IrishCentral have brought to you the list of the best Offensive Players in the history of Notre Dame football but now we’re focusing on those unheralded often overlooked players on the other side of the ball. The defense. The grinders. The lunch pail players that are finally getting their due. Again many worthy players were painstakingly left off this list.
So without further ado here are the top ten Fighting Irish defensive players of all-time:
1. Leon Hart
(1946-1949) Defensive End
Perhaps one of the best all-around players in Fighting Irish history Hart’s many accomplishments tell it all.
A three-time All-American and three time national champion he was a feared past rusher. In 1949 Hart won the Heisman Trophy (one of only two linemen to do so) and was recognized as the AP athlete of the year.
During his tenure at Notre Dame Hart was never on the losing side as his teams compiled a record of 36-0-2. Drafted first by the Lions in 1950, Hart is a member of the College Hall of fame. He was inducted in 1977.
2. Ross Browner
(1973, 1975-1977) Defensive End
Aside from being one of the best linemen to ever wear the blue and gold, Browner is considered one of the best to play the position ever at the collegiate level.
At 6’3” and 247 pounds Browner was quick and powerful. His accolades include two year all-American selections, 1977 UPI Lineman of the year, as well as the Maxwell and Lombardy trophies. In fact he was the first linemen to be recognized as the nation’s best player over a ten year span.
Browner was a member of both the undefeated (11-0) 1973 and 1977 Fighting Irish championship squads. The defensive end was enshrined into the college football Hall of Fame in 1999.
3. Alan Page
(1964-66) Defensive End
Yet another defensive linemen selection on this list Page is well known for his formidable tackling and pass rushing skills. At Notre Dame he was an All-American in 1966 while recording 63 tackles. The 6-5 238-pound Page went on to play for the Minnesota Vikings and Chicago Bears where he enjoyed a successful career. A nine-time pro bowler Page was the recipient of the NFL’s MVP in 1971. His greatest achievement is perhaps away from the playing field where he proudly serves as a member of the Minnesota Supreme Court.
4. Bob Crable
The first linebacker to make the IrishCentral list, Bob Crable is considered by most to be one of the best defensive players to wear the blue and gold. He was recognized for his tackling prowess.
Crable owns the Notre Dame record of 521 career tackles and most tackles in a season (187 in 1979). As a team captain in his junior and senior years the linebacker was a unanimous All-American pick.
5. Jim “Jungle Jim” Martin
Jim Martin is the oldest college player to make the list. He started is college career at the ripe age of 22 after serving as a Marine in WW II. This earned him the stern nickname “Jungle Jim”.
He anchored a line for a team that won three national championships (1946, 1947, and 1949) and never lost a game over span. In his senior year he co-captained the team with Leon Hart and was recognized as an All-American.
Away from the gridiron Martin was the school’s heavyweight boxing champion. Jungle Jim went on to a 14-year NFL career. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1995.
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6. Jim Lynch
The second linebacker on this list was described by legendary Notre Dame coach Ara Parseghian as "… (an) All-America in every sense - talented, hard-nosed, and honest."
That his high praise for the player that captained the 1966 Fighting Irish Champion squad. In that same year Lynch was an All-American and the winner of the Maxwell award. With the Kanas City Chiefs Lynch won the super bowl in 1969. He was enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame in 1992.
7. Bob Golic
Bob Golic, better known these days as a radio sports host on the program “Mike and Mike” on ESPN, was a formidable defensive player in his day for the Irish.
As a member of the 1977 Notre Dame Championship team he was selected as an All-American and totaled 146 tackles. He again earned All-American honors again in 1978 and ended his Notre Dame career with an impressive 479 tackles.
His athletisicm was also displayed in his dominance of collegiate wrestling. As an NFL player Golic was selected twice as an All-Pro and three times to the Pro-Bowl.
8.Chris “Zoro” Zorich
(1987-1990) Defensive Tackle
The most current player to make the cut Zorich originally played linebacker before being shifted to defensive tackle. His ability to bench 455 pounds and run the 40 in 4.68 seconds was well suited to his new position.
During the transition Zorich sat on the bench the entire season. He excelled at defensive tackle as an All-American leading an undefeated Fighting Irish squad to the national championship. As a senior Zorich again made the All-America team and was recognized as the most dominant defense player in college football upon receiving the Lombardi trophy.
Zorich was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2007.
9. Luther Bradley
The first defensive back to make the list Bradley was a standout player for the Fighting Irish.
He anchored the backfield for two championship teams in 1973 and 1977. His quickness and skillfulness helped him register a Notre Dame career-record 17 sacks along with 153 tackles. Bradley later played three years with the USFL where he is the defunct league’s all-time interception leader.
Another dominant force in the backfield Lyght is widely thought of as one of the best corners in Notre Dame history.
He was a member of the 1988 chamionship team. Lyght’s distinguished career included twice being selected as an All-American, 161 tackles and 11 interceptions.
And there you have it. The Top ten defensive players to have donned the Blue and Gold.
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