Notre Dame Football: 25 Greatest Players in Irish History

Dan ScofieldAnalyst IFebruary 24, 2011

Notre Dame Football: 25 Greatest Players in Irish History

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    When you think of college football history, Notre Dame needs to be mentioned. With names as big as they get, South Bend has been home to some of the biggest legends of the game.

    Because of the past success and national championships, there aren't many programs that can compare to that of the Irish. Although in recent years they haven't lived up to their past, the Irish will forever be mentioned among the college football greats because of the successful teams and players that have come through the program in the past century.

    Taking into account the many different time periods these athletes played in, it's almost impossible to say who exactly was the better football player. However, the least we can do is make the effort to rank these legends involved with such a prestigious program.

    Now with that said, it's time to dive into the past and decipher who the best 25 players of the program have been. It's almost impossible to pinpoint just 25 of them, but here is the best effort.

25) Bob Golic, LB

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    The Golic name is a big one on the South Bend campus. A two-time All-American, Golic ended his career at Notre Dame with 479 tackles. 

    In the championship-winning season of 1977, Golic topped the defense with 146 tackles while leading the Irish to a ring and one of the best seasons in Irish history. No matter how publicized his name will ever be on ESPN, he will forever be remembered as a Irish gridiron legend.

24) Vagas Ferguson, RB

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    Although some seem to forget just how great of a back Ferguson once was, he has gone down in the record books as one of the best running backs to come out of South Bend.

    Leaving school in '79 as the school's all-time leader in rushing yards at the time, he scored 32 career touchdowns. Although that doesn't seem like that spectacular of a feat to be honored on this list, his senior season was one to celebrate, as he was selected as an All-American and finished fifth in the Heisman voting. 

23) Bill Fischer, OL

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    A member of the College Football Hall of Fame, Fischer was a stud offensive linemen for the Irish in the late 40's. 

    Being named to two All-American teams, Fischer also was given the Outland Trophy in 1948 after leading his team to yet another national championship ring. A three-year starter on the interior of the bruising Irish line, he has gone down as one of the best trench players in Notre Dame history.

22) Reggie Brooks, RB

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    The true case of a player getting his chance just a little too late, Brooks was converted into a running back mid-way through his playing career. After the conversion, however, he broke onto the scene as an All-American playmaker.

    In his senior campaign, Brooks went on to rush for over a 1,000 yards while collecting 13 touchdowns to go along with his 8.0 yard per carry average. To say he was efficient would be an understatement. What Irish fans would have given to see him start from tailback from day one, as Brooks might have gotten the chance to be one of the best backs to ever play in a college football game.

21) Joe Theisman, QB

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    He may not be the best quarterback to ever done the Blue and Gold, but Theisman was a good one throughout his career. One needs to look no further than his career 20-3-2 record to say so with confidence.

    After a star season in '71 in which he was named first team All-American, Theisman continued his success in the NFL and continued to only get better. With over 4,000 passing yards in his career, he sits at fifth on the all-time passing list for Irish quarterbacks.

20) Golden Tate, WR

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    He may not be a household name quite yet, as he moved on to the NFL in just 2009, but Tate was one of the best play-makers to ever call South Bend his home.

    After one of the most impressive seasons ever for an Irish player in '09, Tate holds a number of Irish records that prove his spot on this list. In addition, he took him the Biletnikoff award for that record-breaking season as well. If Tate decided to come back for his senior campaign, he may have moved even further up the list. 

19) Jim Lynch, LB

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    Lynch is one of the best front-seven Irish defenders to play in South Bend. Thanks to his famous 1966 season, he will forever be remembered as an Irish legend.

    In that season, he not only captained Notre Dame to a championship ring, but also took the honor of receiving the Maxwell Award, given to college football's top player. Even more impressive, he did so on the defensive side of the ball.

18) Chris Zorich, DT

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    Zorich's legend at Notre Dame will always be accompanied with his hard-noised playing style and willingness to win. In hindsight, he was Lou Holtz's perfect defender.

    A three-time All-American, Zorich won the Lombardi award as a senior while playing defensive tackle. Like any Notre Dame legend, Zorich was a key piece to the puzzle in bringing home the latest national championship trophy for Notre Dame in 1988 under Holtz.

17) Justin Tuck, DE

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    As many know, Tuck is the ideal defensive linemen with his rare combination of size, speed, and athleticism. Because of that skill-set created in South Bend, he left Notre Dame after an impressive statistical career.

    The career leader in sacks with 23.5, Tuck also garnered 43 tackles for loss during his time at Notre Dame. If it weren't for the numerous nagging injuries, he may have gone down as one of the best pass-rushers of all-time. Now fully healed, Tuck is showing exactly just how good he is as one of the elite defensive linemen in the NFL.

16) Brady Quinn, QB

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    Although he never lead the Irish back to full glory, Quinn was responsible for breaking 36 passing records during his career. That alone should prove his worth to this program during his time under center.

    If he had one some more big games (or bowl games) Quinn would be in the top-ten of this list. However, with only his stats to speak, he finds himself just outside the top 15. Perhaps his most important stat to point out is his career 239.6 passing yards per game.

15) Jim Martin

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    Unlike Quinn, Martin's spot on this list is all in thanks to his perfect, yes perfect, record during his four years. In addition to his stellar play on the line, he led the Irish to three national championships.

    "Jungle Jim" was a four-year starter, playing on both sides of the ball, and being named All-American in his final season in South Bend. Martin is the pure definition of a Notre Dame legend, as he has gone down as possibly the most-winning player to ever step foot in Notre Dame Stadium.

14) Jerome Bettis, RB

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    His stats may not match his spot on this list, but Bettis will forever be remembered as an Irish legend. When you think Notre Dame, you think Jerome Bettis and "The Bus" pushing down the end-zone.

