Nov 4, 2009, 5:00 PM EST
More and more, people outside the Irish fanbase gripe about Notre Dame’s yearly commitment to the service academies. While bashing the Irish for continuing their traditional matchups with Navy and Army, people forget the rich tradition that comes along with these games. Too often people want to label these games “cupcakes,” while lumping them in with the slate of FCS opponents that travel far and wide for a financial guarantee and a likely loss on the field.
With Navy coming to South Bend this weekend, the history of the game between the Irish and Midshipmen should join the actual battle on the field in the forefront. And no one embodies the tradition of this Saturday’s game more than Mrs. Esther Miller.
Mrs. Miller has long been a part of the Notre Dame-Navy rivalry. (Long may be the understatement of the day…) Mrs. Miller is the widow of Rip Miller, a fomer Navy coach and administrator who was also a member of the 1924 Notre Dame football team. Miller played along the offensive line that blocked for the famed Four Horsemen, a group that also earned the nickname the “7 Mules.”
Mrs. Miller was honored last year at the Navy-Notre Dame luncheon in Annapolis, when the Notre Dame Club of Maryland and the Naval Academy Alumni Association unveiled the plan for a Rip Miller Trophy, which will be presented to the winner of the Navy-ND game starting hopefully next season. The occasion also fell on Mrs. Miller’s birthday. Her 102nd birthday.
Jim Lefebvre, the editor of Forever Irish, pointed me to his story about Rip and Esther Miller, the last living link to Notre Dame’s Four Horsemen and Seven Mules. Here’s a snippet:
Rip Miller, like all his senior teammates from 1924, went into college
coaching in 1925. In a couple of years, he was coaching at the U.S.
Naval Academy. He took over as Navy head coach in 1931, and over the
next six years led the Middies to their first three victories over
The Millers never left Annapolis, raising their three children while
Rip went on to become Navy’s assistant athletic director. In total , he
served the Academy for nearly a half-century before retiring in 1974.
He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1966, and
died in 1991 – the last of the 1924 ND regulars to pass.
But his widow Esther, who was five years his junior, survives to this day!
She is healthy, vibrant and full of memories of the “good old days” when Rip played and coached football.
is 102, and turns 103 on Nov. 14, a week after Saturday’s renewal of
the Notre Dame vs. Navy series. She still attends most Navy home games.
It’s amazing to think that all 11 regulars from the 1924 National Championship team went directly from playing to coaching college football, many of them starting college programs across the country and helping create the game as we know it today.
Before you start complaining about the commitment to playing Navy or Notre Dame’s game against Army in Yankee Stadium next year, it might pay to take a look back at the history of these games and realize they serve more of a purpose than just filling a place on the yearly schedule.
For more great historical insight into this game or the history of Fighting Irish football, check out Jim’s website or his award-winning book Loyal Sons, about the historic 1924 squad.
(Writers note: Corrections made on two factual mistakes.)