On January 7th The Notre Dame fighting Irish will play the Alabama Crimson Tide in Miami Florida for the Discover BCS National Championship. The Irish head into the game as the #1 team in the nation, capping off a magical undefeated 12-0 season. In the 125 years of existence the Notre Dame Fighting Irish football team has gone undefeated in regular season play for the 21st time. Coach Brian Kelly becomes the tenth coach at Notre Dame to lead his team to an undefeated campaign, and only the second to go 12-0. With the immortalized bronze statues around campus, and through Notre Dame lore, most know about the likes of Rockne, Leahy, Parseghian, and Holtz. But the lineage of Notre Dame coaches to go undefeated starts over 100 years ago with James Farragher who went 8-0-1 in 1903. Farragher is credited as the head coach In Official Notre Dame University archives for the 1902 and 1903 seasons while also playing tackle for the Irish during that same period. After Farragher, Thomas Barry was the next coach to go undefeated, going 6-0-1 in 1907. Barry played a major role in the way Notre Dame’s football schedule is structured even to this day. Prior to Barry’s arrival at Notre Dame, the University was denied acceptance into the Western Conference (Big Ten), because of low enrollment. In an effort to receive an invitation, Barry’s Irish followed Western Conference regulations and regularly scheduled conference members, but it wasn’t until the 1990’s that an invitation was sent.
Former University of Michigan standout Frank C. Longman was the next coach to lead Notre Dame to a 7-0-1 record in 1909, and after the 1910 season Longman finished with an 11-1-2 record at ND. John L. “Jack” Marks coached the next two seasons for the Irish going 6-0-2 in 1911 and 7-0 in 1912, with a .933 winning percentage which ranks first all time at Notre Dame. Marks 1912 team was lead by QB Charles “Gus” Dorais Notre Dame’s first consensus All-American, and left end and future legendary coach Knute Kenneth Rockne. after Marks, Jesse Harper became the head coach, and in his first season at the helm led the Irish to an undefeated 7-0 record beating powerhouse Army at Yankee Stadium along the way. Harper also coached the Notre Dame Basketball and Baseball teams during his tenure at the school, and after stepping down from coaching in 1917 Harper returned to South Bend as athletic director for the school until 1934.
And then there was Knute, the most legendary of all coaches at the University. Rockne’s Irish were crowned National Champs three times as well as going undefeated five times, with the first two undefeated seasons coming back to back in 1919 and 1920 . The team was led by Notre Dame’s first All-American and second consensus All-American George “The Gipper” Gipp. Gipp, who is still considered as one of the best collegiate athletes to play the game, led the Irish in almost every category during his time at Notre Dame. Gipp’s toughness was unmatched and proven in a game in 1920 against Northwestern when an already ill Gipp lifted the Irish to victory, it would be his final game. Gipp contracted strep throat and pneumonia from playing in the game, and was laying in a South Bend hospital when Walter Camp named Gipp as an All-American, Rockne was the last person to visit “The Gipper”. There Rockne delivered the news that Gipp had been selected as an All-American, it was also there that Gipp told his coach to tell the boys to win just one for him. Gipp died December 14 1920, he was 25.
Rockne’s next undefeated season and first tittle came in 1924, with the infamous “Four Horsemen” running the legendary backfield for Notre Dame.Quarterback Harry Stuhldreher, left halfback Jim Crowley, right halfback Don Miller, and fullback Elmer Layden led the University to an undefeated season going 10-0 and earning the school it’s first National Tittle. The “Four Horsemen” were given the tittle by Grantland Rice, a sportswriter for the New York Harald Tribune after a hard fought win over a dominant Army team. Still one of the most famous writings in sports is that of Grantland Rice on October 18 1924 “The Four Horsemen”.
“Outlined against a blue-gray October sky, the Four Horsemen rode again. In dramatic lore they are known as Famine, Pestilence, Destruction and Death. These are only aliases. Their real names are Stuhldreher, Miller, Crowley and Layden. They formed the crest of the South Bend cyclone before which another fighting Army football team was swept over the precipice at the Polo Grounds yesterday afternoon as 55,000 spectators peered down on the bewildering panorama spread on the green plain below.”( Full Text)
The quartet lost only two games in three years together in the backfield, both coming to Nebraska in 1922 and 1923. All four members have been elected to the College Football Hall of Fame, in South Bend Indiana, and all four went on to coach at the collegiate level. Rockne would go undefeated and the Irish would be named Champions in each of his last two seasons as coach in 1929 9-0 and 1930 10-0. After the 1930 season Rockne was on his way to oversee the production of the film “The Spirit of Notre Dame” when he boarded a flight on March 31 1931 from Kansas City to Los Angeles. Shortly after takeoff, one the planes wings detached from the aircraft and crashed in a wheat field near Bazaar Kansas, there were no survivors, Rockne was 43.
