All-American for one season. His on-paper numbers put him around #70 for the best Notre Dame players, but his dominance on the ’66 team and his iconic status bring him up to #52.
#51: Don Miller – Halfback – 1922-1924
1st-team All-American (1923), National Champion (1924)
1923: 89 carries for 698 yards, 9 TDs; 9 receptions for 149 yards, TD
1924: 107 carries for 763 yards, 5 TDs; 16 receptions for 297 yards, 2 TDs
Outlined against a blue-gray October sky, the Four Horsemen rode again. In dramatic lore their names are Death, Destruction, Pestilence, and Famine. But those are aliases. Their real names are: Stuhldreher, Crowley, Miller and Layden. They formed the crest of the South Bend cyclone before which another fighting Army team was swept over the precipice at the Polo Grounds this afternoon as 55,000 spectators peered down upon the bewildering panorama spread out upon the green plain below.
It’s arguably the most famous passage in Notre Dame lore, save for the Gipper speech. Grantland Rice gave the four players the iconic nickname in 1924, their championship senior season. Behind the “Seven Mules,” the Four Horsemen led the Irish to their first-ever national title in 1924, which culminated in a Rose Bowl victory over Stanford.
Our first member of the Four Horseman, Don Miller was the starting right halfback in the legendary backfield from 1922-1924. Rockne called him the greatest open-field back he’d ever seen.
Miller was named a first-team All-American in 1923, the same year Red Grange broke onto the college football scene as a sophomore. Despite the wealth of talent at halfback in the early ‘20s, Miller stood out with an incredible 6.8 yards per carry over the course of his career. Unfortunately, he was the only one of the Four Horsemen not to be a consensus All-American, but his place in Notre Dame lore transcends awards.
Next time we get into the top 50, so stay tuned.
51. Don 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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