Nov. 7, 2003
by Kathleen Lopez
At halftime of today’s game, Notre Dame will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the ’53 football team, which earned a split national championship with the University of Maryland and halfback Johnny Lattner won the Heisman Trophy. This year marks an even older anniversary as 2003 marks the 100th anniversary of Notre Dame’s first All-American Louis “Red” Salmon and the beginning of Notre Dame’s rise in football history.
Salmon not only became Notre Dame’s first award winner but his gridiron performance also garnered unprecedented media attention. East coast schools dominated college football in the early 1900s so for any Notre Dame team or player to get any kind of attention was an amazing conquest.
The native of Syracuse, N.Y., earned third-team honors on Walter Camp’s list in 1903 and Notre Dame has never looked back. Camp primarily honored Ivy League and East Coast schools. Since the 1903 season, over 200 players have earned assorted All-America honors from various outlets.
Salmon launched Notre Dame’s gridiron success not only as far as award winners go, but also as legends are viewed. He earned the nickname of “Red” because of the mop of red hair that sat atop his head. His ability to run the ball was legendary, as well as his tenacity.
His passion for football was evident on the field. Many found it unusual that a devout religious man showed such aggressive play on the football field.
When Salmon arrived from New York, he did not set out to play football for the University. He only happened to join the team after playing some interhall football. He returned a kick and right then and there, spectators knew that he needed to play for the varsity team.
Many labeled Salmon as a man of many talents. He played both offense and defense, which was not out of the ordinary during that time. Also, Salmon handled kicking duties and also kick returning responsibilities as well – a little less common.
Salmon earned the respect of the football world with his performance against a mighty Michigan team in 1902. Michigan entered the game in the midst of an unbeaten streak. Despite the 27-0 outcome, many walked away impressed with the fullback’s performance. He didn’t score a single touchdown, but at one point carried the ball 10 times on a single drive, averaging five yards per carry.
In his final season, Salmon took on even more responsibility by assuming the coaching role for the Irish. During that time period, head coaches often came and went without doing too much for the team. Often times, programs relied heavily on their senior players to guide the team.
Salmon did just that. He helped lead his team to an unbeaten record for the first time since the University started having a team again in 1892. Despite having James F. Faragher as a coach, many accounts list Salmon as the reason that the Irish did not surrender a single point in the season.
He earned the most praise for his 1903 season performance as a fullback, linebacker and punter. Walter Camp named Salmon a third-team All-American. It was a momentous occasion not only for Salmon and Notre Dame but for Western football. Notre Dame at that point in time was considered a member of the West, which in most cases produced weak football teams.
Salmon dominated the Notre Dame record books at the conclusion of his career. His record of 36 career touchdowns stood for over 80 years until Allen Pinkett broke it with 53.
Also Salmon held the record for points per game in a season with 11.7 until 1912. During the 1912 season, Alvin Berger average 12.0 points per game. These two stand in first and second still to this day.
In total, he earned four football monograms and served as captain twice. Salmon also played baseball during the 1903 and ’04 seasons.
After playing four years on the team, Salmon then assumed the head coaching position at Notre Dame for the 1904 season. Due to ineligibility and injuries, his squad posted a record of 5-3.
Salmon graduated from the University in 1905 with a degree in civil engineering.
Salmon’s contributions to the game were noted when he was inducted into the National Football Foundation Hall of Fame in 1971. He shares that honor with 39 other Notre Dame greats and five former coaches.