Jim Crowley, the last of the fabled Four Horsemen of Notre Dame, died Wednesday at a nursing home after a long illness. He was 83.
"To say the very least, it is a very sad day to see the passing of the last of the Four Horsemen and the passing of a great era in college football," Notre Dame Athletic Director Gene Corrigan said.
Crowley was given a lasting claim to fame on Oct. 18, 1924, when New York sportswriter Grantland Rice dubbed the Notre Dame backfield "The Four Horsemen" after the Knute Rockne-coached Irish beat Army, 13-7, at New York's Polo Grounds.
The image was burned in the public consciousness a few days later by a widely distributed picture of Crowley and his three cohorts--Elmer Layden, Harry Stuhldreher and Don Miller--in full uniform sitting astride horses.
The backfield from the little school in South Bend, Ind., became college football's Four Horsemen, from the biblical Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
In what became one of the most quoted lines in sports reporting, Rice wrote: "Outlined against a blue-gray October sky, the Four Horsemen rode again. In dramatic lore they were known as Famine, Pestilence, Destruction and Death. These are only aliases. Their real names are Stuhldreher, Miller, Crowley and Layden . . . "
"Sleepy Jim" often marveled at how the tag placed on the backfield endured during the decades.
"The name just stayed on me. I didn't ever think it would last this long," Crowley once said. "I've done other things, but I'll always be known as one of the Four Horsemen."
Crowley died at 2:52 a.m. at the Holy Family Residence, a nursing home operated by the Little Sisters of the Poor, where he had been since May 1984. He was in poor health for several months and suffered from a heart condition.
Although small compared with even most high school backfields of today, the Four Horsemen dismantled opponents. The Irish finished the 1924 regular season 9-0, defeated Stanford, 27-19, in the Rose Bowl and won the national championship.
Crowley, at 5-11 and 165 pounds, won postseason All-American honors as a halfback.
After an assistant coaching job at the University of Georgia, Crowley was head football coach at Michigan State from 1929 through 1932.