Summary

Birth:
10 Sep 1902 1
Death:
Jan 1986 1
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Full Name:
James Crowley 1
Birth:
10 Sep 1902 1
Death:
Jan 1986 1
Residence:
Last Residence: Scranton, PA 1
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Social Security:
Card Issued: Pennsylvania 1
Social Security Number: ***-**-7364 1

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Jim Crowley Dies at 83; He Was the Last of the Four Horsemen

SCRANTON, Pa. — 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.

In 1933, he moved to Fordham, where he coached another football legend, Vince Lombardi. Crowley guided Fordham to the Cotton Bowl in 1941 and to the Sugar Bowl in 1942.

Last Of The Four Horsemen Jim Crowley Returns To The Hills He Loved

They buried Jim Crowley, the last of the Four Horsemen of Notre Dame, on a snow-covered slope on the side of a mountain in a little town called Moscow in the heart of the Pennsylvania hard-coal region.

The roar of the multitudes that rocked football arenas across the country when the Four Horsemen were alive and strong of heart and limb was but a faint echo when Jim Crowley was carried to the mountainside. There were no cheers, no rising crescendo to set the heart athrob, no brass band to thunder out the familiar Notre Dame "Fight Song."

There was only the faint voice of a young priest reciting the litany of the dead. Then there was silence, the quiet hush of the graveyard, the haunting stillness of death.

The last of the Horsemen was alone with his God on the snow-covered mountainside, a grove of great green cedars towering above his grave, there to sleep beyond the misty shroud of eternity.

Jim Crowley was a precious man. He was a rare, rare commodity in these frantic and cynical times. He was a genuine American folk hero, immortalized by the matchless pen of Grantland Rice, cast by fate in an almost god-like role that cast a long shadow over generations of American football.

Yet, with it all, Jim Crowley never lost his magnificent touch, his marvelous feel for people, his glorious Irish sense of humor.

He knew fame, that ugly old whore, for what a terrible flirt she was. He was never a rich man, albeit a most generous and giving one. He never made money on his athletic ability or his famous name, yet he never envied the high-salaried players of today. Pettiness was never a part of Jim Crowley's outlook. He loved people too much.

He loved to share himself with people - with kings and presidents, politicians and pretenders, the rich and famous, the poor and the needy and, of course, the wide-eyed football fans of all ages.

I never knew a famous man so willing to share of himself and the legend that he was. Everybody seemed to want a piece of Jim Crowley and that always seemed to be just fine with him. I always felt that to be Jim Crowley's ultimate greatness.

Many a night I saw him struggle to the speaker's table at one sports dinner or another. He was well into the fourth quarter by then. His legs had begun to betray him, but not his great heart. He had lost a step, but his eyes were still knowing and his great Irish mind was still filled with humorous insights.

I remember him struggling to the dais at one particular dinner a few years ago. He was greeted by a thunderous ovation. The band blared out the Notre Dame "Fight Song." Every man in the room was on his feet.

Jim Crowley held up both hands, begging for silence with a warm smile. And when everyone was seated he brought down the house with his first line.

"If I had known I would live this long," he said, straight-faced, "I would have taken much better care of myself."

Jim Crowley, the last of the Four Horsemen, was many things - a protege of the immortal Rockne, a bonafide All-American, a most successful coach, a pioneer of pro football. But humility was his strong suit. It set him apart

from all the rest.

I remember him speaking at the Alpine Inn in Delaware County a few years ago. He wasn't feeling well that evening, but he still found time to autograph the program for scores of admirers.

One admirer asked that a second program be autographed for a brother dying of cancer. Jim Crowley autographed the second program and said, "Tell your brother I'll pray for him tonight."

Later that night Jim Crowley talked about death. He had just buried his wife, Helen, his mate for more than 50 years, and his son, Jim Jr., at 41. He seemed so hurt, so lost, so fragile, so grieved.

"You know," he said, "when a man dies in the prime of life, everyone says, 'Oh, what a tragedy to die so young.' But when your health starts to slip and you have heartaches to bear, you sometimes wonder if dying young might not be a blessing after all."

Jim Crowley did not die young, thank God. He lived for 83 long and glorious years, enriching us by the sharing of himself, adding laughter to our days with his wit and humor, providing example by the way he carried the awesome burden of fame thrust upon him as one of the Four Horsemen of Notre Dame.

Now the old horseman is gone. He sleeps in death beneath the snow on the mountainside. But as long as men play football, the memory of Jim Crowley and the Four Horsemen will remain ever green - as green as the massive cedars that tower above his grave in the little town called Moscow in the heart of the Pennsylvania hard-coal region that Jim Crowley loved so much.

 

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