Reflections from the Dome
this month is a short bio on Creighton Miller from The
Notre Dame Football Encyclopedia and an interesting excerpt on
his medical condition from Leahy’s Lads. Also an article on
Creighton by Joe Doyle from the South Bend Tribune courtesy
of the University of Notre Dame Archives.
The Notre Dame Football
Halfback (1941-43), 6'0", 187 lbs.
Miller was the last in a long line of Millers to attend Notre Dame.
This included his father Harry, a starting running back from 1907 to
1909; his uncle Walter, a blocking back for George Gipp; his uncle
Don, who was one of the legendary Four Horsemen; his uncle Ray, who
played left end behind Knute Rockne; his uncle Gerry, who was a
reserve on the topnotch teams of the early 1920s; and his older
brother Tom. Creighton himself was a great high school athlete from
Wilmington, Delaware, but attempts by other schools to recruit him
proved to be futile. "My father didn't ask me what college I wanted
to attend," he was quoted as saying, "he told me what time the train
left for South Bend."
Even though he had a shaky start with head coach Frank Leahy, Miller
followed in the family tradition. It helped that he possessed the
versatility of another all-time Irish standout, George Gipp, and
enough speed to earn a letter sprinting for the track team. Things
didn't always go well for Miller at Notre Dame. A routine physical
indicated that he had high blood pressure, and he was instructed by
doctors to avoid strenuous exercise indefinitely. Miller told Leahy
of his diagnosis and that he would not be able to participate in
spring workouts. Leahy was a no nonsense coach who did not tolerate
anything but 110 percent effort, and the slightest suggestion of
laziness infuriated him; he didn't even trust a doctor's diagnosis
as an excuse. Leahy voiced the opinion that Miller might not be of
the stock to survive at Notre Dame.
Editor’s note: The following is from Leahy’s Lads by
Jack Connor and describes the situation concerning Creighton’s
Miller tells how his problems with Leahy began: "I went home at
Christmas and didn't feel too well. Doctors found my blood pressure
was elevated, so my doctor told me 'no exercise.' In the spring of
my freshman year Leahy said, 'You have to come out for practice.' I
said, 'I can't. I can't get medical approval.' So that started a
very tense relationship with Leahy. He thought I was conning him and
didn't want to come out for spring practice, when the fact was I was
dying to and make the team and I knew I would have a very bad time
if I didn't. So that's how I got off on the wrong foot with Leahy.
"I kept going to this doctor. They didn't know too much about
blood pressure in those days. He told me not to exercise and I
followed his orders, but one weekend I played six sets of tennis and
went water skiing. I had an appointment on Monday to see him. He
said, 'Your blood pressure is so much lower I can't believe it -I
don't know about this. I’m sending you to the University of
Pennsylvania to the best cardiologist I know."
"I went there around August lst, just before summer practice.
Other than that weekend when I had exercised, I had not even walked
fast for eight months. During the exam my blood pressure was up and
the cardiologist said, 'I'm all through with you.' I was sitting in
the waiting room and he walks out very casually and throws that
measuring thing on me so fast and checked my blood pressure. It was
normal. This guy was a good psychologist. He said, 'I think you can
play ball.' Three years later he was listening to one of the games
and wrote a letter to me saying, 'I'm glad to hear you are playing.'
I wrote back and said, 'If it weren't for you, I would probably
still be walking slow and taking my pulse in church.' "
As the rest of the team reported for summer practice, Leahy
checked their hands to see if there were callouses. If they lacked
them, that was proof they had not been doing manual work. Miller
remembers, "My hands looked like a girl's hands because I hadn't
even walked fast for eight months. So Leahy decides that this is a
guy that really needs a lot of extra work. He went after me
physically and I wasn't able to do it"
Creighton Miller runs 65
yards to score against Great Lakes in 1942.
In 1941, Miller still made the
team as a backup halfback, and carried the ball 23 times for 183
yards and a touchdown. He also caught a 40-yard pass and punted 4
times for an average of 49 yards. He made it onto the starting
lineup in 1942 and had a few highlights: one was a 68-yard touchdown
run in a 13-13 tie against a highly favored Great Lakes All-Service
A war was on, and Miller
decided to enlist in the army in the spring of 1943. His army
physical confirmed that he really did have hypertension, and he
spent six weeks in a military hospital before receiving his
discharge. He returned to Notre Dame, and with this latest news,
Leahy was finally convinced that Miller was not concocting his
ailment, so the two reached an agreement. Miller was to practice and
practice hard, but if he felt tired or got dizzy he could rest. This
was a major concession for Leahy. Miller and Notre Dame went on to
have a great season in 1943. Notre Dame was 9-1, and Leahy won his
first national championship, thanks in large part to Miller.
Miller became only the second
Notre Dame runner to compile more than 900 yards. He led the team
with 911 yards on 151 carries and scored 13 touchdowns. He also led
the team with 6 interceptions, 7 punt returns for 151 yards, and 4
kickoff returns for 53 yards. He was a consensus All-American and
fourth in voting for the Heisman Trophy, finishing three slots
behind his teammate, quarterback Angelo Bertelli.
The Brooklyn Tigers used a
second-round draft pick to select Miller in 1944, but he opted
instead to go to Yale Law School. In recognition of his outstanding
accomplishments, Miller was inducted into the College Football Hall
of Fame in 1976.
