Emil Sitko may have been Notre Dame's best player during the Irish's glory years in the late 1940s.
Fort Wayne's Emil "Red" Sitko might be the finest offensive player who played during Notre Dame football's finest era.
The Central High School graduate rushed for 2,226 yards and 26 touchdowns from 1946 to 1949 as the Fighting Irish went 8-0-1, 9-0, 9-0-1 and 10-0 to win three national championships. Sitko was a first-team All-American in 1948 and 1949, and he won the Walter Camp Award as the nation's top player in 1949 when he rushed for 712 yards and nine touchdowns on 120 carries. He finished eighth in that season's Heisman Trophy voting behind teammate Leon Hart.
Sitko, who led Notre Dame in rushing all four years, measured only 5-foot-8 and 175 pounds but averaged 6.1 yards per carry.
"Emil wasn't very big as football players go -- even for those days," Irish coach Frank Leahy once said. "But he was the fastest starting back I ever coached."
During Sitko's last game at Notre Dame, against Southern Methodist, the Irish were tied 20-20 late in the fourth quarter. SMU kicked off as Sitko walked up to freshman quarterback Bob Williams. "OK, for a kid you're a good quarterback, but you give me the ball every play until I tell you different."
Sitko carried the ball every play until Notre Dame reached the SMU 3-yard line, and then said, "It's OK now, kid, give it to someone else." Williams did and Notre Dame scored and won 27-20.
After Notre Dame, Sitko played three seasons in the NFL with San Francisco and the Chicago Cardinals. He died in Fort Wayne in 1973, and he was inducted into the National Football Foundation Hall of Fame in 1984.
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