ND All-Time Players: The Early Years
Most of you know that I have been researching early (1887-1917) Notre Dame football. I have sent out a lot of emails about various aspects of the lives of the 370 players who appeared in at least one of the 200 games of this period. In this post, I am naming the TOP Notre Dame Players, by position, for the first 30 years of Notre Dame Football.
To determine who were the TOP players of ND’s earliest years, I convened a four-person expert panel, of George Trevor; Bob Singler; Michael Steele; and myself. OK, to be more accurate, Trevor died in 1951 and I have no idea what happened to Singler, after 1970 or so, but both of them wrote contemporaneous accounts about early ND football stars and picked their All-Time teams. I have never met Professor Steele, but I have enjoyed reading The Fighting Irish Football Encyclopedia (Steele, Michael R., Champaign, IL, Sagamore Publishing, Second Edition-1996), and he and I have exchanged some communications on my research. Expert college football researcher Tex Noel, the Executive Director of the Intercollegiate Football Researchers Association may have his own reply, after he forwards this to his members.
Trevor was a sportswriter, born in Cooperstown, New York, the town founded by the father of James Fennimore Cooper, where Abner Doubleday attended high school. A Yale grad, Trevor covered college football for a number of New York City newspapers, where he served as President of the New York Writer’s Association. He selected annual All American Teams.
The February, 1927 issue of the “Notre Dame Alumnus” contained Trevor’s list of four teams of what he called “Notre Dame’s Immortals”.
THE ALL-TIME NOTRE DAME ELEVENS (I am highlighting in bold ONLY those who played during my research period, 1887-1917):
H. Anderson Guard
Gipp Back (played only one unremarkable year-1917, so I can’t consider him)
H. Miller Back
THIRD & FOURTH TEAM
Boeringer Center Trafton
Bachman Guard Keefe
M. Smith Guard Fitzgerald
D. Jones Tackle Lathrop
Bach Tackle Cotton
C. Crowley End E. Anderson
Gushurst End Kirk
Hamilton Quarter Phelan
J. Crowley Back D. Miller
Mohardt Back Stankard (Mohardt played only interhall, during this period)
Eichenlaub Back Vaughan
Trevor added some commentary: “When sycamores whisper under a pale Indiana moon they tell the epic story of George Gipp, Notre Dame's immortal halfback. This roll call of Hoosier stars contains many a legendary name, but all of them pale before the luminous radiance that was Gipp. Blazing fiercely like a meteor not long destined to dazzle earthly eyes, George Gipp flamed across Notre Dame's football horizon for a fleeting span, yet in those golden moments he wove the brilliant thread of his personality into the warp and woof of Hoosier gridiron history. . . Along with Gipp in Notre Dame's all time back field we find those two memorable ‘Brick tops’—‘Red’ Miller and ‘Red’ Salmon. It was Harry Miller's unforgettable slashes off tackle that conquered Michigan in 1909 after the Wolverines had beaten Pennsylvania and Minnesota. ‘Red’ Miller was a contemporary of Ted Coy's. Some critics rated him the equal of Yale's human locomotive. Next to Gipp, ‘Red’ Miller stands out as Notre Dame's most effective ball carrier. Not as fast or as powerful as Gipp, Harry Miller was even more elusive. Lou Salmon is enshrined in Notre Dame's Pantheon as the first South Bender to catch Walter Camp's eye. Salmon was a pile driving line smasher of the knock down and drag 'em out era. Every Notre Damer has heard of Salmon. He is one of those legendary figures whose fame grows with the passing years. Salmon's reputation is richly deserved. Not even Layden or Eichenlaub could hit a line as lustily as the Red Prince of plungers. At Toledo in 1902, Salmon alone came near beating Michigan's matchless point-a-minute team. Seventy yard punts were not uncommon with Salmon. On defense he was a team in himself. In 1903 he held Northwestern for downs twice in the shadow of his goal posts. Elmer Layden, the real brains of the Four Horsemen, earns the fullback