Early ND Football Players

Jan 02, 2017

As most of you know, I am writing a book about early (1887-1917) Notre Dame Football.  While researching the lives of these players I discovered that many of them led significant lives in Cleveland, Ohio.  A strong argument can be made that the city on the shores of Lake Erie ranks #1 as the destination for high achieving former Notre Dame Football Players of our earliest days.

Here are the folks I have found, listed alphabetically: 

  1. Stan Cofall was one of Notre Dame’s first great stars.  After one year as a paid player on a South Bend semi-pro football team, with Knute Rockne as his coach, Stan was became our star halfback for the 1914-1916 seasons.  He ranks as Notre Dame’s leading scorer for the entire period covered by my research.  He scored 239 points on 31 TD’s; 47 extra points; and two field goals.  One expert called him the “greatest all-around backfield man in America”.  He captained ND’s 1916 team.  He earned a law degree* from ND (*this was an undergraduate degree in those days).  From 1915 through 1924 he played or coached at various levels of semi-pro and professional football.  He served in WWI.  He was Vice President of the pro football league, founded in Canton, Ohio, in 1920, which eventually became the NFL.  He was the founder of the Cleveland Touchdown Club and Chair of the Cleveland Boxing Commission.  He was very successful in business, founding the Stanco Oil Company.  He brought the ND-Navy Game to Cleveland.  
  2. Red Miller was the first of the five great Miller Brothers of Notre Dame.  He was the Captain of our 1908 team.  He was one of the stars of the 1909 team which defeated Michigan, in Ann Arbor, Notre Dame’s first great football win.  He was a third team All American.  While Coaching at Creighton, where he earned his law degree, he had a son, who he named after the school.  Creighton Miller would go on to be an outstanding Notre Dame halfback, the only ND player to lead the NCAA in rushing.  Red became the General Counsel for the Grasselli Corporation of Cleveland and later of DuPont, in Wilmington, De.  He was a four year officer of the Notre Dame Alumni Association.
  3. Ray Miller was Red’s next oldest brother.  After an impressive record in WWI, rising to the rank of Captain, he followed his brother to Cleveland, where he first achieved notoriety as the Prosecuting Attorney of Cuyahoga County.  He later became Mayor of Cleveland and invigorated the Democratic Party there, including involving Women and Blacks; and invited JFK to an event in Cleveland which drew 50,000 persons.  The crowd for JFK the following year was double that.  Ray owned one of the first “rock and roll” radio station in Cleveland and was a key person in forming the Cleveland Browns.  More than 1,700 people attended an event celebrating his 25th year as Chairman of the Democratic Party of Cuyahoga County.
  4. Walter Miller, was the third of the five football playing Miller Boys from Defiance, OH.  He received a law degree from Notre Dame, after interrupting his studies to serve in the Navy, during WWI.  For more than 40 years, he was Counsel for East Ohio Gas Co., of Cleveland, a subsidiary of Standard Oil Co.
  5. Rev. Mike Moriarty was a fine two-sport athlete at ND.  He became a diocesan Priest and the pastor of St. Catherine’s Church and President of Cleveland’s Cathedral Latin High School Board.  The jut-jawed Priest was an active member of dozens of social welfare programs in Cleveland and throughout Ohio.
  6. John Patrick Murphy was a bit player for ND, later becoming the 1911 “manager of athletics” (a student assignment back then, but the forerunner of today’s Athletic Director’s position.  He received a law degree from ND.  He was a WWI 2nd Lieutenant.  He was the General Counsel of the Cleveland-based Van Sweringer Company and its Higbee Division, later becoming President of Higbee, the largest department store chain in Cleveland.  Murphy was elected President of the Notre Dame Alumni Association, in 1927, and served as a Notre Dame Trustee for 35 years.  He was awarded an Honorary Doctorate in 1952.  He established the John P. Murphy Foundation, whose primary funding was for Catholic education, hospitals, and music.  In 1998, this Foundation endowed three faculty chairs in the Notre Dame Law School.
  7. John William O’Brien played two games for ND in 1901.  He had transferred to ND from the Adalbert College of Western Reserved University.  He transferred back to them, where he was a football and track star and Class Vice President.  He used his Chemistry degree to work for the Grasselli Chemical Corporation for 30 years, rising to the rank of General Superintendent.  He was an expert in heavy chemicals.  He is one of approximately two dozen former Notre Dame football players I have confirmed, who have not previously been listed in the Notre Dame Football Media Guide.
  8. Hugh “Pepper” O’Neill received a law degree from ND.  After WWI service as a Cavalry Lieutenant, he became  President of Leaseway Transportation Company, one of the three largest trucking companies in the country.  His son, Steve, would later become an owner of the Cleveland Indians (shameless plug---Amazon is a great place to purchase my book on NOTRE DAME BASEBALL).  Hugh became President of the Notre Dame Club of Cleveland and served as a member of the Executive Committee of the Notre Dame Foundation (predecessor of the current Development Office).
  9. John Christian Powers was a Cum Laude Commerce Grad from ND.  Served as an infantry lieutenant in WWI.  Rev. John O’Hara, later to become President of Notre Dame and Cardinal O’Hara, Archbishop of Philadelphia, was then the Dean of the Department of Commerce.  He created an “exchange of scholars and professors” with South America.  John Powers was one of the first two ND men to participate in this program, attending the University of Santiago (Chile) and living there for four years as a representative of U.S. Steel.  He later ran Powers and Company, a real estate business in Cleveland, for 22 years.  Father Mike Moriarty, former ND football player, assisted at John’s funeral service.
  10. Billy and Paddy Ryan were sons of William R. Ryan, the most prominent late 19th Century Democrats in Cleveland.  The elder Ryan founded Euclid Beach Park; served as Cuyahoga County Sheriff; and coached Western Reserve Football.  Bill Ryan was an ND star in football, baseball (12-1 as a pitcher), and dramatics.  He was also one of the most popular students of his day.  After receiving his law degree from ND, Billy married a lady who was a direct descendent of John Alden who came over on the Mayflower.  Billy worked as an attorney.  Billy’s younger brother “Lee” or “Paddy” Ryan was a sub ND halfback in 1910, during his only year at ND.  The football media guide incorrectly lists “Lee” as “Billy” so he has not previously been known to the Notre Dame Sports Information Department.  Lee worked in Cleveland Real Estate.
  11. Glenn Andrew “Dummy” Smith, with the non-p.c. nickname for being a deaf mute, was from Cleveland and was the Midwestern A.A.U. wrestling champion in his weight class.  Notre Dame had a program for deaf students in our early days.  Glenn took architecture classes and eventually worked as a draftsman for the railroad.

Other news