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Notre Dame Football: All-Time Fighting Irish Team

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This team includes eight Pro Football Hall of Famers.

Notre Dame enters the season ranked fifth in the preseason AP poll. Over its nearly 140-year history, the Fighting Irish have won 11 national titles and more than 900 games.

Related: 10 Greatest Notre Dame Football Teams of All Time

As I recently did with Georgia, if one were to take the best players and coaches from all of Notre Dame's teams (based on their level of success in college and/or the NFL) to put together an all-time lineup, the Irish would have a Super Bowl-caliber team. Let’s take a look, but as we do, note that I am going on an individual's peak success and how he would fare today, i.e., no 180-pound linemen or coaches who could not adjust past the single wing. With that in mind, let’s dive in.

Coaches

Head Coach: Knute Rockne (1918-30)
While I'm a bit skeptical of just how quickly players and coaches from the early days of football could adapt to the complexities of today's game, it’s worth noting that Rockne was revolutionary for his time with the Notre Dame Box offense, and he also utilized the forward pass when many of his contemporaries saw it as an abomination. Given that, his 105-12-5 coaching record, and three national championships, I'm thinking he could adapt to today.

Offensive Coordinator: Frank Leahy (1941-43, '46-53)
I'm going to give the same benefit of the doubt to Leahy, who had the foresight to scrap the Box offense and go with the new T formation. This led to four national titles and a run where Notre Dame did not lose a game in four straight seasons.

Defensive Coordinator: Brian Kelly (2010-21)
Kelly was the defensive coordinator at Division II Grand Valley State before being promoted to head coach. His success since then, including stops at Central Michigan, Cincinnati, and 92 wins at Notre Dame, has been built on stout defense.

Offense

QB: Joe Montana (1978-79)
Could it be anyone else? In addition to his four Super Bowl rings and Hall of Fame Career, "Joe Cool" led the Irish to the 1977 national title.

RB: Jerome Bettis (1990-92)
After averaging 5.7 yards a carry at Notre Dame, Bettis left after his junior season and went on to become one of the greatest power runners in NFL history. He finished his Hall of Fame career with 13,664 rushing yards.

RB: Paul Hornung (1953-56)
Yes, "The Golden Boy" did win the 1956 Heisman Trophy primarily as a quarterback, but he also claimed the award because of his versatility as a passer, rusher, kicker, return specialist, and defensive back. When Vince Lombardi became head coach of the Green Bay Packers in 1959, he utilized Hornung's skills while fullback Jim Taylor powered the backfield. Bettis and Hornung would be an even better combination.

WR: Tim Brown (1984-87)
The first wide receiver to ever win the Heisman Trophy had a Hall of Fame career with the Los Angeles/Oakland Raiders. He also returned three punts for touchdowns.

WR: Golden Tate (2007-09)
In 2009, Tate caught 93 passes for 1,496 receiving yards and 15 touchdowns and won the Biletnikoff Award. He went on to play for 11 seasons in the NFL as a receiver and return specialist.

WR: Raghib Ismail (1988-90)
Perhaps the most mythicized player in Notre Dame history, "Rocket Ismail" averaged 22 yards a reception and was a consensus All-American and Walter Camp Award winner in 1990. He signed a then-lucrative contract with the CFL's Toronto Argonauts where he won a Grey Cup in his rookie season and then left for the NFL in 1993 and played for nine more years.

TE: Dave Casper (1970-73)
Casper was an All-American tackle in 1972. In the offseason, head coach Ara Parseghian moved him to tight end and the rest is history. Casper was a consensus All-American as the Irish won a national title in 1973. He then went on to have a Hall of Fame career with the Oakland Raiders.

T: Ronnie Stanley (2012-15)
Stanley earned consensus All-American honors in 2015 and immediately became the starting left tackle for the Baltimore Ravens. He earned first-team All-Pro honors in 2019 but has been plagued by injuries ever since.

G: Aaron Taylor (1990-93)
A two-time consensus All-American, Taylor played in two Super Bowls with the Green Bay Packers during an NFL career beset with injuries.