berth on team B. Layden had a chess mind. His running action was as smooth as oiled silk. Elmer hit a line with his nose scraping the turf. He could run the 220 in close to record time and trim sprinters in the ‘century’, yet it is as a line plunger and defensive genius that he is known to fame. Intercepting enemy passes was Layden's specialty. Heaves into his territory were boomerangs sure enough, since Elmer reveled in converting them into touchdowns. For consistency in punting, Layden has never had a superior. Ray Eichenlaub was the biggest of Notre Dame's fullbacks. When he hit a line, something had to give. He was fast, too. Stan Cofall once challenged him to a 100 yard dash. ‘Eich’ won standing up, but it was a Phyrric victory, since he pulled a tendon and crippled himself for his senior year. Paul Castner, a remarkable punter and drop kicker, was also a shifty carrier and watchdog on defense. Castner was perhaps the surest shot at goal who ever dropkicked for Notre Dame. Before one Army game, Castner booted fifteen successive goals from the 30 yard line. Some critics would rate Johnny Mohardt ahead of Chester Wynne, but a careful comparison of their performances leads inevitably to a preference for Wynne. ‘Sleepy Jim’ Crowley, of the Horsemen, was a whiz at cutting in and ‘scissoring’. Crowley was a beautiful exponent of rhythm. His running mate, Don Miller, shone on the wide slants and sweeps. Pete Vaughan later played on Princeton's 1912 eleven. Nobody will do at center but Adam Walsh. An inspiring leader, Walsh had the spiritual as well as the mechanical attributes which the ideal center must possess. His feeding of the ball to the Four Horsemen remains a classic of the snapperback's art. As strong as a bull on the charge, Walsh was as active as an alley cat on defense. Grit? Walsh once played through a grueling Army game with two broken fingers! He was perhaps the most beloved of Notre Dame leaders a fearless, honorable sportsman. Walsh's flawless passing was done from an intricate shift which would have handcuffed the average center. Feeney, a bearcat on offense, was pivot on Rockne's team. ‘Bud’ Boeringer's splendid play is fresh in mind. Trafton might have developed into Notre Dame’s greatest center had he played longer at South Bend. ‘Cap’ Edwards, leader of the 1909 team, which tanned Michigan, was perhaps the steadiest of Notre Dame's guards on defense. He stood like Thomas at Chickamauga. Hartley Anderson, known as ‘Hunk’, was a swashbuckling, domineering guard who gained a mental as well as physical ascendancy over his rivals. Right on ‘Hunk's’ heels comes ‘Horse’ Mayer, a present day product. Rockne rates Mayer as Notre Dame's greatest guard on the strength of his 1926 showing, but Mayer was late in developing. He was mediocre in his first season. It was Mayer who stopped Harry Wilson cold this year, sifting through Army's line to smother almost every Cadet play in its inception. The collapse of Notre Dame's defense against Carnegie was due largely to Mayer's absence. ‘Rosy’ Dolan, offensive guard on the 1909 team, was a wonder at diagnosing plays and heading interference. He played fullback on defense. Morrie Smith, who weighed only 145 pounds, exemplified the power of mind over matter. Smith was as tough as whalebone Charley Bachman, tall and superbly proportioned, used brains as well as brawn. Harley Brown, a splendid guard, is nosed out by those two crashing interferers, Emmett Keefe and Freeman Fitzgerald. Ralph Dimick—fast for his 200 pounds, with gorilla-like reflexes. On the old tackle around play Dimick used to take some stopping. On defense this stalwart tackle was worth the whole side of the line. Ralph played on the teams of 1908-09-10. Notre Dame never had a finer tackle. Almost as good was ‘Buck’ Shaw, a Greek god come back to life. ‘Buck’ resented being called the campus Adonis and took it out on his foes. A destroyer, this man Shaw, wrecking plays ruthlessly. He used his tremendous bulk intelligently. Despite his size, Shaw was fast enough to make the track team. It doesn't seem