Notre Dame’s winning ways left along with the most beloved coach at the University. Hunk Anderson tried his hand for three years before Rockne’s former pupil and “Four Horsemen” alum Elmer Layden took the job as head football coach at Notre Dame. Layden coached the Irish for seven seasons with his best mark coming in 1938 going 8-1. It wasn’t until another pupil of Rockne’s, Frank Leahy took over in 1941 that the Irish became the dominant force they once were under Knute. In Leahy’s first season he went undefeated going 8-0-1, and two years later in 1943 the Irish were 9-1 and National Champs once again. Leahy enlisted in the Navy in 1944 and returned to coach Notre Dame for the 1946 season. Between 1946 and 1950 Leahy went 36-0-2 and won three more National Tittles 1946 1947 1949, Notre Dame finished second in 1948 behind an undefeated Michigan team. Leahy also coached four Heismen Trophy winners during his time at Notre Dame and recruited a fifth in Paul Hornung. Leahy stepped down as coach in 1954 due to health problems, he posted a record of 87-11-9 at his Alma mater.
After Leahy’s departure from Notre Dame Terence Brennan took over, and in his first year led the Irish to a 9-1 mark, which would be the best record the Irish would post over the next ten seasons. From 1954 to 1963 the Irish went a measly 51-48 making it the worst stretch in the history of Notre Dame football. In 1964 the Irish hired former Miami University and Northwestern coach Ara Parseghian. Like Leahy before him, Ara won a National Tittle in his third season as head coach at Notre Dame, going 9-0-1 in 1966. The “Era of Ara” as it is known to Irish fans had begun, and in 1970 the Irish went to a post season bowl for the first time in 44 years. Formerly the Irish athletic department had in place a policy that would not allow Notre Dame to accept bowl bids due to academic concerns. Notre Dame faced the Texas Longhorns in The 1970 Cotton Bowl, losing 21-17. The next year the 10-1 Irish exacted revenge against the Longhorns in the 1971 Cotton Bowl winning 24-11.
In 1973 Parseghian led the Irish to another undefeated season and their 9th National Tittle by beating Paul “Bear” Bryant and the Alabama Crimson Tide in the Sugar Bowl 24-23. The next year which was Ara’s last pit the Fighting Irish against the Crimson Tide once again in the Orange Bowl, and once again the Irish prevailed winning the game 13-11. In 11 seasons as coach at Notre Dame Parseghian compiled a record of 95-17-4. Dan Devine joined Notre Dame in 1975 and in six seasons as coach, Devine went to four bowl games winning all but one. And in his third year, (the magical year at Notre Dame) Devine led by junior quarterback Joe Montana, beat the Texas Longhorns in the 1978 Cotton Bowl to claim the National Tittle. Devine’s only bowl game loss came in his final season as coach with a 17-10 loss to Georgia in the 1981 Suger Bowl. After a forgettable five seasons under Gerry Faust the Irish turned to a skinny spectacle wearing inspirer named Lou.
Lou Holtz became the head coach of Notre Dame in 1986, after a mediocre first season, Holtz got the Irish to the 1988 Cotton Bowl where they lost to Texas A&M 35-10. The next year the Irish went undefeated once again and went on to beat West Virginia in the 1989 Fiesta Bowl to claim their most recent Nation Tittle. Holtz led the Irish to nine bowl apperences in eleven seasons, winning five of them. Holtz brought a toughness back to Notre Dame, and a style of motivation unseen at Notre Dame since the likes of Rockne led the University. Lou is still a huge embassador for the Irish, even though he went on to coach at South Carolina after his stint at Notre Dame, Irish faithfull still embrace the lovably coach who set a high standard in recruiting as well as on and of the field.
Since the departure of Holtz in 1996 the Irish have been looking for a coach to lead them to the promised land once again, and current head coach Brian Kelly looks to be the next coach to win a Tittle for the Irish in his third season. At the start of the season almost all of college football experts were writing Notre Dame off, and expressing to the Irish faithful that eight wins with their schedule would be a good season, not for Brian Kelly. Kelly along with senior leader and perhaps the most beloved player in the history of Notre Dame Manti Teo, have put the Irish back on top. The Irish have surpassed all odds and have become the Cinderella story of the 2012 season. From unranked to #1 the Irish are headed to South Beach to face the defending National Champions The Crimson Tide of Alabama. The Irish have been underdogs all year, and this game will be no different. Alabama is favored by 10 points which is tied for the highest point spread in a National Championship game. The Irish embrace the underdog roll and continue to play football at a high level, and prove that they belong with the college football elite.