Feb 4, 2014, 11:28 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.
After three months, we’ve finally gotten to the top 25 of the greatest players in Notre Dame history. These are the best of the best, the players in discussion for best college players of all-time from any school.
I’ve gone back and forth on a lot of these, even from the same position. How do you decide between Jim Lynch and Mike Stonebreaker? Terry Hanratty and John Huarte? Rocket Ismail and Tim Brown? As we finish up these rankings, some of you who’ve seen a good deal of these players might think it’s a lot more clear cut than I did.
I’ve said a lot over the last couple months that this is a pretty silly, futile exercise. This is no objective list, and the goal was, publicly, to spur some discussion and, personally, to learn a little bit about Notre Dame’s great players. I’ve based a lot of my decisions in numbers, but there’s also a good deal of my own opinion. But don’t forget to share your own if mine’s wrong.
#25: Ed Beinor – Tackle – 1936-1938
2x 1st-team All-American (1937, 1938), Unanimous All-American (1938), 9th in Heisman (1938)
Just the second Notre Dame player to finish in Heisman voting since its inception in 1935 (the first was Bill Shakespeare), Ed Beinor was one of the most highly decorated linemen in Notre Dame history. A two-year starter, he was a first-team All-American both of those seasons, while earning unanimous honors as a senior in 1938.
One of Beinor’s most memorable plays was recovering a blocked Georgia Tech kick to help preserve the lead for the Irish. Notre Dame would go on to win the game 14-6.
In addition to playing football, he was a talented shot putter, winning the 1938 Lithuanian National Olympics – the same year he helped lead Notre Dame to a top-five season. The 8-1 Irish lost their bid for a national championship the last week of the season in Los Angeles.
After college Beinor was drafted in the sixth round of the 1939 NFL Draft by the Brooklyn Dodgers. He played three seasons in the league with the Chicago Cardinals and Washington Redskins.
#24: Jim Lynch – Linebacker – 1964-1966
Unanimous All-American (1966), 2nd-team All-American (1965), Maxwell Award (1966), National Champion (1966)
1965: 108 tackles, 3 pass breakups, 1 INT
1966: 106 tackles, 2 pass breakups, 3 INTs
The sole captain of the 1966 team that had possibly the best Irish defense ever, Jim Lynch was Ara Parseghian’s greatest linebacker. For an 11-year coach known for fearsome defenses, that’s an incredible feat in itself. In ’66, Lynch was not only a unanimous All-American, but he was also named the best college player in the country of any position with the Maxwell Award.
Lynch was crucial in the classic tie against Michigan State, leading the defense that shut out the Spartans in the second half while the offense was missing Terry Hanratty and Nick Eddy, the star quarterback and halfback.
A winner with the Chiefs in Super Bowl IV, Lynch later said, “The Super Bowl was not as big as that Michigan State–Notre Dame game.”
#23: Michael Stonebreaker – Linebacker – 1986-1990
2x Consensus All-American (1988, 1990), Unanimous All-American (1990), National Champion (1988)
1988: 104 tackles, 1 sack, 5 pass breakups, 2 interceptions, TD
1990: 95 tackles, 3 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, 1 pass breakup, 2 interceptions
The most aptly named player in Notre Dame history, Michael Stonebreaker was one of three (!) unanimous All-Americans on the 1990 team (Raghib Ismail and Chris Zorich). There have only been five such selections in the 23 seasons since. But Stonebreaker might be better known for his other All-American season on the 1988 defense.
That team gave up just 13 points per game while playing one of the hardest schedules in the country. Coordinated by Barry Alvarez, it featured such legends as Stonebreaker, Zorich, Frank Stams, Todd Lyght, and Wes Pritchett. Stonebreaker finished second on the team in tackles and led the Irish in 1990 after being sidelined for the ’89 season.
One of his most important plays came in arguably the greatest game in Notre Dame history – the 1988 Miami matchup. He recovered a controversial Miami fumble on the Notre Dame one-yard line midway through the fourth quarter with the Hurricanes trailing 31-24. Of course, Notre Dame would go on to win 31-30.
Interestingly enough, Stonebreaker also recovered a fumble at the Irish two-yard line late in the fourth against Miami in 1990. Notre Dame upset the second-ranked Hurricanes 29-20 in the last game between the rivals until 2010.
A Butkus finalist in both 1988 and ’90, Stonebreaker knocked West Virginia quarterback Major Harris out of the 1989 Fiesta Bowl, which the Irish won 34-21 for the national championship.
#22: Bill Fischer – Guard / Tackle – 1945-1948
2x Consensus All-American (1947, 1948), Outland Trophy (1948), 2x National Champion (1946, 1947)
A three-year starter for Frank Leahy, Bill Fischer had one of the best starting records of any player in Notre Dame history. In those three years, the Irish went 26-0-2 with championships in ’46 and ’47. After playing tackle in 1945, Fischer moved to guard in ’46, where he started the rest of his career.
It’s no coincidence that the Irish won the titles when Fischer started at left guard with George Connor at left tackle. You’d be hard-pressed to find a better pair of linemates playing next to each other in the history of college football.
While Connor won the Outland Trophy for best interior lineman in 1946 – the trophy’s first year – Fischer would also be named top lineman in the country in ’48.
A two-time Consensus All-American, Fischer was picked in the first round of the 1949 NFL Draft and played four seasons with the Chicago Cardinals. He was selected for three Pro Bowl teams in those four years.
#21: Todd Lyght – Cornerback – 1987-1990
2x Consensus All-American (1989, 1990), Unanimous All-American (1989), National Champion (1988)
1989: 47 tackles, 6.5 pass breakups, 8 interceptions
1990: 49 tackles, 3 pass breakups, 2 interceptions; 1 kickoff return for 53 yards, TD
Notre Dame’s best cornerback since the days of one-platoon football, Todd Lyght was a critical component of Lou Holtz’s defenses. Especially with the five-man front in 1988, Lyght’s pass coverage abilities were all the more necessary.
His eight interceptions in 1989 are two shy of the record set by Mike Townsend in ’72, and he remains in the top 10 in career interceptions and pass breakups. The leading tackler in the 1989 Fiesta Bowl, his contributions to the ’88 championship team are unquestioned.
But Lyght’s best seasons were his final two, in which he earned two consensus All-American honors (including unanimous in ’89). He was also a finalist for the Jim Thorpe Award in ’89 for best defensive back. A three-year starter, he was named a captain of the 1990 team that finished sixth in the country.
Lyght also had a very successful NFL career, picked fifth overall by the St. Louis Rams, with whom he won a Super Bowl in 1999, the year he was first-team All-Pro. Lyght is now an assistant coach with the Philadelphia Eagles.
Here are some highlights of Lyght’s Notre Dame career. Whoever makes a .gif of that hit against Michigan deserves a medal or something.
21. Todd Lyght
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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