Harry Agustus Stuhldreher — Everyone’s All-American
Written by Mike Riordan
Contributors: Gary Vogt and Ron Prunty
“Outlined against a blue-gray October sky, The Four Horsemen rode again. In dramatic lore their names are Death, Destruction, Pestilence, and Famine. But those are aliases. Their real names are: Stuhldreher, Crowley, Miller and Layden. They formed the crest of the South Bend cyclone before which another fighting Army team was swept over the precipice at the Polo Grounds this afternoon as 55,000 spectators peered down upon the bewildering panorama spread out upon the green plain below.”
The Foursome achieved football immortality when Grantland Rice, a sportswriter for the former New York Herald Tribune, penned “the most famous football lead of all-time.” This was written after Notre Dame’s 13-7 upset victory over a strong Army team on October 18, 1924.
Harry Stuhldreher was born October 14, 1901, in Massillon, Ohio. He grew up there and delivered papers with Luther Emery, the legendary Massillon sports writer. When Knute Rockne played for the pro Massillon Tigers (according to his biography in the College Football Hall Of Fame) Harry gained free entry into a pro Massillon Tiger game. While reaching for Rockne’s gear he asked, “Carry yer bag, Mr. Rockne?” Fate had drawn the two together and fate would bring them mutual immortality.
Harry (known as Hessie and Stuhlie) played for Coach John Snavely on the Tiger teams of 1917, 1918 and 1919. He was not a regular on the 1917 team, which ended with a 7-2 record and beat Canton McKinley, 7-6.
But that changed the following year. The 1918 team was 2-2-2. This was a unique season, when several games were canceled due to the Spanish Flu epidemic, including the one against the Canton McKinley game. In addition, the New Philadelphia game was forfeited when Coach Snavely pulled his players from the field because of what he believed was a biased ruling against the Tigers. Final score: New Philadephia 1, Massillon 0.
The 1919 team finished 8-1. Playing at a paltry 5′-5″ and weighing just 137 lbs., Harry started the first nine games. The Tigers beat McKinley that year 21-0, but he was held out due to an injured arm.
During his 3-year career at Massillon, Harry was described as a good, although not outstanding player. Unfortunately, Harry never got the chance to play in a Canton McKinley game.
In 1920 Harry moved to Pennsylvania where he played football for Kiski Prep and graduated in 1921. He was coached at Prep by future Massillon Head Coach Dave Stewart. It was Harry that recommended Coach Stewart to the Massillon administration for consideration as the coaching to succeed Elmer Snyder. Of course, Stewart (Paul Brown’s coach) went on to a very successful tenure with the Tigers.
In college Harry played for Notre Dame’s legendary coach Knute Rockne in 1922, 1923 and 1924. Notre Dame’s record during his three years was 29-2-1 and his team captured the National Championship in 1924. “Stuhldreher was a self-assured leader who not only could throw accurately but also returned punts and proved a solid blocker. He was often labeled cocky, feisty and ambitious, but his field generalship was unmatched.”
Four games into his sophomore season, he beat out the older but slower Frank Thomas (future coach of Alabama). At that time players were not eligible for varsity competition until their sophomore year. Notre Dame finished 1922 with a record of 8-1-1. They tied Army 0-0 after winning the first 6 games the lost their season finale at Nebraska on Thanksgiving Day, 14 – 6.
Rockne once said of Harry Stuhldreher, “Harry made an error in his sophomore year. He never made another.”
As a junior his team recorded a record of 9-1, again losing to Nebraska late in the season. Harry would not lose another game at Notre Dame. In fact, Harry only lost to one team while at Notre Dame and that was Nebraska, in 1922 and 1923.
Luther Emery once wrote, “When Harry Stuhldreher was at Notre Dame the Massillon Tigers would start their summer practice before Notre Dame. “Stuhlie” would come down and work out with the Massillon team.”
As a senior Harry was one of the smallest quarterbacks in Notre Dame’s history, standing 5′-7” tall and weighing just 150 lbs. Notre Dame started the season 2-0 but it was after their rivalry game, a 13-7 win against Army at the Polo Grounds, that The Four Horsemen became immortalized. Notre Dame finished the season 10-0 with a season finale Rose Bowl victory over Stanford, 27-10 on New Year’s Day, January 1, 1925. Notre Dame was proclaimed National Champions by 10 poling/foundations/associations of the day. This would be Notre Dame’s last bowl appearance until the 1969 season. Harry had made All-American twice but this year he was voted Consensus First team All-American Quarterback.
