FORMER SUBWAY ALUMNI LEADER REFLECTS ON HIS "NOTRE DAME ODYSSEY"


Herb Juliano
(1922-1998)

Herb's Archive features an article on the late Emil "Red" Sitko, star of the Irish in the late forties. It's from the December 17, 1973 Fort Wayne News-Sentinel article by Jim Costin.

 

Halfback Emil Sitko runs back an intercepted pass for 20 yards during the first quarter of play in the 1946 Navy game. The Irish downed the Middies 28-0. (Courtesy of the University of Notre Dame Archives)

 

Herb's Archive features an article on the late Emil "Red" Sitko, star of the Irish in the late forties. It's from the December 17, 1973 Fort Wayne News-Sentinel article by Jim Costin.


BUT IT TOOK 50 YEARS
 
Red Sitko Finally Stopped
 
It took 50 years but they finally found a way to stop Emil Sitko. Some of the greatest defensive lines in the country couldn't do it. Doctors couldn't do it when they warned the Redhead to slow down some time ago. Only the fact that he had more heart than a human is supposed to possess kept him going this long.
 
A great sportsman, Red planned to go hunting Saturday morning. No, he probably wasn't supposed to use all that energy it requires to tromp throught the woods. And he sure wasn't supposed to an All-Amercian football player, either. Notre Dame's halfbacks today, Art Best and Eric Pennick, go 210 pounds and 205 respectively and stand 6-1. Red played at about 175 and was listed at 5-8. That little extra heart he owned , even then, had to be bigger than the average for him to even get a tryout.
 
Red never got out of bed Saturday morning. From 1946 through 1949 he got out of bed every Saturday morning though there were 38 Notre Dame opponents over those four seasons who wish he hadn't. To play on an unbeaten football team is rare indeed. But, to go though college as a starter and play four years and never miss a game and never be on the loser's side in those four years is tough to comprehend. Red did it, at Notre Dame.
 
His exploits have been mentioned. Like the fact he carried the ball 363 times in those four years; gained 2,226 yards; scored 26 touchdowns; led the Irish in rushing all four years; was named to every single All-American team as a senior and some as a junior; and averaged an amazing 6.1 yards a try.
 
If Red were standing behind me right now, he would say, "Jim, don't put that kind of stuff in the paper--people don't care what happened 25 years ago."
 
Unlike most athletes of his caliber, Red never attempted to capitalize on his reputation. Some claimed that he made a mistake. If that's so, then it's a mistake to be humble, a mistake not to be a so-called pop off, a mistake to be yourself. We first met Red at South Bend when he was playing for the Irish. In recent years we were fortunate to see him often and just shoot the breeze. I consider myself lucky to have known him. Not, certainly, because he was one of the all-time college greats - as his records prove - but more because he was just plain Red, himself. He never attempted to be anything else.
 
Sitko's coach, the late Frank Leahy, was a stern disciplinarian if there ever was one. We would say if he had one favorite it was Red Sitko. We remember watching practice once, probably in 1947. The varsity had scrimmaged long when Leahy called a halt and said in his own meticulous way, Emil, are you going home to Fort Wayne this week end, Emil?" This was a Saturday afternoon before the start of the season. Red replied, "Yes, coach, I am." And Leahy said, "Emil, lad, you are excused for the day, and we will see you on Monday." And with that Red headed for the dressing room and Fort Wayne. The rest of the squad continued to scrimmage.
 
In the 1949 Southern Methodist game, Sitko's last at N.D., it was 20-20 late in the contest when the Mustangs kicked off to the Irish and they started deep in their own territory. Notre Dame had a 19-year-old quarterback, Bob Williams, calling the plays. Sitko walked up to him and said, "Okay, for a kid you're a good quarterback, but you give me the ball every play until I tell you different." Sitko, 26 at the time, then carried the ball every play until he reached the SMU three, then returned to the huddle and said, it's okay now kid, give it to someone else. He did, N.D. scored and won, 27-20.
 
That was typical of Sitko. He did all the work, then let someone else get the glory.
 
In recent years he officiated at many high school football games in this vicinity and always enjoyed it. We're sure he didn't do it for the money and once told us, "it's just fun to still put on the cleats once or twice a week." And he thoroughly enjoyed working with kids as is proven by the fact he helped coach the St. Henry's CYO grade school team the past six years.
 
We can't ever recall Red without a smile. We remember one afternoon while playing golf with him when he hit his second shot on the 15th hole at Brookwood about eight inches from the pin. He walked up, tapped the birdie putt and missed. Some other guys might have tossed their putter to the next tee. Red looked at me, smiled and said, "Oh well, I'm happy to get a par."
 
Which reminds me of rule No. 9, author unknown, from a sports writers' rule book: "Since none of us goes by the reviewing stand save once, it might be that the way to pass the judges is laughing."
 
We'll bet Red did just that!

 

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