Notre Dame's Greatest Athletes

Jan 14, 2012

As many of you know, I am doing research on what I am calling “Notre Dame’s Greatest Athletes”.

I have been kicking around a lot of different ways to evaluate this term, since I can think of many different wrinkles. Here are some threads I have been considering.

Ruth Riley can lay claim to being our greatest, because of her phenomenal performance in the year in which we won the Women’s NCAA Basketball Championship, followed by her later winning Olympic and WNBA Championships, as well as championships in the NWBL and the EuroCup. Ruth was also the first person to win MVP awards in both NCAA and WNBA championships. And, she was a scholastic star and wonderful person and role model.

Joe Montana can put in a claim because in his NFL career he is generally regarded as one of the top handful of players who ever played the game. 

George Connor is also an All-Time great in college and NFL football.

Alan Page’s resume includes a fine college career and one of the top NFL careers, followed by a fine career as a jurist on the Minnesota Supreme Court.

More than one hundred years ago, Angus McDonald was a two-year starter at both Quarterback and First Baseman for the Irish, but later earned fame as the President of the Southern Pacific Railroad.

Knute Rockne is worth noting not just because he earned six varsity letters in football and track, but later went on to be the most iconic name as a college football coach, with the NCAA’s highest winning percentage.

Neither Cap Anson nor Carl Yastrzemski were at Notre Dame very long, but the former is arguably the most prominent Major League Baseball figure of the 19th Century and the latter was one of the top Hall of Famers of the 20th Century.

All of Notre Dame’s seven Heisman Trophy winners were great athletes, but some of them were more versatile than others. Angelo Bertelli earned three monograms in football and one each in baseball and hockey. Johnny Lujack earned three monograms in football and one each in baseball, basketball, and track and was a star in the NFL as both a defensive back and quarterback. Paul Hornung was an all-time great in college and NFL football, holding the single season scoring record for fifty years. He also played a year of basketball at Notre Dame. Tim Brown was an NFL star and a track star at ND.  

Notre Dame has also had some odd combination athletes. My three favorites were Jumpin’ Joe Savoldi, Angelo Mosca, and Mike “The Bear” Webster. Savoldi was a football star at ND with a brief NFL career. Mosca and Webster were back-up tackles at Notre Dame with fine careers in the Canadian Football League. All won some of the various Championships in pro wrestling.

Bob Golic, Rich Arrington, Ed Rutkowski, and Mike Fanning were NCAA wrestling stars at ND, as well as football players.

George Ratterman was one the greatest quarterbacks never to achieve true stardom. He backed up Lujack at Notre Dame and Otto Graham with the Cleveland Browns. When he was the starter, he had great statistics on his own. In 1945, he accomplished something that Lujack had done the year before, earning monograms in four different sports. They each played Football, baseball, and basketball. Lujack ran track and Ratterman golfed.

Edward “Moose” Krause won three monograms in football and basketball and one in track. He was one of the early basketball centers for whom the rules had to be changed (creation of the lane and the three second rule) to reduce their dominance in the post.

Paul Castner won three letters in football and baseball and one in hockey, a team he later coached at ND. He played Major League Baseball. He also wrote a fine book about Knute Rockne.

Ronnie Reed was an All American Baseball Player at Notre Dame with a short baseball career. He later had a short NBA career and a 19-year career in Major League Baseball.

Kevin Hardy was a big man at Notre Dame. Besides being gargantuan in size, Kevin had the nimbleness to excel in basketball and baseball, earning six varsity letters. Hardy was also a fine golfer.

Ray “Ike” Eichenlaub won three monograms in football and three in track.

George Gipp lettered only in football, but had brief time on the diamond and the hardwood for the Irish. Had he lived, it would be easy to imagine that Gipp would have joined the fledgling NFL and been one of its early stars.

Norm Barry started in the backfield for Rockne’s first three teams (1918-1920) while also earning three monograms in baseball and two in track. Knute’s backfields in 1918-1922 had some of the most versatile players in Notre Dame history. Besides Castner, Lambeau, Gipp, and Barry, other famous backs were Elmer Layden (who earned three letters in football as a member of the Four Horsemen and was a three time letter winner in track as a sprinter); Chet Wynne (who was also a track star); Tom Lieb (an NCAA discus champion); Gus Desch (an NCAA hurdling champion); and Frank Thomas (baseball player who also later became one of the greatest Head Football Coaches at Alabama, with an .812 winning percentage and two National Championships); and Johnny Mohardt.

Mohardt is a special case at ND. He starred in football and baseball and later played in the NFL and the Major Leagues in order to pay for his medical degree at Northwestern. He also held a lot of the interhall sprint records at Notre Dame. He was the surgeon at the Mayo Clinic when Knute Rockne and Frank Leahy shared a room while having leg surgery.

Cy Williams is another special case. He received three letters in baseball, two in track, and played one year of football, while earning a degree in architecture. He led the National League in home runs four times.

Rich Sauget played baseball and football at Notre Dame, as did his son, Rich, Jr. Rich, Sr. is one of the most innovative owners in Independent baseball, with the Gateway Grizzlies. If you’re near St. Louis in the summer, it’s worth it to visit his team. George Restovich, Sr. played baseball and basketball at ND and his son George, Jr. also played baseball at Notre Dame. 

My next to last entry among these versatile stars is John “Pop” Farley. He was a four-time letter winner in football; four times in baseball; and once in track, for a total of nine. He later became a CSC Priest and long-time Dorm Rector. He is the only person for whom a dorm is named at Notre Dame who served primarily as a Priest-Rector.

Finally, we get to the man who could be considered Notre Dame’s most versatile Athlete. Like Pop Farley, Rupert Mills won nine monograms at ND (one in football, two in track, and three each in baseball and basketball). He had a short stint in Major League Baseball. He was serving as the Undersheriff and likely to win the race as Sheriff of his county in New Jersey when he drowned right after saving the life of his best friend from drowning. During the 1914-15 season, Mills earned four Monograms, as did Alfred “Dutch” Bergman, making them part of only four to do this at ND, preceding Lujack and Ratterman. Bergman may hold the record for most varsity teams played on, but did not letter in football during two of the years he played.

I have a lot of other sports lists I am working on. Here’s a teaser: ND and NFL Football and Professional Boxing (George Trafton and Tom Zbikowski); ND Football and Heavyweight Bengal Bouts Champion (Bob Cappadona, Angelo Schiralli, and Ross Browner); ND QB and Bookstore Basketball Champion (Steve Beuerlein, Tony Rice, Tom Clements, and Brady Quinn); and ND football and hockey (Tom Lieb, Paul Castner, Sleepy Jim Crowley, and Eric Norri).  

Go Irish!


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