Stuhldreher’s obituary reads, “The undefeated 1924 team went to the Rose Bowl and defeated Stanford 27-10. It was that year that Mr. Stuhldreher was selected virtually unanimously as All-American quarterback”
“Even as a freshman, Harry had the most promise of the Four Horsemen. He sounded the leader on the field.” — Knute Rockne
Don Miller, Harry’s roommate and member of the Four Horsemen said, “Harry was the greatest quarterback in the history of Notre Dame University … not only a great passer and blocker but also a great safety man on defense.”
Harry Stuhldreher will always be associated with the “Hail Mary” desperation touchdown pass. Jim Crowley, a member of the Four Horsemen, used this story in many of his speeches. “During a tense game against Georgia Tech, Fighting Irish lineman Noble Kizer (member of the Seven Mules) suggested a Hail Mary prayer. Shortly thereafter, Stuhldreher threw a touchdown pass on fourth down. After the game, Kizer said, “That Hail Mary is the best play we’ve got.”
September 16, 1925 Stuhldreher had offers to play for three pro teams in the Connecticut area, but signed a contract to play for the Providence Steam Roller in the team’s inaugural NFL season. The Steam Roller had a non-league game on September 20th, annihilating West Point Artillery club 127-0. Stuhldreher played in that game, but he jumped teams when his demand for a salary increase was refused. He immediately signed with the Waterbury/Hartford Blues for $7,500 plus a $500 bonus. On October 11, Jim Crowley, another member of the Four Horsemen, signed and joined Stuhldreher against Adams, Massachusetts.
Crowley scored three touchdowns and Stuhldreher booted two field goals and three extra points. Crowley picked up his check after the game and said adios to the Blues. On Sunday December 13 all Four Horsemen were signed (for a speculated cost of $5000 for one game) to play the Cleveland Bulldogs in their last game of the season. The Bulldogs prevailed 13-6 and the Blues ended the season 10-2
In 1926 the Brooklyn pro team of the American Football League (AFL) was named “Horsemen” after the signing of Harry Stuhldreher and Elmer Layden, two of Notre Dame’s Four Horsemen. The team’s first game was decided by a 60-yard pass from Stuhldreher to Ed Harrison. Unfortunately, that was their only offensive highlight and their only win. The Horsemen ended with a 1-3 record, playing their last game on November 7, 1926, with a 21-13 loss to the New York Yankees. They then merged with the NFL’s Brooklyn Lions to complete the season. The local media dubbed the team the “Horse-Lions.”
On November 14, 1926, and playing for the Brooklyn Lions, Harry finally got his win against the Canton Bulldogs, winning 19-0. Notable players on the Bulldog team included Washington High School’s own Ben Roderick and Canton’s greatest player Jim Thorpe.
Harry Stuhldreher was named head football coach of Villanova in 1925 and found immediate success, being tabbed, “The Man who brought horsepower to Villanova Football.”
Villanova’s president, Father Hickey, asked, “How can we bring that winning Notre Dame spirit to Villanova?” The answer was to bring on a 23 year old, a three-time All-American from Notre Dame to be the 17th head coach of Villanova.
In his 11 years (1925-1935) as head coach, his teams were 65-25-9, with an undefeated season in 1928 at 7-0-1. He had only one losing season. His winning percentage of .722 remains the highest among all Villanova head coaches with at least a 2-year tenure. And his 65 victories were more than Villanova’s first 12 coaches accumulated in 31 seasons.
Coach Harry was instrumental in picking his replacement before moving on. His choice was Maurice J. “Clipper” Smith, a Notre Dame 1920 graduate and lineman coached by Knute Rockne. “Clipper” coached eight years at Villanova. Beginning late in his first year his teams had a record of 25-2-2, sixteen shutouts and was undefeated in 1937.
In 1936 Harry Stuhldreher was hired as the 19th head football coach for Wisconsin, which the Wisconsin State Journal called, a “Coaches Graveyard.” “The little man with the big job.” Harry responded, “Gentlemen, I’ve bought a one-way ticket from Philadelphia. I plan to stay here for a long time.”
Harry served in a dual role as Director of Athletics (1936-1950) and Head Football Coach (1936-1948). In 13 seasons his teams posted a 45-62-6 record. This gives him a career record of 110-87-15 in 24 seasons.
1941 – Wisconsin played at Ohio State and first year coach Paul Brown. Ohio State prevailed 46-34. The Wisconsin band did not travel to this game and it was Harry Stuhldreher, not Paul Brown, who invited the Massillon Tiger Swing Band to perform at halftime (the band’s first appearance at Ohio State) under the direction of George “Red” Bird. George “Red” Bird would later become the Cincinnati Bengals Entertainment Director for Paul Brown.
