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ND Rank: #6-10

Feb 23, 2014, 4:49 PM EDT

Raghib Ismail

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


Manti Te’o

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


Ross Browner

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


Paul Hornung

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


Raghib Ismail

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


Tim Brown

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

11. George Connor

12. Frank Carideo

13. Ken MacAfee

14. Chris Zorich

15. Terry Hanratty

16. John Huarte

17. Emil Sitko

18. Aaron Taylor

19. Marchy Schwartz

20. Bob Crable

21. Todd Lyght

22. Bill Fischer

23. Michael Stonebreaker

24. Jim Lynch

25. Ed Beinor

26. Nick Eddy

27. Luther Bradley

28. Bob Williams

29. Bob Golic

30. Ralph Guglielmi

31. Steve Niehaus

32. Jeff Samardzija

33. Mike McCoy

34. Walt Patulski

35. Brady Quinn

36. Joe Theismann

37. Joe Kurth

38. Elmer Layden

39. Monty Stickles

40. Bob Dove

41. Harry Stuhldreher

42. Jim Crowley

43. Golden Tate

44. Tom Gatewood

45. Jim Seymour

46. Larry DiNardo

47. Al Ecuyer

48. Bobby Taylor

49. Clarence Ellis

50. Creighton Miller

51. Don Miller

52. Alan Page

53. Vagas Ferguson

54. Jack Snow

55. Greg Marx

56. Tom Schoen

57. Tom Regner

58. Tony Rice

59. Gus Dorais

60. Jim White

61. Allen Pinkett

62. Shane Walton

63. Tom Clements

64. John Scully

65. Kevin Hardy

66. Bill Shakespeare

67. Mike Townsend

68. Jim Kelly

69. Jack Cannon

70. Pat Filley

71. John Mastrangelo

72. Christie Flanagan

73. Dave Casper

74. Dave Huffman

75. George Kunz

76. Jerry Groom

77. Tommy Yarr

78. Pete Demmerle

79. Nick Rassas

80. John Yonakor

81. Frank Stams

82. Wayne Millner

83. John Smith

84. Dick Arrington

85. Art Boeringer

86. Art Hunter

87. Jeff Burris

88. Mirko Jurkovic

89. Nick Pietrosante

90. Gerry DiNardo

91. Tyler Eifert

92. Frank Rydzewski

93. Eddie Anderson

94. Jack Robinson

95. Chuck Sweeney

96. Jim Martin

97. Reggie Brooks

98. Bob Kelly

99. Ziggy Czarobski

100. Frank Dancewicz

  1. koolinsc - Feb 24, 2014 at 9:00 PM

    Wow a sad day Mr Chaval in Irish History!!! You’ve never mentioned in qty 95 past players in Irish History, Possibly one of The Greatest Lineman in ND History (Ray Lemek 1955 solo Team Captain), not only did you forget him in you Top 100, you forgot The Captain Lemek who was 26-2-1 as a starter for The Irish. One of the last sophomores to start under Frank Leahy. Not only captained The 1955 team to 8-2 , but also played both ways. Not only did you forget his outstanding college career, but also saddened many Irish faithful in Sioux City, Ia his hometown, that you forgot his outstanding 9 yr NFL career as a starting lineman for Washington Redskins and Pittsburgh Steelers, also playing in the Pro Bowl in 1965. Mr. Chaval you even forgot to mention , Ray Lemek was voted by this own site (NDNation) last year as the best ND lineman to ever wear the #72. Wow, I very surprised by the blog expert you are, that your stats didn’t ever mention in the last eighty ranks, one of The fastest lineman to ever grace the field in The House That Rockne Built, but it seems that you did forget him. So I will take the next two words to give the proper recognition that you forgot to mention!!! RAY LEMEK

    • Craig Chval ('15) - Feb 24, 2014 at 9:14 PM

      As I responded a few weeks ago:

      “Thanks for commenting! But I laid out in my intro to this project that to be eligible, a player must have been at least a third-team All-American. Notre Dame has so many great players in its storied history that I had to leave off nearly 50 first-teamers alone. Unfortunately, Ray Lemek didn’t meet the criteria.”

      I’m also afraid you’re mistaken in that this site is not NDNation.

  2. koolinsc - Feb 26, 2014 at 12:12 AM

    And as I responded yesterday, Mr. Chaval, the lead beat writer of the Strong and True, well to be true you have to be well informed, and to be a lead writer, you must not sadden the hand that shook the football nation. I am happy that the reply got your attention, maybe since Mr. Raymond E. Lemek didn’t meet your criteria of a 3rd team all American or higher, I guess the lead BEAT writer and myself just don’t meet eye in criteria: But since I am no beat writer for The Strong and True, let me break it down once again, so the whole football nd nation and strong and true beat writers, can see just what writers base their findings off of:

    your criteria 3rd team all American at least facts: Ray Lemek Last solo Captain 1955
    26-3-1 overall as a starter
    played both ways
    9 yr NFL Career
    1965 Pro Bowl
    voted by NDNation and not The
    Strong and True as best player to
    wear #72

    So in closing, thankyou for sharing your criteria and also for allowing me to inform all beat writers across the nation, about the best Notre Dame 100 Player never mentioned RAY LEMEK

    • irishrugby990 - Mar 1, 2014 at 6:10 PM

      Woah, somebody needs to lay off the Ray Lemek sauce for a while. It is my understanding that the above list was based upon collegiate careers only. If pro careers were under consideration as well, then Mark Bavaro, among others would surely be on this list.

      Also, if you’re going to be so adamant, do some fact-checking of your own first. Mr Lemek made the Pro Bowl in 1961, not ’65

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