Louis "Red" Salmon never intended to play football for the University of Notre Dame. A native of Syracuse, N.Y., Red entered a seminary in hopes of one day becoming a priest. A change of heart brought him out to Notre Dame, where he began to study civil engineering. Stories say that Red was so impressive playing inter-hall football, that students urged him to go out for the varsity team.
Salmon was the complete player for Notre Dame. He not only excelled as a shifty fullback, but he quickly became the leader of the defense at the linebacker position, as well as handling all of the kicking and return duties. Picking up a trick from former rugby star and Notre Dame football coach, Patrick O'Dea, Red became famous for his mastery of the skill to curve his punts.
Salmon first gained media recognition for his efforts in a 27-0 loss to mighty Michigan. Although he slipped at the goal line and never scored, Red Salmon carried the ball 10 times for 50 yards on one drive, penetrating a Michigan defense that had surrendered only 38 points in their previous 56 games. His performance in that single game was talked about for a full decade until the likes of Dorais and Rockne came to town.
Red Salmon was a terror to opposing football teams. He played with a passion that was only bettered by his passion for God. Salmon, who hated bringing attention to himself, could not be overlooked in 1903. As a senior, serving as both player and a coach, Salmon led his Notre Dame defense to an unbeaten season and an 8-0-1 record. The lone blemish was a 0-0 tie to Northwestern. Perhaps even more impressive is that Salmon's Notre Dame team outscored their opponents 292-0 that season, not allowing a single point scored.
Following the 1903 season, the lore surrounding Red Salmon had spread beyond the boundaries of Indiana, and all the way to the east coast. When the All-American teams came out, they were littered with players from the Ivy League schools, and other football powerhouses. Then there was Red Salmon, from a little school in Northern Indiana, listed on Walter Camp's Third All-American team.
Being named an All-American was a tremendous accomplishment, not only for Salmon but for western football. The media began to acknowledge that the inferior football of the west was beginning to catch up with the east. Schools like Notre Dame and Michigan encouraged more schools to field football programs, leading to greater popularity in the sport and more competitive contests.
Many consider Red Salmon as the player who first put Notre Dame football on the national stage. Humbled and to himself, Salmon never was one for public attention. After graduating with a degree in civil engineering, Salmon left to head back to New York and work as an engineer. Although his love for the game never left—he actually spent his first two weeks vacation playing pro-football in Massillon, OH for a hefty sum of $1500—Salmon hid from his hero status and only returned to Notre Dame two more times after he graduated.
According to Herb Juliano, former Subway Alumni leader, Salmon had a warm heart and personality that left his peers and fans with a feeling that he genuinely cared about who they were as people--each and every one of them. He went on to say that Louis "Red" Salmon, Notre Dame's first star, was also the exact model of what a Notre Dame man should be: A devout Christian, humbled in his own remarkable abilities, and never made a person feel unwelcome—unless of course he was lined up on the opposing side of the ball.
Red Salmon will forever be remembered for his historic, landmark season of 1903, in which he slashed through opposing defenses and shut down opposing offenses. It was said that if he couldn't get by to the outside, then he'd run right over the defender. In addition he frequently punted the football 65 yards or more and drop-kicked field goals with unerring accuracy. He was also said to be the only man who could stop Michigan's great Willie Heston in his tracks. His 36 career touchdowns stood as a school record for 82 years before finally being shattered by Allen Pinkett in 1985.
Red Salmon was Notre Dame's first true superstar. In 1971, Salmon's football immortality was assured when he was enshrined into the College Football Hall of Fame. While his legend was surpassed by the likes of Rockne, Gipp, Leahy, and other Notre Dame icons, his importance to the emergence Notre Dame football must never be forgotten.