1942 – Wisconsin finished 3rd in the Nation in the final AP poll with an 8-1-1 record and 2nd in the Big Ten at 4-1. They tied Notre Dame 7-7 and beat Paul Brown and Ohio State’s first National championship team by a score of 17-7, Wisconsin’s first ever win over a top-ranked team. This team featured All-Americans Dave Schreiner, Pat Harder and Elroy “Crazy Legs” Hirsch.
1943 – Stuhldreher coached a college All-Star team to a 27-7 win over the Washington Redskins.
1947 – Wisconsin finished 3-2-1 in the Big Ten which placed them 2nd.
As Athletic director he developed a concept of “Athletics for All” and his leadership produced a well-rounded development of all sports and the accompanying facilities.
Harry Stuhldreher retired from football in 1950 after 33 “Hall of Fame” years as player, coach and executive.
RETIRED FROM FOOTBALL ??
After his years with Wisconsin he was known as Mr. Football. He was extremely involved and active while being so called “retired.”
This is a list of some of the activities in which he was involved:
- Past President, American Football Coaches Association
- Assistant to Vice President, U.S. Steel Corp.,1959 – 1965
- He was past President or Director of
- Junior Achievement of S.W. Pennsylvania, Inc.
- Allegheny Council, Boy Scouts of America (Silver Beaver)
- Boys Club of Pittsburgh
- Kiski Preparatory
- Pop Warner Midget Football Conference
He was principal speaker at the Canton Junior Achievement banquet in the spring of 1956
Mr. Stuhldreher wrote the books, “Quarterback Play” and “Knute Rockne, Man Builder.” The latter was a source for the movie, “Knute Rockne, All American,” starring Ronald Reagan as George Gipp. He also wrote a short novel titled, “The Blocking Back.” Along with his books he was a regular contributor of articles for the Saturday Evening Post. His wife was also a writer and the couple had four sons.
In August 1962 Mr. Stuhldreher was master of ceremonies at ground-breaking ceremonies for the National Professional Football Hall of Fame. Then during Football’s Greatest Weekend in 1963, the charter class of 17 pro football greats were enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. During the ceremony, Mr. Stuhldreher made the formal presentation of Hall of Fame membership to ‘Slingin’ Sammy Baugh.’
Mr. Stuhldreher passed away at age 63 on January 26, 1965, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Before his death, Harry told his family that he never really enjoyed the role of a ‘horseman.” “He hated horses, and he hated getting on that horse they always made him get on,” Harry Jr. recalled. He used to tell us he was always afraid he would fall off and get hurt or embarrass himself, and my dad did not like to be embarrassed.His son Michael said, “He loved Massillon as his home, and he was very, very proud of it ”
Harry Stuhldreher will be forever linked with Knute Rockne and Notre Dame. Towards the end of his life he made appearances with the other members of the famous Four Horsemen. One was in Massillon in 1963 and they visited the Massillon Tigers locker room prior to the Cleveland East game.
His wife once said, “Harry has become a football legend. No matter where he speaks or what he says, he is always remembered as the quarterback of the Four Horsemen.”
Mr. Stuhldreher’s Awards include
- Walter Camp Consensus 1st Team All-American Quarterback, 1924
- Amos Alonzo Stagg Award, 1965
- Staff Award for the American Football Coaches Association, 1965
- Massillon, Ohio Washington High School Distinguished Citizen Award ,1994
- Four Horsemen of Notre Dame $.32 U.S. Postage Stamp, issued 1998
- Villanova Wall of Fame, 2002
Mr. Stuhldreher’s Hall of Fame Inductions include
- Helms Foundation Hall of Fame
- Notre Dame University Hall of Fame, 1958
- National Football Foundation / College Football Hall of Fame at Rutgers University, 1958
- Massillon, Ohio, Washington High School All-American Hall of Fame Charter Class Inductee, 1964
- Madison, Wisconsin, Sports Hall of Fame ,1966
- Wisconsin University Football Hall of Fame,1994
- Massillon, Ohio, Washington High School Wall of Champions Charter Class Inductee, 1994
- Stark County Ohio High School Football Hall of Fame Charter Member, 2002
- Kiski Prep School, Saltsburg, PA. Sports Hall of Fame, 2015
- Massillon, Ohio, Washington High School Tiger Hall of Fame, 2015