To be a Notre Dame football captain is to be in prestigious company. Since the first year football was played at Notre Dame in 1887, 202 players have served as captain of the Fighting Irish, beginning with HB-Henry Luhn and cracking the 200 mark in ’14 with RB-Cam McDaniel, OG-Nick Martin, DT-Sheldon Day and S-Austin Collinsworth.
But only 13 players have served as two-time captains of the Irish since South Bend native and offensive guard Pat Filley was tabbed in 1943-44, ironically under two head coaches (Frank Leahy in ’43 and Ed McKeever in ’44).
Those 13 are:
• LB-Bob Olson (1968-69)
• DE-Willie Fry (1976-77)
• LB-Bob Crable (1980-81)
• RB-Phil Carter (1981-82)
• LB-Ned Bolcar (1988-89)
• OG-Ryan Leahy (1994-95)
• QB-Ron Powlus (1996-97)
• DE-Grant Irons (2000-01)
• QB-Brady Quinn (2005-06)
• RB/LB-Travis Thomas (2006-07)
• S-Tom Zbikowski (2006-07)
• LB-Maurice Crum, Jr. (2007-08)
• OT-Zack Martin (2012-13)
All told, 19 Notre Dame players have held the title of two-time captain, one of which is the only three-time captain in Irish history – E-Jack Mullen (1896-98).
By the 1919 season – 32 years after Notre Dame began playing football – the Irish had five players with at least two years of captain’s service. In addition to Mullen, there were HB-Edward Prudhomme (1888-89), HB-Frank Keough (1893-94), FB-Louis “Red” Salmon (1902-03) and HB-Leonard Bahan (1918-19).
Another 25 years would pass before Filley became a Notre Dame multiple captain, and then another 25 years after that before Olson began a string of 13 two-time captains over a 44-year span. Seven of the 19 two-time captains have served in the last two decades.
Barring a shocking decision by the team/coaching staff, two more Irish players will join the ranks of multiple-captainship, raising the total number in Notre Dame history to 21.
There was much speculation leading up to the naming of the 2014 captains that one or more of the talented younger players in the program would earn the distinction, including CB-KeiVarae Russell, who was precluded from holding the title due to academic suspension.
Ultimately, Day was the only underclassman tabbed, along with fifth-year senior Collinsworth and fourth-year seniors Cam McDaniel and Nick Martin. Day and Martin would join Zbikowski and Thomas as the only two two-time captains to serve simultaneously. The Martins – Zack and Nick – would become the only brothers to serve as two-time captains. LB/MG-Bob Golic (1978) and DE-Mike Golic is the only other pair of brothers to captain the Fighting Irish. OG-Ryan Leahy (1995-96) has the distinction of being the only grandson of a Notre Dame head coach to serve as an Irish captain.
The Irish have had game-by-game captains five seasons, two in which permanent captains were never named: 1946, ironically the year Leahy won the first of four national championships with the Irish; and 2010, Brian Kelly’s first season. Head coach Tyrone Willingham had game-by-game captains during his three-year stint with the Irish (2002-04) and named captains after the season.
Notre Dame had single captains from 1887 through 1925. QB-Gene Edwards and HB-Tom Hearden became the first captain duo in 1926. Another eight seasons would pass before E-Hugh Devore, a future Notre Dame head coach, and C-Tom Gorman would form the next captain pairing.
The last solo captain at Notre Dame was S-Harrison Smith in 2011. Prior to that, it was QB-Jarious Jackson in 1999, the late RB-Rodney Culver in 1991, and LB-Mike Kovaleski in 1986 – Lou Holtz’s first season in South Bend.
The practice of consistently naming single captains, however, came to an end with the 1967 season when Ara Parseghian christened RB-Bob “Rocky” Bleier as the lone captain of his fourth Notre Dame squad.
Other notable captains at Notre Dame include E-Knute Rockne (1913), who took over as head coach five years later and revolutionized the sport while indelibly placing Notre Dame’s name on the college football map; E-Leon Hart (1949), ironically the only one of seven Heisman Trophy winners to hold the distinction of Notre Dame captain; and QB-Joe Montana (1978).
Reflective of the struggles under Kelly at the quarterback position is the fact that for the sixth season in a row, Notre Dame will not have a signalcaller representing the Irish as a captain. Jimmy Clausen was the last quarterback captain in 2009.
Ryan Leahy is the grandson of legendary Notre Dame head coach Frank Leahy, who won four national titles and fashioned a .855 winning percentage in 11 seasons with the Irish. Ryan’s father Jim played football for Ara Parseghian. His brother Pat pitched for the Irish baseball team.