The guys who rode away with College Football: What happened to the Four Horsemen of Notre Dame?

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As the Christian faith believes, one day God will call his believers to heaven, that is when the “Apocalypse occurs.” Along with that, in the Book of Revelations, there is an important story.  It is the story of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. These four men symbol the end time of the Last Judgment. The first rides on a white horse symbolizing the fight between the last on earth.  The second rides on a red horse to represent war.  The third comes in on the black horse of famine.  The last rides on the pale green horse of illness.

Notre Dame claimed their own ideology of their own four horsemen, but these men did not bring death and destruction. These four men would go to be known as one the greatest backfields in college football history and go on to lose only two games in the three years they spent together (both losses at Nebraska).

It was 1924, the roaring 20s were still blasting on, and Knute Rockne soon realized he would find himself absolute diamonds in the rough during possibly the hardest time to recruit talent in all of college sports. At quarterback was Harry Stuhldreher, a powerhouse runner coming from farm country in Ohio. At the time, Rockne followed suit with many other football coaches and ran the wing-tee which Stuhldreher would have three backs behind him. The halfbacks (outside guys) were Don Miller who was on the right and Jim Crowley who was on the left. These two speedy backs sandwiched in fullback, Elmer Layden, who was used more for blocking. None of these men were over six feet or 162 pounds which is very undersized for each position to say the least.

Notre Dame had already been known as one of the top football programs in the nation after having two unclaimed national championships prior to the 1922 season. Rockne had been the coach for both these championships and was looking to add more. As stated before, Rockne was running the wing-tee at the time but did not know who he was going to run the offense through—well look no further. Rockne saw these 4 sophomores emerge as the top candidates for his offense which would be one of the best decisions of his career.

During the three seasons the quad spent together, they competed in 30 games, finishing with a 28-2 record. Numerous times before the quad was well known and respected, they were highly overlooked which led to them running all over their opponents. This got them deemed the name the Four Horsemen after writer Grantland Rice watched as Notre Dame went on to upset Army on October 18th, 1924.

“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 team was swept over the precipice at the Polo Grounds this afternoon as 55,000 spectators peered down upon the bewildering panorama spread out upon the green plain below” (ND.com). These were the words that would cement the glory and power of the Four Horsemen.

At the time, George Strickler was Notre Dames’ publicity aid. His main goal was to make sure that no matter, the nickname the four horsemen stood with each of the men throughout their careers. Strickler decided it was best that each of the four boys would suit up in their Notre Dame Navy and Gold while on top of a horse for one of the most iconic college football photos of all-time.

Before the photo was taken, there was quite a conundrum between Rockne and Crowley. All four men refused to get on their horses which angered Rockne as the photo was taking time away from practice. Rockne asked what the hold-up was all about and Crowley responded with three lies, “1. Polo was played on horses, football on a field. 2. The photographer wanted them each to hold a football, but there was only one football at a time in a game. 3. “They had their practice uniforms on which were dirty, full of holes, and didn’t look very good.” (ndnation.com)

Rockne did not believe a single word that came out of Crowley’s mouth and asked him what the truth was. The truth was all four guys were completely terrified of horses. It was never said who caved in first but eventually, this masterpiece was captured.

Besides all the behind the scenes actions in 1924, Notre Dame would go on to defeat Stanford in the Rose Bowl 27-10, earning them another unclaimed National Championship.

After their college careers were done, Miller had been the only one who did not continue playing the game he loved. He did reunite with the other three horsemen for one game with the Hartford Blue in 1925. Miller went on to coach at Georgia Tech and Ohio State before being added to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1970.

Layden spent a short amount of time in the pros before hanging up the helmet one final time and joining Miller as a college coach but on a different team. Layden joined the University of Columbia coaching staff for Basketball and Football in 1925. He would bounce around several different universities during his time in college before taking over as the commissioner of the NFL in 1941. Layden would be announced as the first horsemen to make the College Hall of Fame in 1951.

Stuhldreher continued his football days with a short stint with the Hartford Blues before he and Layden created their own name stake football team, the Brooklyn Horsemen which only lasted for one year. After his time with the Horsemen, Stuhldreher went on to coach at both Villanova and Wisconsin for 10+ years.  He finished with an overall coaching record of 110-87-15 before calling it quits in 1950. He was later indicated as the second horsemen into the CHF in 1958.

Crowley, just like Stuhldreher, spent a short amount of time playing for different professional teams. Fortunately for him, he was the only one to play for an NFL team (before they were in the NFL) in the Green Bay Packers. Crowley would then spend his next 20 years bouncing around from colleges which included a short four-year period with Michigan State. Crowley was named to the CHF in 1966 which very much so cements the Four Horsemen as the most decorated backfield of all time.