Touchdown Jesus at Notre Dame Credit: Michael Dixon/The Comeback

The most storied program in college football history might just be the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.

Notre Dame was on the right track before Knute Rockne got there, but he transformed them into college football’s first dynasty. Rockne not only helped change the game of college football, but he did it with some of the greatest players of the era.

That hasn’t changed in the years since as Notre Dame has racked up national titles and scores of victories thanks to rosters full of All-Americans, Heisman Trophy winners, and Hall of Famers. It’s tough to narrow them down to just ten but here’s our list of the best Fighting Irish players of all time.

Notre Dame Fighting Irish offensive tackle Zack Martin (70). Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

10. Zack Martin, offensive tackle

When the Dallas Cowboys drafted Zack Martin in 2014, many people were scratching their heads, but Martin proved them wrong. He has become a great all-pro for the Cowboys and was a great offensive lineman for the Fighting Irish before that. Martin was a second-team All-American, leading his team to the 2013 national championship game against Alabama. He was also named MVP of the Pinstripe Bowl (2013), a rarity for an offensive lineman. A six-time first-team All-Pro, he’s currently en route to a Hall of Fame career.

9. George Gipp, halfback

The Notre Dame star who started it all was George Gipp. Gipp is sadly most remembered for dying at the age of 25 just weeks after Notre Dame’s win over Northwestern, before which Rockne gave his infamous “Win just one for the Gipper” speech. But Gipp was a star in his own right, leading the team in both rushing and passing for three seasons. The school’s first All-American is still Notre Dame’s all-time leader in average yards per rush (8.1), career average yards per play (9.37), and career average yards per game (128.4).

8. Dave Casper, tight end

Before he became known for “The Ghost to the Post” in the NFL, Dave Casper was ghosting defenders at Notre Dame. Casper was not only a consensus All-American in 1973, recording 21 receptions for 335 yards and four touchdowns, but he also led the Irish to the 1973 national championship. Casper went on to have a great career with the Oakland Raiders where he was a five-time pro bowler, part of the NFL 1970s All-Decade Team, and a Super Bowl champion.

7. Rocket Ismail, wide receiver

Rocket Ismail has to be the most exciting player to ever put on an Irish uniform. A threat to score every time he touched the ball, he was deployed as a wide receiver, punt returner, and kick returner to great benefit. A member of the national championship team in 1988, he almost helped Notre Dame win another in 1990 but his 91-yard punt return touchdown was called back. A consensus Al-American and Walter Camp Award winner in 1990, he finished his college career with over 5,000 all-purpose yards. Various outlets have put him on their lists of the best college football players of all time.

Notre Dame Fighting Irish linebacker Manti Te’o (5). Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

6. Manti Te’o, linebacker

Te’o will always be known for the controversial events surrounding his fake girlfriend scandal and its fallout. However, he was a pretty good football player aside from that. His 2012 season is one of the best singular seasons for a defensive player in Notre Dame history. A unanimous All-American and winner of the Lombardi, Butkus, Bednarik, Walter Camp, and Maxwell awards, he led the Irish to the national title game. A Heisman finalist, Te’o ended his college career with 437 total tackles and holds the record for consecutive games played by a linebacker (47).

5. Alan Page, defensive tackle

Alan Page is either best known as a star for the Minnesota Vikings or as a longtime Minnesota state Supreme Court judge. But before all of that, he was an All-American and two-time national champion in the 1960s for the Fighting Irish. In 1993, he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. In 2005, he was awarded the National Football Foundation Distinguished American Award. Considered by some as the best Viking of all time and one of the best defensive linemen of all time, he won the NFL MVP in 1971, made nine Pro Bowls, won an NFL championship, and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1988.

4. Paul Hornung, running back/quarterback/kicker

The Golden Boy is one of the few Irish players on this list not to win a national championship, but it’s hard to ignore his impact on the field and the program. Hornung was a two-time All-American and won the Heisman Trophy in 1956, a controversial decision at the time as the Irish went 2-9. Hornung was actually a better rusher than a passer that season, rushing for 446 yards and six touchdowns. A multi-sport star while there, there are still many who consider Hornung the greatest all-around football player in school history. He went on to have a stellar NFL career as well, winning four NFL championships and a Super Bowl with the Green Bay Packers.

3. Johnny Lujack, quarterback

Johnny Lujack is the only quarterback in NCAA history to win three national championships. Not only that, he also won the Heisman Trophy in 1947. While many in his hometown wanted Lujack to attend school at the Army, his heart was already set on Notre Dame. World War II interrupted his playing career and split it into two halves, but he returned to become a two-time All-American in 1946 and 1947. In his Heisman year, he passed for 777 yards and nine touchdowns.

Notre Dame Irish receiver Tim Brown (81). Credit: Photo By Malcolm Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

2. Tim Brown, wide receiver

A star of Notre Dame’s teams between 1984 and 1987, they didn’t call him “Touchdown Timmy” for nothing. As a freshman, Brown set a record with 28 receptions. As a junior, he set the school record with 1,937 all-purpose yards, racking up yards and touchdowns on passes, kick returns, punt returns, and as a runner. Brown was named an All-American twice and won the 1987 Heisman Trophy, the first wide receiver to ever do so. Brown left school as one of the deadliest weapons in college football history and went on to have a spectacular NFL career as well. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2009 and the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2015.

Notre Dame Irish quarterback (3) Joe Montana. Credit: Photo by Malcolm Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

1. Joe Montana, quarterback

Joe Montana’s impact on the game of football cannot be overstated and while much of what he’s remembered for came from his time with the San Francisco 49ers in the NFL, he set the tone for his Hall of Fame quarterback career while at Notre Dame.

When Dan Devine took over as head coach in 1975, he was so impressed with the sophomore signal-caller that when his wife asked “Who’s Joe Montana?,” Devine replied by saying “He’s the guy who’s going to feed our family for the next few years.”

While Montana didn’t put up Heisman numbers, he did power the Irish to a national title as a junior, leading them to a 38-10 win over No. 1 Texas in the Cotton Bowl. As a senior, he threw for 2,010 yards and 10 touchdowns (along with six rushing scores), leading Notre Dame to a 9-3 record and a return to the Cotton Bowl. In that game, while dealing with hypothermia, he battled through the pain and led the team back from a 34-12 deficit to defeat Houston 35-34. It became known as the “Chicken Soup Game.”

All Montana did in the NFL after that was win four Super Bowls, become a two-time NFL MVP, get picked for eight Pro Bowls, and end up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

About Stacey Mickles

Stacey is a 1995 graduate of the University of Alabama who has previously worked for other publications such as Sportskeeda and Saturday Down South.