New honor for legendary Notre Dame, Navy figure

Rip Miller's life would make a great bio-pic, even after all these years.

Miller was one of Notre Dame's famed "Seven Mules" who blocked for the even more celebrated "Four Horsemen" on the undefeated 1924 team that beat Stanford in the Rose Bowl and won a national championship.

He was a long-time coach and assistant athletic director at the U.S. Naval Academy. And in 1966, he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.

And Friday at a Canton restaurant, the Notre Dame Club of Maryland and the Baltimore chapter of the U.S. Naval Academy Alumni Association will unveil a new Notre Dame-Navy football trophy that is named after Miller, ensuring that his legacy lives on whenever the two long-time rivals meet.

Edgar "Rip" Miller died at age 90 in 1991 — 66 years to the day that he and his Fighting Irish teammates defeated the legendary coach Pop Warner, All-America fullback Ernie Nevers and Stanford in the Rose Bowl.

But his 104-year-old widow, Esther Miller of Annapolis, who still attends Navy games, will be the guest of honor at the unveiling luncheon.

"Rip Miller is a legendary figure at the Naval Academy," said Scott Strasmeier, Navy's associate athletic director for sports information. "He devoted an incredible 48 years of his life to Navy as a coach and administrator and is one of the most important figures in the history of Navy athletics."

It could be argued that the success Miller enjoyed early in life overshadowed much of what he accomplished later.

He was a product of the football hotbed of Canton, Ohio, and was the captain of the McKinley High School football team that went undefeated in 1920 and outscored its opponents 275-0.

"They were not even forced to punt," said Jim Lefebvre, football historian and author of "Loyal Sons: The Story of the Four Horseman and Notre Dame Football's 1924 Champions."

As described in "Loyal Sons," Miller arrived at Notre Dame by "riding the blinds," which meant stowing away in the cramped confines of a railroad coal car.

When the rail-yard police in Elkhart, Ind., picked him up, Miller announced he was traveling to Notre Dame to play football. The cops promptly gave him a lift the rest of the way to South Bend.

Miller became the regular right tackle for the Fighting Irish his senior year, blocking for the Four Horsemen backfield (Harry Stuhldreher, Don Miller, Jim Crowley and Elmer Layden) immortalized by sportswriter Grantland Rice.

"I call (Rip Miller) a major, major contributor to that team," Lefebvre said.

The following spring, Miller won the Kenealy Trophy as the school's top senior scholar-athlete.

In 1926, he went to work for the Naval Academy, becoming the head coach of the football team in 1931 and leading the Midshipmen to their first win over Notre Dame in 1933.

From 1934-1947, he was an assistant coach at Navy. Moving on to become the academy's assistant athletic director, he developed a nationwide "Birddog Program" that oversaw 300-some scouts charged with finding top football talent for Navy. Among the players the program attracted were Heisman Trophy winners Joe Bellino and Roger Staubach.

"(Miller) was the guy who got the congressional appointments for these players, too," Lefebvre said. "He worked Capital Hill as much as any lobbyist."

Miller retired from the Naval Academy in 1974. In addition to having his name inscribed on the Navy-Notre Dame trophy, Miller has a turf field at Navy named in his honor. And the "Rip Miller Award" is presented annually to the MVP of the varsity football team.

kevin.cowherd@baltsun.com

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