football

Remembering Notre Dame’s Ralph Guglielmi: 1933-2017

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Guglielmi (far right) with, from left to right, Frank Varrichione, head coach Terry Brennan and Dan Shannon.
Notre Dame Media Relations

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The Notre Dame community lost an all-time great this Monday with the death of Ralph Vincent Guglielmi at age 83 in Wallace, N.C.

During his career with the Fighting Irish, Guglielmi was 26-3-2 (.871 winning percentage) as the starting quarterback. The only two Notre Dame signal-callers with a minimum of 15 starts who posted better records were 1947 Heisman Trophy winner John Lujack (20-1-1, .932) and 1987-89 starter Tony Rice (28-3, .903).

That ledger occurred against arduous 10-game schedules, and each of the three Notre Dame teams from 1952-54 finished among the top four in the Associated Press poll, a feat unmatched since then at the school. Reportedly, four-time national champion head coach Frank Leahy referred to Guglielmi as “the greatest quarterback I ever coached.”

Because his first career start came as a freshman in Notre Dame’s season-ending 19-12 victory at USC in 1951 (the Korean War at the time prompted the NCAA to make freshmen eligible that season), Guglielmi held the unique distinction of defeating the archrival Trojans four straight seasons as a starter — which was matched by Steve Beuerlein from 1983-86.

Guglielmi also intercepted 10 passes his last two seasons in 1953-54 — five apiece to lead the team both years — a reflection of the versatility needed in football back then.

• In 1952, the Irish finished No. 3 after defeating the Southwest Conference champion (Texas), the Big 8 champion (Oklahoma), the Pac-8 champion (USC) and the co-Big Ten winner (Purdue), while also tying Ivy League champ Penn.

• In 1953, the 9-0-1 Irish won at Oklahoma — the last loss in 47 games for the Sooners — and snapped Georgia Tech’s 31-game unbeaten streak. Notre Dame was recognized by some outlets as a national champion, but Maryland was the consensus national title winner (most notably AP and UPI Coaches Poll) despite losing to Oklahoma, which the Irish had defeated, in the Orange Bowl. However, back then national titles were selected at the end of the regular season, which is part of the reason why the Irish didn’t attend bowls.

• Finally, despite 26-year-old Terry Brennan replacing Leahy as the head coach in 1954, the Irish opened with a 21-0 victory over No. 4 Texas en route to a 9-1 finish and a No. 4 placement in the AP poll. Against the Longhorns, Guglielmi accounted for all three touchdowns (two rushing and one passing) while also intercepting three passes.

As a junior in 1953, Guglielmi was one-fourth of what many historians believe was the greatest backfield in Notre Dame annals, with all four top-nine NFL Draft picks: Heisman Trophy winner John Lattner and fullback Neil Worden were tabbed No. 7 and No. 9, respectively, in 1954, while Guglielmi was No. 4 in 1955, with classmate Joe Heap No. 8.

However, that senior year in 1954 almost didn’t occur when Guglielmi and Heap — a three-time Academic All-American — were expelled from school for the second semester.

On Dec. 6, 1953, Notre Dame capped Leahy’s final season (and sixth unbeaten campaign) with a 40-14 rout of SMU at home. After a victory dinner with Guglielmi’s parents, the quarterback and Heap decided to do some celebrating of their own. Heap reminded Guglielmi about the curfew hours at the school back then, but the two didn’t return to campus until around 3 a.m.

“I said, ‘Joe, what the hell difference is an hour or two going to make?’” he told Blue & Gold Illustrated years ago. “We just had completed an undefeated season … they’ll understand.”

When the two were busted for their tardiness, the Prefect of Discipline, Father Charles “Black Mac” McCarragher informed them they would be kicked out of school the remainder of the semester (through February), lose all their academic credits from the fall, and have 24 hours to pack their bags and depart the campus.

“I was livid,” Guglielmi said. “Joe and I both talked about transferring to Michigan State. [Spartans head coach] Duffy Daugherty had heard about our suspensions and contacted us.”

A Notre Dame benefactor and Guglielmi’s mother quelled that decision. However, once readmitted, Guglielmi had to take 12 credit hours in the summer and an astounding 20 during the 1954 football season to compensate for the missed semester and graduate with his class in the spring of ’55.

Guglielmi went on to earn unanimous All-America honors and also was named MVP for the College All Stars in a 30-27 victory over the NFL champion Cleveland Browns. A rookie at Washington in 1955, Guglielmi served as an officer in the United States Air Force the next two years before returning to play for the Redskins (1958-60), St. Louis (1961), New York Giants (1962-63) and Philadelphia (latter half of 1963).

Following his NFL career, Guglielmi became an insurance agent and a business owner of restaurants, car dealerships and a successful computer forms company, Computer Business Supplies (CBS). He and his wife retired to River Landing Golf Community in Wallace, N.C., in 2003.

On April 19, 2001, Guglielmi was inducted in the National Football Foundation’s College Football Hall of Fame.

Born in Columbus, Ohio, on June 26, 1933, he was the only son to Italian immigrants Marino and Rose Guglielmi and was a three-sport star at Grandview High School in Columbus, where his mother worked at the Ohio State University dorm rooms. Guglielmi joked that it was her experiences there that led her to insist that her son attend a more disciplined and strict Catholic environment at Notre Dame.

He is survived by his wife of 42 years, Linda Doeringer Guglielmi, two children (Ralph and Lisa) and five grandchildren. A memorial service will be held at a later date in Wallace, N.C.

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