Four Horsemen – 80 years later |

Four Horsemen – 80 years later

Dave Price

“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.”

– Grantland Rice, New York Herald Tribune, Oct. 19, 1924

Today marks the 80th anniversary of the legendary newspaper story written after Notre Dame’s 13-7 victory against Army, a story that launched the nickname of a legendary backfield that still stands tall among the traditions of Notre Dame football.

Many older college football fans are aware of Notre Dame’s backfield – by the way, here’s a trivia question to test your memory: What was the name given the Notre Dame line on that 1924 team? – but for those of you too young to have heard of them, here is a crash course.

Together, they lost only two of the 30 games they played at Notre Dame – to Nebraska in 1922 and in 1923. That win over Army boosted the Irish to 3-0 for the season and they were rarely challenged the rest of the season. A 27-10 win over Stanford in the 1925 Rose Bowl gave the Knute Rockne-coached Fighting Irish a perfect 10-0 record and a national championship.

If you’ve seen the photograph of the four players mounted on horses, they are, from left to right:

• Don Miller, right halfback: The 5-foot-11, 160-pound Miller, a native of Defiance, Ohio, was the breakaway threat in this backfield. After leaving Notre Dame, he coached at Georgia Tech four years before giving up football for a career in law. He was later appointed U.S. District Attorney for Ohio by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Miller died in 1979, at age 77.

• Elmer Layden, fullback: The 6-foot, 162-pounder from Davenport, Iowa, was a standout on offense and defense and punter for Notre Dame. He scored three TDs against Stanford in the Rose Bowl, two on interception returns. Layden returned to Notre Dame as head coach in 1934 (his teams went 47-13-3), served as the school’s athletic director, was commissioner of the NFL for five years and later worked as a businessman in Chicago. He died in 1973, at age 70.

• Jim Crowley, left halfback: The 5-11, 160-pounder from Green Bay was known as a shifty runner who led the 1924 Fighting Irish in scoring. Later, he played briefly for the Green Bay Packers, then coached at Michigan State and Fordham – his 7-0-1 Fordham team of 1937 featured Vince Lombardi and the “Seven Blocks of Granite” – and became the first commissioner of the All-America Football Conference in 1945. He died in 1986, at age 83.

• Harry Stuhldreher, quarterback: Though the smallest of the group at 5-5, 137, he was a three-year starter who became known as a great leader as well as a fearless blocker. Stuhldreher, who hailed from Massillon, Ohio, later coached at Villanova and Wisconsin, then became assistant to the vice president at United States Steel in Pittsburgh. He died in 1965, at age 63.

What solidified their place in history was the photograph taken after the Army game. George Strickler, who was then Rockne’s student publicity aide and later sports editor for the Chicago Tribune, got the four to pose in their uniforms on the backs of four horses from a local livery stable for a photo that was picked up by the wire services picked. The rest is history.

As for that trivia question, the answer is: The Seven Mules. They were The Seven Mules were: Joe Bach and Edgar “Rip” Miller at the tackles, Noble Kizer and John Weibel at the guards, center Adam Walsh, Chuck Collins and Ed Hunsinger at the ends. Who was more valuable? Knute put that issue to a vote among his starting 11 players at practice one day. The outcome of the vote was, of course, 7-4.

Contact Dave Price at or call 881-1220.