Jim Crowley, the small, swift halfback who galloped into sports lore as one of the Four Horsemen of Notre Dame and later coached the Seven Blocks of Granite at Fordham, died yesterday at a nursing home in Scranton, Pa., after a long illness.
He was 83 years old and was the last surviving member of the fabled backfield that led Notre Dame to a 19-1 record over two years and an undefeated season in 1924. Harry Stuhldreher, the quarterback, died in 1965; Elmer Layden, the fullback, died in 1973 and Don Miller, the right halfback, died in 1979. All four were elected to the National Football Hall of Fame.
James H. Crowley also was a college coach who never had a losing season, a respected sports official who served as chairman of the Pennsylvania Athletic Commission and a successful businessman.
But no matter how much he accomplished in later life, he could never match the fame he won as a college senior in 1924, when Notre Dame, two victories into the season, defeated Army, 13-7, at the Polo Grounds and stirred Grantland Rice of The New York Herald Tribune to compose perhaps the most memorable sports account ever written:
''Outlined against a blue, gray October sky the Four Horseman rode again. 'In dramatic lore, they are known as Famine, Pestilence, Destruction and Death. These are only aliases. Their real names are: Stuhldreher, Miller, Crowley and Layden.''
Crowley said he never took the group's nickname seriously. ''I don't know if it was ever spelled out who was who,'' he once remarked, ''but you can put me down as Pestilence.'' Considered Best of Four
Although Stuhldreher was the acknowledged leader, Crowley, who had an outgoing personality and tongue-in-cheek humor, was generally considered the best player of the four. At 5 feet 11 inches and 160 pounds, he was the team's leading rusher in 1922, when he gained 566 yards on 75 carries, and its leading passer in 1922 and 1923. He finished his career with 1,841 yards (10th best on the Notre Dame rushing list) on 294 carries, for a 6.3-yard average.
Crowley's fame was aided by the nickname that was pinned on him by Notre Dame's coach, Knute Rockne. Surveying his freshman prospects in 1921, Rockne spied Crowley, a drowsy-eyed youth from Green Bay, Wis., and cracked: ''You look like a tester in an alarm clock factory.'' Crowley was ''Sleepy'' ever after.
After his graduation in 1925, Crowley played briefly for the Green Bay Packers and the Providence Steam Rollers of the National Football League, receiving $500 a game or $1,000 if he was joined by the other three Horsemen.
After a stint as an assistant coach at the University of Georgia, he took over as head coach at Michigan State in 1929 and compiled a 22-8-3 record in four seasons before moving to Fordham in 1933. There he coached the famous defensive line known as the Seven Blocks of Granite, which included Vince Lombardi and did not allow a touchdown in 1937. Crowley coached Fordham to its only two bowl appearances and compiled a 56-13-7 record over nine seasons. Naval Officer in World War II
Crowley, who left Fordham to serve as a commander in the Navy during World War II, later served as commissioner of the All-America Football Conference and then took over as coach-owner of the league's Chicago Rockets in 1947. He quit after one season with a 1-13 record.
He later went into business in Scranton, served as Industrial Commissioner of Lackawanna County and became chairman of the State Athletic Commission before retiring in 1972.
Mr. Crowley, whose wife, Helen, and son, Jim Jr., died earlier, is survived by a son, Patrick, of Teaneck, N.J., and three grandchildren who live in Scranton.
A funeral mass has been scheduled for 9:30 tomorrow morning at St. Clare's Roman Catholic Church in Scranton.