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All-Time Great Notre Dame Running Backs: The Top Five

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All-Time Great Notre Dame Running Backs: The Top Five

running backs
ANNS CARDS AND GIFTS.COM

Resuming our list from two weeks previous for the best Notre Dame running backs, I now conclude our quest for Fighting Irish runner number one. And, with the exception of the top spot, the choices were not easy.

For not only is the Irish running back perhaps the second most prestigious position to play in all of college football (with Notre Dame quarterback being first) but the criteria for what constitutes a great running back has changed quite a bit as well. Thus numbers two, three, and four were mostly about the rushing numbers, while numbers one and five were more about versatility and the intangibles...including the number one intangible, also known as winning.

And so, with three "modern" running backs and two throwbacks to the days of playing both ways, hopefully there is something for everybody, For with a list that includes Notre Dame's top touchdown rusher, top yardage gainer for both a single season and a career, as well as Notre Dame's only Heisman Trophy running back, who could ask for anything more? You say you also want Notre Dame's greatest football legend, the one some say is is the greatest player ever?

Well, never fear—for he's included too.

Related: Top Ten All-Time Irish Running Backs: The ‘Back’ Five

Hey ND fans! Follow this link to get to Tom's latest ND features. Follow him on Twitter and visit him on LinkedIn.

Subscribe to his feed and email him here. And for you diehard fans, check out Suffering Irish too.

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#5 Johnny Lattner

lattner
ESPN.GO.COM
A poor man's George Gipp, Lattner could do it all, and was just as much a star on defense and special teams as he was running. Actually gained more rushing yards his junior year than his senior Heisman Trophy season (732 to 651), but the fact he led that undermanned 1953 Leahy-coached team to an undefeated season no doubt did the trick. Led the team in turnover recoveries (five interceptions, four fumble recoveries) his sophomore year, punting and punt returns as a junior, and kickoff returns as a senior. His total career offense was 3,250 yards and 22 touchdowns.
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#4 Vegas Ferguson

ferguson
prpsports.com-EBAY
A balanced blend of speed, power, good hands and great moves, Ferguson remains as Notre Dame's all-time single season rusher, when he rushed for 1,437 yards (and 17 TDs) in 1979. Started as a fullback in 1976, then moved to halfback in 1977, Ferguson missed two games due to injury that championship season, but like Montana, eventually started, leading the Irish with a 6.2 yard average. Also a fine receiver out of the backfield, Ferguson caught 43 passes for the Irish, including the 2-point conversion that won the wild 35-34 comeback Cotton Bowl game with Houston. For his Irish career, Ferguson rushed for 3,472 yards and 32 touchdowns.
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#3 Allen Pinkett

pinkett
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The controversial Irish radio broadcaster was once one of the strongest and quickest 5'9" running backs to ever play the game. Although Pinkett had the misfortune of playing under Coach Gerry Faust for four years, Pinkett remains second on the all-time Irish rushing list with 4,132 rushing yards, while his rushing TD total of 49 is still the best ever for an Irish runner. Pinkett's total of 1,379 rushing yards in 1983 remains the standard for Irish sophomores, while 73 career catches was once the standard for Irish running backs also.
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#2 Autry Denson

denson
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An elusive cutback runner, Denson is the Irish's all-time leading rusher with 4,616 yards on 911 attempts, good for a 5.06 per carry average. Denson, along with Pinkett, is one of only two Irish rushers to gain over 1,000 yards in three straight seasons. Also used as a punt and kickoff returner, Denson tallied nearly 600 return yards and 500 receiving yards (on 57 receptions) during his Irish career, bringing his total offense to 5,664 yards and 50 touchdowns.
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#1 George Gipp

gipp
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To merely call Gipp, Notre Dame's all-time greatest running back, is to do an injustice to the rest of his game.

Sure, Gipp led the Irish in rushing his three varsity years (his over eight yards per carry average in 1920 is still an Irish single season standard) but he also led the Irish in passing (from the halfback spot!) those three seasons, as well as scoring, punting, interceptions...well, you get the picture. On defense, Gipp was said to have never allowed a reception by his receiver; on offense, his ability to improvise was simply uncanny.

Even a punt was never a given, for Gipp was just as likely to run, pass or drop kick a field goal (his 62-yard drop kick is still believed to be a record) as he was to punt it away. Or, as an Army coach (after Gipp gained 480 yards against the cadets) once said, "he's not a football player; he's a runaway sonofabitch." Gained 4,781 yards in offense in his Notre Dame career.

Related: Top Ten All-Time Irish Running Backs: The ‘Back’ Five

Hey ND fans! Follow this link to get to Tom's latest ND features. Follow him on Twitter and visit him on LinkedIn.

Subscribe to his feed and email him here. And for you diehard fans, check out Suffering Irish too.