    The legend to his name lies in the punishing way Bettis pulverized opponents en route to his 27 career rushing touchdowns. Think Robert Hughes on the final drive of the USC victory this past season, over an entire career. In addition, Bettis became one of the most successful bruisers ever to play in the NFL.

13) Bob Crable, LB

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    Crable is the all-time leader in tackles at Notre Dame with 521. In addition to his absurd amount of tackles, he was named first team All-American twice.

    Thanks to those tackles, he also holds some NCAA records as well, including the single-game record for tackles with 26 against Clemson. Crable will not only remembered as one of the surest tacklers to ever play for Notre Dame, but to ever play college football.

12) Johnny Lattner, HB

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    Lattner did it all during his time in South Bend. Not only did he win two Maxwell Awards, but he did so by punting, kicking, and playing receiver, running-back, and defense on his Irish teams.

    Thanks to his selfishness and football skills, Lattner led the 1953 Irish to an undefeated season and won the Heisman Trophy in the same year. He will forever be remembered as one of the most versatile players to ever play the game of football.

11) Alan Page, DE

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    Page played much like Justin Tuck, just in a time when speed and athleticism was almost unheard of coming off the edge. 

    During his '66 All-American year, Page was a huge reason why the Irish were able to take home yet another championship ring during the era. Not only is he a member of the College Football Hall of Fame, but Page is also an NFL Hall of Famer as well.

10) Frank Carideo, QB

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    Although his career only involved two spectacular seasons, they were two very special ones. In short, Carideo was the most "successful" quarterback to play at Notre Dame.

    After two seasons under center, he left Notre Dame with a record of 19-0 and made two All-American teams thanks to his leadership and winning-ways. More importantly, he won back-to-back rings in those two seasons he was the Irish quarterback. If his career was stretched out over four seasons, we might be talking about Carideo as one of the most impressive quarterbacks to ever take the field.

9) George Connor, OL

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    Another product of constant winning, Connor left Notre Dame with also zero losses. On top of that startling statistic, he wound up with two rings.. in only two years at Notre Dame after transferring from Holy Cross.

    Want some more convincing? O'Connor's Irish teams trailed a total of zero minutes while he was on the field. Not to mention, he played a nasty linebacker position as well.

8) Tony Rice, QB

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    The best dual-threat quarterback to ever play at Notre Dame, Rice did it all during his time as an undergraduate.  Throwing for more than 3,000 yards through the air, he also racked up over 2,000 yards on the ground.

    As the quarterback of the most recent national championship for the Irish, Rice is a fan-favorite. However, because of the names ahead of him, he is sometimes overlooked. Even though he may not be the ideal quarterback for some (although he would be in Brian Kelly's current offense), Rice will be remembered as one of the best players to ever come through South Bend.

7) Ross Browner, DE

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    There aren't many awards that Browner hasn't won: Lombardi Trophy, Maxwell Award, two-time All-American, two-time National Champion. Browner has it all.

    And on top of being one of the most accomplished players in college football history, he was a big reason for all of those awards happening. A dangerous defender, there aren't many names you can say that were bigger in college football than Browner's.

6) Raghib Ismail, WR

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    Without question, "The Rocket" was the most dynamic player ever to play at Notre Dame. Thanks to his quickness, speed, and athleticism, there may never be another Ismail to play in Notre Dame Stadium.

    In just three seasons, he racked up over 4,000 all-purpose yards as a kick returner and receiver. Every single time he touched the football, he was a threat to take it all the way for six. And because of that, he was an All-American twice and a Heisman Trophy runner-up.

5) Tim Brown, WR

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    Without question, Tim Brown is the best receiver in Notre Dame history. Not only was he the first receiver to ever win the Heisman Trophy, but he is one of the most recognizable faces of the Irish legends.

    Helping Lou Holtz's campaign to bring the Irish to the top, Brown was the biggest threat on his teams for four straight years. His receiving and punt-returning skills made him one of the most electrifying players ever to play a college football game.

4) Joe Montana, QB

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    Everyone knows "Joe Cool". His leadership and quarterbacking during his final seasons at Notre Dame are what made him the legend he is today and propelled him towards one of the best NFL careers by any quarterback.

    He may not have put up Hall of Fame statistics at Notre Dame. He certainly didn't compare to many of the other legendary names on this list. However, after taking over the reigns two games into the 1977 season, Montana lead his team to a national championship, one of the greatest college football stories ever.

3) Paul Hornung, QB/FB

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    When you think of a football player, you think of a player in the mold of Paul Hornung. Not only did he quarterback a Notre Dame team to national prominence on his back alone, but he also played in the backfield during many victories over his career. 

    His final season, in which the Irish went 2-8, was a miserable one for the team but a great one for himself. He remains to this day the only player to win the Heisman Trophy on a losing team.

2) George Gipp, HB

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    In short, George Gipp is the measuring stick for all Notre Dame football players. He is a legend, a ghost among the stadium, and one of the greatest football players ever to play the game.

    Gipp was the first consensus All-American at Notre Dame and racked up some of the most impressive stats in the history of the game. He played offense and defense, kicked and punted, and was not only the ideal football player, but the ideal 19th century American as well.

1) Johnny Lujack, QB

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    To put it plainly, Johnny Lujack has one of the most impressive college football resumes of them all. Three national championships, 1947 Heisman Trophy winner, and two-time All-American. Lujack has it all.

    However, even more impressive, he never lost a game at Notre Dame. When you think of a Notre Dame legend who has it all, Lujack is the perfect fit. He may not have the name of some of the other legends of South Bend, but he is the most reknown and most impressive of them all.