right to keep as able a tackle as Tom Lieb off the first team. Tom boasted as fine a pair of hands as ever delighted a coacher's eye. Big as hams they were with prehensile fingers that tore through anything in human mold. George Philbrook, Zipper Lathrop, Deke Jones, Joe Bach and ‘Fod’ Cotton were tackles to the manner born. They ripped through to the runner. Had Joe Boland not broken his leg this season he might have ousted Cotton. At the ends we find Farley and Rockne. Farley is the prefect in charge of the ‘off-campus’ students at Notre Dame. Father John Farley played 1897-1900 and was probably the outstanding player in that period. His defensive play was marvelous, he could cover kicks splendidly, and on the old end-around-play his ground gaining left the opponents gasping. On October 25, 1909, he alone held the Indiana team scoreless until he was carried from the field unconscious in the last few minutes of play. Knute Rockne gets the assignment at the other end, and what an end he was. When he hit them, they stayed down. He was fast as a deer, could catch passes, and the old onside kick was a dish he could eat. We shall never forget how poorly Merrillat, a great end, was made to appear in 1913, when ‘Rock’ had his big day on the plains. Other outstanding ends were Roger Kiley, the demon pass receiver; Charley Crowley, Columbia's present coach; Fred Gushurst, Lee Matthews. Eddie Anderson, another pass receiving wizard and Bernie Kirk. The latter afterward starred at Michigan. Charles Dorais wins the quarterback assignment from Harry Stuhldreher by a gnat's whisker. Dorais was the perfect field general. He could punt, drop kick, run the ends and forward pass. He was a good interferer, blocker, and a true tackier. What a treat to watch him catch punts, and run 'em back, often for touchdowns. Football will never forget his perfect passing the day he made the Army look foolish by tossing 'em to Rockne. Stuhldreher, a ‘stop-go’ runner with a fine change of pace, was only a shade less effective. Tremendously strong in the legs, Stuhldreher was hard to upset. Those who are not aware that Layden really was the brains of the Four Horsemen, rate Stuhldreher higher as a strategist than is perhaps his due. Don Hamilton, a defensive wizard, and Jim Phelan, a thinking machine, gets the call over the spectacular, but erratic Brandy.—The New York Sun.
NOTRE DAME ALL-TIME TEAM (October, 3, 1920).
From the SCHOLASTIC: The following All-time selection has been sent us by Mr. Robert Singler, '11,' who has followed Notre Dame football for a long, long time. It will arouse opposition certainly; and the SCHOLASTIC will publish other selections as space permits, under the condition that letters be limited to 300 words.
Miller, R. H.
Gipp. L. H. (played only one ordinary year-1917-during my research period)
Starrett, Business Manager.
Accumulate, gentlemen, and project an attentive ear,—for here is a hardy piece of literature. Here is a speaker who has scrutinized Notre Dame football teams ever since they put on buns for breakfast. He tackles, therefore, the juicy job of picking an all-time team with a dash of assurance commingled with nonchalance, to say nothing of utter fearlessness, to say nothing of a lot of other high-sounding words. Look ye now—Don Hamilton is given the Quarter position: this in the face of hundreds-of rabid Dorais men who will immediately set about starting a subscription to erect a gallows in my honor. But not so fast—let us take them in good order. Thus the ends come first. Rockne and Matthews. Rockne—broad of shoulders, bald, brainy and swift. As Swinburne said: ‘Fleet feet o'er the gridiron fly’. Three F's and a pile of poetry. To Matthews I give the other end, picking him in preference to Farley. The latter played in the days when the prime object was to break your opponent’s leg just above the ankle early in the game. He was, indeed, a very good player. But Matthews could be used at quarter also, or at half. He was fast and tough and the only thing against him was that he had a hard time keeping his socks up.
