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Notre Dame’s Hall Passes

Yesterday we reviewed the careers of the three Notre Dame players who are among the 76 nominees on this year’s College Football Hall of Fame ballot: tight end Dave Casper (1971-73), receiver/tailback/return man Raghib “Rocket” Ismail (1988-90) and receiver Jim Seymour (1966-68).

Linebacker Bob Crable, shown with his high school and college coach Gerry Faust in 1981, recorded 521 career tackles from 1978-81.

To appreciate just how difficult it is to be among the dozen or so enshrines each year, consider that 4.86 million people have played college football, with 1,900 having earned first-team All-America notice. Now pare that down to 76 candidates — and choose about 15 from that.

To be eligible for the College Hall, a player must have been named first-team All-America by an NCAA recognized source (thereby making Joe Montana ineligible), not played a college game in at least 10 years and he can no longer be playing in the pros.

Other Irish quarterback icons such as Terry Hanratty (on the ballot last year), Tom Clements and Tony Rice, all of whom steered national titles and received some first-team All-America notice, have slim to virtually no chance of making it.

That’s not even including other luminaries such as 1971 Lombardi Award winner Walt Patulski or two-time All-America lineman Steve Niehaus (1974-75).

With all due respect to Seymour and Casper — already immortalized Irish figures — here’s our top 5 Notre Dame players who believe should have more future consideration, if not already be in the Hall.

1. Raghib “Rocket” Ismail (1988-90)
The late Joe Paterno had been in coaching 40 years when he rated Ismail — the 1990 Walter Camp Award winner as a junior and the Heisman runner-up to Ty Detmer — among the three of four most electrifying performers he’s ever seen in the college game. Ismail was the consummate triple threat as a runner, receiver and return man, even more so than Tim Brown, who was enshrined in 2010.

In Ismail’s first two seasons with the Irish, Notre Dame was 24-1, highlighted by the 1988 national title and a school record 23-game winning streak.

In his final season the Irish were 9-3. They lost one of those games (Stanford) when Ismail didn’t play because of an injury. In the second loss (Penn State), the Irish led at halftime 21-7 while Ismail played, but lost in the second half (24-21) when he was sidelined the entire time with an injury. In the third loss, to No. 1 Colorado, his spectacular 91-yard punt return in the final minute was called back because of a debatable clip.

The phrases “game-changer” or “difference-maker” often are thrown around indiscriminately, but not with Ismail.

2. Luther Bradley (1973, 1975-77)
The best all-around defensive back ever to line up for Notre Dame, Bradley started all 46 games the Irish played during his career.

He was big and strong enough to line up at strong safety as a freshman for the 1973 national champs, and he led that team in interceptions (6) and passes broken up (11). His performance against USC All-American Lynn Swann— including two interceptions, knocking Swann’s helmet off on USC’s first play and coming clear across the field to tip away a potential TD — was one of the greatest efforts by a Notre Dame defensive back.

For the 1977 national champs, he played at cornerback and earned consensus All-America notice. He also received some first-team All-America recognition as a junior in 1976 and a sophomore in 1975.

Bradley might be the lone defensive back in college football history to start for one national title winner at safety and another at corner. His 17 interceptions, highlighted by the fourth quarter, game-changing 99-yard TD return at Purdue in 1975, remains the school standard — yet he’s not even been on the ballot. That’s ridiculous.

3. Bob Crable (1978-81)
There have been 16 two-time consensus All-Americans in Notre Dame’s football history, and Crable is one of four not yet in the Hall. The others are cornerback Todd Lyght (1989-90), linebacker Michael Stonebreaker (1988, 1990) and offensive lineman Aaron Taylor (1992-93).

Crable’s 521 career tackles at Notre Dame fall into the school’s “unbreakable” category. Beyond the stats, nobody at Notre Dame played with greater passion, tenacity and ferocity, even though Crable’s senior year in 1981 ended with a 5-6 finish. Crable is the lone linebacker in Irish history taken in the first round. He’s been on the ballot in the past but didn’t make the final cut.

4. Bob Golic (1975-78)
Second to Crable on the Irish all-time tackles chart (479), he was a second-team All-America by AP and UPI for the 1977 national champs at middle linebacker and nose guard, and a consensus All-America pick in 1978 at middle linebacker. He was powerful enough to line up at nose, yet fluid enough to play linebacker. Again, how many college players could do that, in his time or any other time?

Also an All-America heavyweight wrestler, Golic has been on the ballot in the past but not the past couple.

5. George Kunz (1966-68) & Aaron Taylor (1990-93)
Offensive linemen can easily get overshadowed, but these two may have been the best to suit up for Notre Dame there the past 60 years. Kunz was the No. 2 overall pick in the 1969 NFL Draft (behind O.J. Simpson) and became an eight-time Pro Bowl player (although that has nothing to do with college performance).

A two-time consensus All-American for Irish teams that were 21-2-1, Taylor lined up at both guard and tackle for the Irish and was the 1993 Lombardi Award recipient.

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