Gridders Who Played Basketball
In the early days, many athletes played two or more college sports. Fr. John Farley, for example, was one of our early great ones, in baseball and football.
Here’s a partial list of some of the most noteworthy members of the Fighting Irish football and basketball teams:
Chronologically, my first pick is Rupert Mills. In 1913, when Knute Rockne was our starting left end, Rupe was the third team guy at Right End. In 1914, Mills became the first (of four) Notre Dame man to earn four varsity monograms during the same year. He was the starter at RE; the second leading scorer on the basketball team (as the Center); a star first & second baseman on the diamond; and also a versatile track athlete.
Close on the heels of Mills was Alfred “Dutch” Bergman, who also earned four monograms in 1914. Dutch grew up in the same Peru neighborhood as Cole Porter and future Notre Dame President John Cardinal O’Hara. He was a backcourt sub in hoops; a star infielder on the baseball team (like Mills, he played in the Major Leagues); and a sprinter in track. Dutch (who was followed to Notre Dame by two other halfback-brothers) was a star in one of the greatest backfields the Irish ever fielded (Bergman-QB; Stan Cofall-LH; Joe Pliska-RH; and Ray Eichenlaub-RB).
One of our other four sport guys was Cy Williams. He was a non-lettering sub in basketball and football, but a star in baseball and track. He won four home run championships in the National League. He was from the booming metropolis of Wadena, Indiana (population-54). The town ball team from Wadena could beat most teams in the country! They also had Doc Crandall, a future Major Leaguer, and Doc’s two brothers, who also pitched in the high minors.
From 1917 through 1920, if you were on the Irish basketball team, you were more likely to also be a football player than not. Among the standouts were Center Len Bahan, Captain and leading scorer, on the 1918-19 basketball team, who was also Captain and QB on the 1919 football team. Forward Harry Mehre was the Captain and leading scorer on the 1919-1920 basketball team and later the starting center on the football team. Among the many other football-hoopsters in this period were football All American Dr. Eddie Anderson and quarterbacks Joe Brandy and Chet Grant.
George Gipp played a few games, not lettering, for the basketball team and the baseball team, in addition to his outstanding football career.
Our first two basketball players (Ray Scanlan-1908/09 and Noble Kizer-1924/25) to receive All American mention were both football players.
Notre Dame’s first big star in both sports was Moose Krause. He was a three-year All American in basketball as one of the first dominating big men in college basketball. Moose played before the narrowed lane and three second rule and was one of the persons for whom restrictions were introduced into the rules to reduce the dominance of the “big man” (Moose was 6’3).
Johnny Lujack was a starting guard on the Notre Dame 1943-1944 basketball team and became our third man to earn four monograms in the same season. He is arguably Notre Dame’s greatest football player. He played three varsity seasons (1943, 1946, 1947), all National Championship teams. In addition to winning the Heisman Trophy (1947), he was our leading passer during the 1943 season in which QB Angelo Bertelli won the Heisman. Lujack took over for Bertelli, halfway through the season after Angelo went into the Marines.
Our final four-Monogram winner was QB George Ratterman, who Frank Leahy called the greatest athlete he ever coached. It would be difficult to argue against Ratterman as Notre Dame’s greatest all-around athlete. In football, he was unlucky to play behind All American’s Boley Dancewicz and Lujack at Quarterback. How strong were the Irish at QB in those years? Frank Tripucka was our fourth team guy in 1945; third team in 1946; and second team in 1947. When he finally became the starter, he played ahead of future All American Bob Williams. In addition to playing baseball, Ratterman was a starter on the basketball team and a national star in tennis.
One of my favorite two-sport guys for the Irish in this period was diminutive Johnny Dee, who would later serve as Head Basketball Coach for the Irish. Dee was the starting forward, with Ratterman, on our 1944-1945 team and the fourth team QB in 1944.
South Bend’s Entee Shine would have been Notre Dame’s first Black two sporter, except academic issues prevented him from playing football. He was a sub on the 1951-52 basketball team. He and I became good friends in his later years in South Bend.
Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Lattner was a 1952 basketball sub. Heisman Trophy winner Paul Hornung was the 6th man on the 1954-1955 team as a sophomore.
In more modern times, there have been fewer multiple sport guys. Johnny Dee coached one of our greatest all around athletes, in giant defensive tackle Kevin Hardy, who also played baseball. Kevin was very good at just about every sport. Dee later brought over big man Jay Ziznewski (sounds like a banger, doesn’t he?). Digger Phelps was short of bodies in his first two years and borrowed the Townsend Brothers, Mike and Willie, from Ara.
With the year-round emphasis on practice and conditioning and the different physical demands for each sport, there are fewer and fewer players able to play more than one sport, and hardly any in football and basketball, whose seasons overlap quite a bit.