“Frank Leahy’s “Best Ever
Halfback” by Joe Doyle from the South Bend Tribune.
No one really doubted Creighton
Miller's football lineage because he was a direct descendant of the
Defiance, Ohio, Millers, but Coach Elmer Layden's first introduction
to Creighton didn't exactly please the Notre Dame coach and Four
Creighton was in junior high at
the time when his father, Harry, thrust him at Layden and said in
one of his characteristic Miller phrases, "Here's a young man who is
going to make you a great coach." Under his breath, Layden muttered,
"I'll bet." And indirectly he was right.
In Layden's day, the head coach
wasn't allowed to recruit actively off-campus, and in a sense,
Creighton did not have to be recruited. But he was one of the great
stars of high school football by his senior year in 1939 and if it
hadn't been for the extraordinary link of the Millers to Notre Dame,
Creighton might have gone elsewhere.
His brother, Tom, preceded him
to Notre Dame under Layden, but as it turned out, Elmer never had
the varsity services of the AII-American who is one of the 1976
inductees into the Hall of Fame. Elmer left the Irish after
Creighton's freshman season and became commissioner of the National
Football League. Years later, Creighton was to become counsel for
the players' association in the NFL.
Creighton today is a successful
attorney in his native Cleveland, knowledgeable about his
profession, politics, golf and certainly aware of football. In fact,
a few years ago, he was in a Washington reception line at an affair
for his friend Ohio Congressman Bill Stanton.
A fellow ahead of him in the
line got to talking with someone else about being an assistant coach
at Yale where he had attended law school. Creighton thought it was
time that he got into the conversation. "And I'll bet I know your
salary as assistant coach," said Creighton. "It was $3,500."
The other ex-coach was amazed
until Creighton told him that he, too, had attended Yale law school
under the same program and terms. The earlier Yale coach was
then-Congressman Gerald Ford, later the President.
Creighton remembers his
football days at Notre Dame, and also his coaching days at Yale,
where he was an almost daily squash competitor against Byron (Whizzer)
White, an ex-football star who is now Justice White of the Supreme
Looking back 35 years to his
first varsity action in 1941, Miller-like the others on that
team-was impressed by one thing, that it was one of the smallest
squads in Notre Dame history and yet finished undefeated. Only a 0-0
tie against traditional rival Army marred the season, when Creighton
was the No.2 fullback behind Dippy Evans.
Frank Leahy had taken over the
Irish of 1941 and played the almost- traditional "box" formation in
which the left halfback (or tailback) was the chief threat. But
Creighton gained 206 yards in 59 carries, and had a fantastic
49.2-yard punting average for his four kicks.
Because there wasn't so much
emphasis on "rides" (athletic scholarships) in those days, Creighton
and Tom had enrolled at Notre Dame on their own (well, really on
their father's income). M. Harry Miller was called "Red" and had
moved from Ohio to Wilmington, Delaware, where Creighton and Tom had
finished Alexis I. du Pont High.
Miller's greatest season in
which he rushed for 911 yards in 151 carries almost didn't come off.
Creighton was inducted into the Army in early 1943, but was
discharged because of high blood pressure that same summer and was
able to return to school in time for fall practice. But he was a
late addition to the press brochure that year.
With a backfield of Angelo
Bertelli (and later John Lujack) at quarterback, Jim Mello at
fullback and Creighton and Julie Rykovich at halfbacks, the Irish
were a potent offensive team. But Creighton still marvels at the
linemen that opened the holes up front.
"You've got to remember that we
had Jim White and Ziggie Czarobski at tackles, Herb Coleman at
center, and guards like Pat Filley and Johnny Perko, plus big John
Yonakor and Paul Limont at ends," Creighton says. "You couldn't make
AII-Americans out of all of them, but they were all good."
With that kind of a lineup, the
Irish crushed a weak Pitt team and ripped Georgia Tech before the
"big" game of the year, a re-match with Michigan at Ann Arbor. And
just like his father before him, Creighton reserved one of his great
games for the Wolverines.
Creighton scores against
With 86,000 -then a record-
looking on, Miller scored two touchdowns, ran for 159 yards in just
10 carries in the 35-12 romp over a Michigan team that had been
bolstered by such 1942 stars from Wisconsin as Elroy Hirsch, Fred
Negus and Bob Rennebohm, plus Bill Daley from Minnesota. A year
earlier, Michigan had won a 32-20 game in South Bend in the only
modern meetings of the two teams. (A four-year series begins in
The 1943 team averaged 34
points a game, but was upset in the finale against Great lakes,
19-14, but only after the Irish had been voted national champions.
It detracted only a little from the season when there was also a big
victory over Army, Lujack's first regular game at quarterback.
Leahy labeled Creighton his
best-ever halfback, an accolade that fits this autograph that the
coach once gave to Creighton, "To Creighton Miller- Those who say
Gipp was the greatest, hadn't seen you play." Frank Leahy.
And Leahy once wrote to Miller,
"I have often thought that if you had been born 10 or 12 years
later, you, with that rarely seen, unsurpassed ability would now
have an extra million in your account and my coaching record would
have been considerably lower."