C: Jeff Faine (1999-2002)
The underrated Faine anchored both an option attack and West Coast offense while in South Bend. He was taken in the first round and went on to play 10 seasons in the NFL.

G: Quenton Nelson (2014-17)
Nelson was a unanimous All-American in 2017 and has made four straight Pro Bowls with the Indianapolis Colts.

T: Mike McGlinchey (2013-17)
McGlinchey earned consensus All-American honors in 2017 and is currently the starting right tackle for the San Francisco 49ers.

Defense

DE: Justin Tuck (2001-04)
The Irish’s career sack leader with 24.5 also holds the single-season record with 13.5 in 2003. He went on to win two Super Bowls with the New York Giants and is in their ring of honor.

DT: Alan Page (1964-66)
After winning two national championships and earning consensus All-American honors, Page enjoyed a 15-season Hall of Fame career with the Minnesota Vikings and Chicago Bears. In 1971, he became the first defensive player to be named league MVP.

DT: Bob Golic (1975-78)
Golic was an All-American linebacker at Notre Dame but was moved to nose tackle when he signed with the Cleveland Browns and made the Pro Bowl three times at that position.

DE: Ross Browner (1973, '75-77)
Maybe the most decorated lineman in Notre Dane history, the late Browner was a four-year starter who earned All-American honors twice and won the UPI Lineman of the Year Award two times as well. He also won two national titles before playing for 10 seasons in the NFL.

LB: Bob Crable (1978-82)
Crable’s 521 career tackles are still a Notre Dame record. He also played for seven seasons with the New York Jets before knee injuries ended his career.

LB: Nick Buoniconti (1958-61)
Buoniconti earned All-American honors in 1961 and was a six-time AFL All-Star and two-time Pro Bowler, winning back-to-back Super Bowls during his Hall of Fame career.

LB: Manti Te'o (2009-12)
In 2012, Te'o won the Lott Trophy, along with the Maxwell, Bednarik Award, Butkus, and Walter Camp Awards, as Notre Dame had an undefeated regular season. He also has played eight seasons in the NFL.

LB: George Connor (1943, '46-47)
Connor was a three-time All-American at tackle, but Chicago Bears head coach George Halas moved him to linebacker, where he revolutionized the position on his way to the Hall of Fame.

DB: Todd Lyght (1987-90)
Notre Dame went 33-4 and won a national title during Lyght’s three years as a starter while he earned consensus All-American honors twice. He also snagged 37 picks and won a Super Bowl during his 12 years in the NFL.

DB: Mike Townsend (1970-73)
Townsend’s 10 interceptions in 1972 are still a Notre Dame record. He was a consensus All-American the next season when the Irish won the national championship.

DB: Bobby Taylor (1992-94)
After winning the Jack Tatum Trophy in 1994, Taylor played for 10 seasons in the NFL and recorded 19 interceptions.

DB: Dave Duerson (1979-82)
Sadly, Duerson’s career is overshadowed by the chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) that led to his death. However, it is important to remember that he was a four-year starter and earned All-American honors twice. Duerson also won Super Bowls with the Chicago Bears and New York Giants and made the Pro Bowl four times.

Special Teams

K: John Carney (1984-86)
Not to be confused with the current governor of Delaware, Carney played in four different decades in the NFL and made 82.4 percent of his field goals.

P: Hunter Smith (1996-99)
Prior to the 1960s, Notre Dame had a lot of great players who were also strong punters, including George Gipp, Paul Hornung, and Bob Scarpitto. For this though, I’m going with a full-time punter in Smith who played in all 45 games for the Irish and averaged 43 yards a punt during 12 seasons in the NFL.

RS: Allen Rossum (1994-97)
For this team, Raghib Ismail, Tim Brown, Golden Tate, and Paul Hornung all excelled in kickoff and punt returns and could be called on when needed. For the full-time position, let’s go with Rossum, who returned three kicks and three punts for touchdowns while in South Bend. Rossum also is the only player in NFL history to return a kickoff for a touchdown with five different teams. 

— Written by Aaron Tallent, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Tallent is a writer whose articles have appeared in The Sweet Science, FOX Sports' Outkick the Coverage, Liberty Island and The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter at @AaronTallent.