- The Washington Times - Monday, August 26, 2002

The game was over, the crowd had filed out of New York's Polo Grounds and now the famed sportswriter got down to work. He rolled a piece of paper into his typewriter and stared out at the deserted field. How to best capture what he had witnessed?
Then he recalled a halftime conversation in the same press box. George Strickler, a student assistant in the winning team's sports information office, had been describing a new Rudolph Valentino movie that featured Biblical figures of doom and disaster.
Grantland Rice looked down at his machine. Slowly at first but with increasing speed, he began tapping the keys
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 yesterday
By the way, the score was 13-7.
Rice's story in the next morning's New York Herald-Tribune seems overblown and worshipful by today's leaner journalistic standards. Yet 78 years later, it remains the most famous lead ever written on a sports event, and its effect went a long way toward creating the marvelous mystique that surrounds Notre Dame football.
When Maryland plays the Fighting Irish for the first time Saturday night at Giants Stadium, it's doubtful many of the Terrapins will be thinking of the Four Horsemen. But perhaps they should because that mystique plus 11 national championships is what makes Notre Dame's the only truly national college football program.
There are many other elements and legends, of course: Knute Rockne, the Gipper, Frank Leahy's "lads," Ara Parseghian's intensity, Touchdown Jesus and Fair Catch Corby, Rudy But the Four Horsemen were among the earliest reasons why a small Catholic college in South Bend, Ind., came to personify the glamour and glory of college football. And not even the mediocre recent coaching tenures of Gerry Faust and Bob Davie or the fiasco of George O'Leary's hiring and firing a week later can tarnish the Golden Dome for long.
When the Irish came to New York to battle Army on Oct.18, 1924, the stands were full, and many of the paying customers were rooting for Notre Dame and the charismatic Rockne. Over the years, the school's "Subway Alumni" became famous in their own noisy right. And in the '40s, a sensible mantra would become part of America's sporting scene: "Never bet against the Yankees, Joe Louis or Notre Dame."
Army's 1924 squad was typically strong, but the Irish were equal to the task. In the second period, Elmer Layden scored on a 10-yard run ("as if he had been fired from the black mouth of a howitzer," Rice wrote) for a 6-0 lead. In the third quarter, the lead became 13-0 on a 20-yard run and conversion kick by Jimmy Crowley, and the Notre Dame defense made it stand up.
Proud of his unwitting contribution to Rice's lead, Strickler went himself one better after the team returned to South Bend. He posed the four backs on horses, complete with helmets and footballs, for a publicity shot that appeared in newspapers across the country. Suddenly, the four smallish seniors none weighed more than 162 pounds were famous. Their celebrity was assured when the Irish finished the season unbeaten by drubbing Stanford 27-10 in the Rose Bowl.
"If we had lost a couple of games, I don't think we would have been remembered," Crowley said years later. As a unit, the Horsemen played 30 games over three seasons and lost only two, both to Nebraska. The Notre Dame legend was gathering steam.
In those days, even famous coaches like Rockne weren't on a pedestal. A few years earlier, Rice recalled in his 1954 autobiography "The Tumult and the Shouting," Rock was reaming out his players for a lackluster first half when he spotted the ill-fated George Gipp leaning against a wall of the locker room smoking a cigarette.
"As for you, Gipp, I suppose you haven't any interest in this game," Rockne barked.
Gipp stood up straight. "Listen, Rock, I've got $500 bet on this game, and I don't intend to blow it."
During the Horsemen's three-year varsity tenure, Rockne found cause to climb all over the witty Crowley for blowing a play in practice. "What's dumber than a dumb Irishman?" the coach inquired.
Crowley grinned. "A smart Swede."
During a reunion 29 years later, Don Miller had a chance to thank Rice for making the players famous.
"Granny, the day you wrote us up as the Four Horsemen, you conferred an immortality on us that gold could never buy," Miller said, as related by Rice in "Tumult." "We were good, sure, but we'd have been just as dead two years after graduation as any other backfield if you hadn't painted that tag line on us. Each year we run faster, block better, score more TDs than ever. The older we are, the younger we become in legend. And in business, that tag line has opened more doors has meant more to us in associations, warmth, friendship and revenue than you'll ever know."
And Rice wrote in his book, "that's as nice a compliment as a fellow can receive."
In those days, pro football was a minor sport that didn't pay much (except to Red Grange), but the Horsemen gave it a spin. Although a team was named after them (the Brooklyn Horsemen in 1926), the only time they played together was with a touring team at the end of the 1925 season. Said Stuhldreher afterward: "We were showered with praise when we played at Notre Dame, but I had my doubts about how things might work out in professional ranks."
After college, the Four Horseman did better off the field. Miller became a lawyer and, in 1941, was appointed a U.S. District Attorney by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Harry Stuhldreher coached at Villanova and Wisconsin and later became an executive at U.S. Steel.
Crowley coached at Michigan State and Fordham (where Vince Lombardi played for him) and in 1946 became the first commissioner of the professional All-America Football Conference. Layden got his law degree but went into coaching. After a successful stint at Duquesne, he led Notre Dame to a 47-13-3 record from 1934 to 1940 before resigning to become the NFL's first commissioner, although he never played in the league.
All the fame, if not fortune, stemmed from one game in 1924 and one newspaper story in a day when flowery writers like Rice enjoyed the kind of celebrity TV sportscasters do today. Yet even back then, at least one of Rice's competitors tossed a barb at "the dean of American sportswriters."
"'Outlined against a blue-gray October sky'" the man snorted. "To see that, Granny would have had to be lying down in the middle of the field."
But no matter how he saw or envisioned them, Grantland Rice captured the Four Horsemen for all eternity and in so doing gave Notre Dame football a huge boost. And who's to say that the Horsemen won't be galloping along some celestial range Saturday night in the Meadowlands?

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