The tackles: Philbrook and Edwards. Philbrook's the big guy, a Goliath without a David. Philbrook's the bird who used to carry cannon balls in his vest pocket for luck and pick his teeth with a crowbar. He went down to Urbana in 1910—or was It 1911?—and all by himself won the greatest track meet ever pulled anywhere. Edwards, the other tackle was so punk that he still plays on the Canton world's champion professional team. The only time they ever got by Edwards was on the cinder path coming back to the gym.
The guards Dolan and Dimick. Ah, Senors, there is the most beautiful symphony ever written! Dolan and Dimick. Ralph is dead, and only Sam Dolan, his running mate can adequately tell what a wonderful, big-hearted man Dimick was. And oh, what a guard! Senors, Senors—unless you saw you'll never know. But Dolan—Dolan was the greatest, line man that ever walked on a football field anytime anywhere. He used his helmet to carry his chewing tobacco in. He was susceptible to nothing. In that great Michigan game in 1909 he broke his collar bone. in the first few minutes of play. And then he tore loose hole after hole he tore in the Michigan line, a rod wide and as deep as he wanted to go. They say he became demented. Four of the Michigan players wanted to quit. They appealed first to the referee, then to the umpire, and finally to Yost. They said they didn't want to play against a crazy man. Crazy was right, crazy like a horse. The walls at Ann Arbor still resound the echo of his charge. The center I pass over quickly. There's been a crowd of them, all good men. To Lynch, in preference to Feeney, I give the place. Red Miller at right half needs no singing. He was in a class by himself. I challenge any school in the nation to indicate a better player in that position; Run and twirl, run and twirl, touchdown. ‘Get the redhead!’they vainly howled at Michigan. To say that you know of a full-back that had it all over Thorpe of Carlisle is to make an assertion that amounts to a speech. Well, then, here's a conference. Salmon was the greatest full back of all time anywhere! Defense, offense, anything, everything. 'Some day’ they'll put a statue of Salmon atop the gym. Now Hamilton vs. Dorais. Dorais had a superior head: he was, let us say, more of a field general. But Hamilton could think of more trick plays. Also Hamilton's voice had the snap; he called signals like; pistol shots. He could pass as well as Dorais, punt further, and tackle as accurately and much harder. He was above all also a vastly tougher nut on the football field than Dorais. The laurel goes to Hamilton. Ho, George. Gipp! Welcome! You don't train George, you don't have to. You arrived like a Roman gladiator out of your own time! 1909 would have been fitter. And that, George, is the best tribute I or anybody else can pay you. As it is, you stand alone, like the bright light of a semaphore on the Union Pacific railroad, twelve miles west of Pocatello; Idaho.
Professor Steele selected two All-Time teams for our first 43 years:
LT Pat Beacom
C John Eggeman
RG Rosy Dolan
RT Ralph Dimick
RE Frank Lonergan
QB Nate Silver
LHB Red Miller
RHB Dom Callicrate
FB Red Salmon (Steele also picks Salmon as the kicker)
LT Frank Coughlin
LG Hunk Anderson
C Adam Walsh
RG Clipper Smith
RT Buck Shaw
RE Eddie Anderson
QB Harry Stuhldreher
LH Gipp (Steele also picks Gipp as kicker)
RH Don Miller
FB Ray Eichenlaub
So, who does the Capster pick as Notre Dame’s All-Star team for the 1887-1917 period?
It’s hard to disagree with Farley and Rockne, the consensus picks, for the two end spots. Strangely, Rockne had little offensive production to go with his reputation from the 1913 Army game, but he was always reported to be a very strong defender from his spot at defensive end. Farley was a touchdown machine from the backfield, either playing that spot, or, more frequently, in the deceptive “ends back” plays of those early days (on the command of “ends back”, the two ends would drop into the backfield and two backs would move to the line).
