#11 Luther Bradley: Notre Dame Football’s Top 25 Players

Luther Bradley was recruited from Muncie to join the Irish in 1973. Muncie had not been known for football players; it was more famous for Ball Home Canning Jars (whence Ball State University) and the basketball prowess of the Muncie Central Bearcats who had won five Hoosier Hysteria state championships by the time Bradley graduated from Muncie Northside.

Luther Bradley is revered in South Bend as he earned his starting spot on the 1973 defense a few days before fellow frosh Ross Browner earned his starting spot. Luther arrived just as Notre Dame was completing its retooling from a 4-4-3 to a 4-3-4 and he helped complete the transition, as equally adept at safety as a cornerback.

Bradley was ready early. USC with Pat Haden and Lynn Swann were coming into town in mid-October. Notre Dame had not beaten McKay’s Trojans since 1966, seven very lean years. But on USC’s first play from scrimmage Haden threw a flare pass to Swann and then Mr. Bradley introduced himself to the national audience. He separated Lynn Swann from the football and then separated Swann from his helmet.  Surely, Eric Penick’s great 85 yard TD run is the play we all remember, but Bradley’s contretemps with Swann set the tone for the contest.

On that play, Bradley got no statistical credit, no tackle, no PBU. That is why when you measure Luther Bradley’s impact, mere statistics do not capture the measure of this great defensive back.

But he did rack up some numbers. Bradley remains the Notre Dame record holder with 17 career interceptions for 218 yards. He also collected 28 passes broken up, two blocked kicks, two recovered fumbles, and 153 career tackles. Luther could bring it.

Bradley’s 1974 Suspension

As a result of a “dormitory incident” Luther Bradley was suspended for the 1974 season along with Ross Browner, Willie Fry and Al Hunter.

When he returned Dan Devine was the coach, and the Irish began building toward the ’77 National Championship. Like Browner, Bradley earned two National Championship Rings.

Luther Bradley the Difference Maker

In the 1970’s Notre Dame played 10 games against USC.

In the 6 games in which Bradley (and Browner and Fry) did not participate, USC scored an average of 39 points per game. In the four games in which Bradley participated, USC scored 18.5 points per game.

That is what a difference maker does.

Bradley was the first modern defense only great defensive back at Notre Dame, paving the way for the Todd Lyghts, Jeff Burrises, Bobby Taylors and Harrison Smiths who followed later.

It is a shame that the College Football Hall of Fame has not admitted him, and the estimable Lou Somogyi has initiated a campaign to rectify this injustice and get Luther Bradley enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame.

Notre Dame Football’s Top 25 Players of All-Time

5Angelo BertelliQuarterback1940-1943
6Ross BrownerDefensive End1973, 1975-1977
7John LattnerRunning Back/Defensive Back1950-1953
8Tim BrownWide Receiver1984-1987
9Paul HornungQuarterback1953-1956
10George ConnorOffensive Line/Defensive Line1946-1947
11Luther BradlyCB1973, 1975-1977
12Jim LynchLinebacker1964-66
13Alan PageDefensive End1964-66
14Frank CarideoQuarterback1928-30
15Creighton MillerHalfback1941-43
16Jaylon SmithLinebacker2013-15
17Raghib “Rocket” IsmailWide Receiver/All-Purpose1988-90
18Tom ClementsQuarterback1972-74
19Chris ZorichNose Tackle1988-90
20Aaron TaylorGuard/Tackle1990-93
21Nick BuonicontiLinebacker/Guard1958-61
22Ken MacAfeeTight End1974-77
23Bill “Moose” FischerLeft Guard1945-48
24Todd LyghtCornerback1987-90
25Louis “Red” SalmonFullback1900-03

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  1. How is Joe Montana not in the top 5 of this list let alone not on the list at all?

    I was at the 1976 ND-Alabama game and saw Luther’s interception. I was sitting in that end zone.
    Great catch and great game.

  2. He was both a constant, looming presence and a playmaker. Every down and big play. That’s rare. And he answered the ancient riddle “Can anything good come out of Muncie?”

    For both of you, after this series is done, there will be articles on Parseghian and Devine. I hope that they will meet the approval of Bart and Bruce.

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