For the center position, I strongly agree with Professor Steele on Eggeman. He was our first very large (6’4, 248) skilled athlete, during a time when lineman were routinely 170 pounds.
Many of the interior lineman moved around, so I am picking four guard/tackles:
Philbrook, Dimick, Beacom, and Dolan.
NOBODY is close to Gus Dorais at QB. ND was 24-1-3 during his four years quarterbacking the Irish. The only loss suffered by the Irish during his time was against Michigan Agricultural College, 17-0, at East Lansing, in 1910. And, Gus as not our QB. He came in as the back-up. His record as our starter was 22-0-3. Despite being only 5’7 and 145, he was durable and a fine defender and kick returner. He is in the College Football Hall of Fame for his coaching career.
Red Miller is one Halfback and Stan Cofall, inexplicably missed by the rest of my panel, is the other. Red is in the College Football Hall of Fame. Stan became one of the leading businessmen in Cleveland, after his college and pro career ended.
Red Salmon is the top fullback and is the unarguable choice as Notre Dame’s GREATEST all-around player (fullback; line-backer; kicker; punter) for the first 30 years of Notre Dame Football, before Gipp completed his career. He is in the College Hall.
There is one other player who MUST be added to this group of 11. Ray “Eich” Eichenlaub was one of the greatest fullbacks of all time. He had the misfortune of playing the same position as the “Red-Topped Terror”. All of the contemporaneous descriptions of him make one think of a combination of size, power, and speed, reminiscent of someone like Jimmy Brown. Salmon was also listed as a powerful runner, but, at 5’9, 165, he did not have the size of Eich (6’, 210). He is in the College Hall.
I’m also adding a Coach to my All-Star Team---Frank “Shorty” Longman. Obviously, Jesse Harper is the proper choice. He was our first full-time coach and our first Athletic Director. His record was 34-5-1. His 1913 win over Army put ND on the national radar. But, Longman, a former Michigan player, was 11-1-2, during 1909-1910. It was his triumph over Michigan, in 1909, which first demonstrated ND’s ability to defeat one of the country’s top teams and set the stage for our breakout season in 1913.
Several of these players rank among Notre Dame’s top scorers of this research period: Cofall (#1); Salmon (#2); Dorais (#3); Farley (#6); Beacom (#9); Eichenlaub (#11); and Miller (#13).
Salmon and Beacom rank #1-2 in games played. Dorais ranks #1 in Field Goal and Extra Points.
Beacom was the 1905 Captain and made All-Western, as Guard, in 1906. In the 33 games of his four seasons at ND, he started every one at either LG or LT, and never left the field. After his final home game, students carried him off the field, in recognition of his fine career. He scored a lot of touchdowns because in the early days of football there were plays designed for linemen to carry the ball (such as “tackle around” plays).
The players on my list also demonstrated leadership, with many of them serving as Team Captain, during a period when only the Captain could talk with the game officials: Farley (1900); Salmon (1902 and 1903); Beacom (1905); Miller (1908); (1909); Dimick (1910); Dorais (1912); Rockne (1913); and Cofall (1916).
It has been fun to read contemporary accounts of the playing of these outstanding student-athletes. They were from an era when 10-15% of Americans had a high school diploma and only 5-10% had a college degree. In those days, only a small number of students who attended college received a degree.
This group also had a fine academic record:
Farley Ordained as C.S.C. Priest, 1907
Rockne B.S. in Pharmacy, 1914
Philbrook B.S. in Biology, 1912
Dimick LLB, 1911
Beacom B.S. in Pharmacy, 1905
Dolan B.C. in Civil Engineering, 1910
Eggeman LLB, 1900
Dorais LLB, 1914, and delivered one of three “Bachelor orations”
Miller PhB, 1910
Cofall LLB, 1917
Salmon B.S. in Civil Engineering, 1905
Eichenlaub Certificate in Architecture, 1915