For ND Legacy Families from Texas, It’s a Special Time

By Jim Lefebvre
Forever Irish

They say everything is bigger in Texas.

One thing is certain, as Notre Dame prepares to open the 2015 season by hosting the University of Texas – there are some pretty large extended families from the Lone Star State headed to South Bend to celebrate their Fighting Irish heritage.

ND halfback Christie Flanagan earned All-American honors in 1926 and 1927.

ND halfback Christie Flanagan earned All-American honors in 1926 and 1927.

The first major Notre Dame football star to hail from Texas was Christie Flanagan, from Port Arthur, where his family was heavily involved in the shipping industry. During high school, Flanagan spent two summers attending camp at Culver Military Academy, just 50 miles down the road from South Bend. There, one of his officers, a Notre Dame alum, suggested he consider also coming north for college.

And so he did, starting a multi-generational lineage of Notre Dame and St. Mary’s students from the Flanagan line.

As a sophomore in 1924, Christie came out for the varsity, and he excelled in a drill against veteran members of the backfield, who would go on to be christened The Four Horsemen. Day after day, young Flanagan continued to stand out. It created something of a dilemma for Coach Knute Rockne, who knew he already had an outstanding backfield with Stuhldreher, Crowley, Miller, and Layden.

So Rockne, always a visionary, in essence presaged the practice of redshirting, keeping Flanagan out of games, so he would have three seasons of eligibility remaining. Christie made the most of it, leading the Irish attack and achieving All-American status in 1926 and 1927.

On November 13, 1926, in front a capacity crowd of 63,000 at Yankee Stadium, Christie Flanagan etched his name in Fighting Irish lore for all time. In the third quarter of a scoreless battle with Army, Notre Dame had the ball at its own 37, and the shift was to the right, the snap came to Flanagan.

He waited for his blocking to set up, then cut past his right tackle through the hole, crossing the line of scrimmage as the Army tackle was neutralized, and the Army end was driven back. Flanagan angled toward the sideline, and then straightened his course, as his downfield blockers each found their man. One last Cadet had an angle on him at the West Point 30, but Notre Dame’s Ike Voedisch engaged him the next 20 yards, and Flanagan strode into the end zone for the game’s only score in a titanic 7-0 Irish victory.

It became known as “the perfect play” – each Notre Dame man did exactly what was needed to take out an opponent, and Flanagan, as one account noted, “was never touched by a hostile hand, and pranced knees-high behind perfect interference, in the most spectacular feat of the game.”

(Ironically, the star of that Army team was also a son of the Gulf Coast. Chris Cagle had been a star at Southwestern Louisiana Institute – today’s University of Louisiana at Lafayette – before earning his appointment to the U.S. Military Academy. He was among those perfectly taken out of the play as Flanagan ran to glory.)

After graduation, Christie joined the family business interests back in Texas, but Rockne and Notre Dame always influenced him. He and wife Rita had four children – daughters Muriel and Kathleen attended St. Mary’s, and sons Christie Jr. and Bruce came to Notre Dame, Christie Jr. becoming an All-American golfer for the Irish.

The next generation includes Muriel’s children, the Cullens – sons Kevin (ND ’77) and Terry (ND ’78) and daughters Kathleen (SMC ’79) and Colleen (SMC ’81). That’s four graduates in five years, if you’re counting.

One of Kevin’s children – Casey Cullen – came out of Victoria, Texas, to walk on at ND as a defensive tackle, and ended up earning a scholarship and varsity letters in 2005 and 2006, the first two major-bowl seasons under Coach Charlie Weis.

And the family secured a unique connection to Notre Dame football history earlier this year, when one of Terry Cullen’s daughters, Morgan Cullen Caudle (ND ’09) and her family moved into Coach Rockne’s final home in South Bend, the handsome 1929 Tudor in the historic Wayne Street district, where notables from across the country came to pay their respects the first week of April, 1931, after Rockne’s death in a Kansas plan crash.

Certainly, Christie Flanagan was a favorite of Coach Rockne, and now the two are linked in a special location, where Christie’s Notre Dame letter sweater now adorns a wall.

Terry Cullen, looking back at his time at ND, noted “Notre Dame wasn’t as significant to me then, as an 18-year-old. It was just where I was expected to go. I didn’t recognize the significance of Big Christie at the time.”

But that has changed over the years, as the generations of Flanagans/Cullens – some 30-plus expected this week – continue to carry on the family line in South Bend. “It’s all very special to us, and we’re delighted that we are able to care for the home that Rockne built, to keep it in the Notre Dame family.”



Just a few miles down the road from Port Arthur, the LeBlanc family helped to operate the Beaumont Rice Mill, established by the family in 1892. And in 1922, young Erwin LeBlanc was influenced by his cousins, the Broussards, to come north and give Notre Dame a try.

Erwin had hopes of playing baseball at Notre Dame, as he was a standout left fielder for his high school teams at St. Mary’s Seminary in LaPorte, Texas, and later at Dallas Academy. But, he would later say, the spring cold was too intense for him at ND, and the “southern boys” were not able to grip a baseball like they were used to. He also experienced homesickness during the long, frigid winters, but the only thing returning home to Texas was his weekly sack of laundry, sent back and forth by train.

Erwin LeBlanc Sr. (ND 1926) enjoyed life for more than a century, before his death in 2005 at age 102.

Erwin LeBlanc Sr. (ND 1926) enjoyed life for more than a century, before his death in 2005 at age 102.

Erwin LeBlanc enjoyed his Ford Model T, taking trips with classmates to various points across the country during breaks and summertime.

On one such trip, Erwin’s passengers were Christie Flanagan, just weeks after he scored that epic touchdown against Army, and cousin Joe Broussard Jr. They set off from South Bend on Christmas vacation and drove straight through to Memphis, staying at the historic Peabody Hotel. From there, they drove through Arkansas over the White River, taking a barge 20 minutes downriver to avoid some high water. They drove to Shreveport and stayed with a friend.

The roads being mostly gravel, their route wasn’t always the straightest. Somewhere near Monroe, Louisiana, they turned off onto a country road in the dark – and promptly came upon a Ku Klux Klan meeting. The Klan, virulently anti-Catholic, questioned the intentions of the three ND students before finally allowing them to pass.

Like Flanagan, Erwin LeBlanc returned to Texas to work in the family business after his years at Notre Dame.

And this week, two of Erwin’s children – Erwin LeBlanc, Jr. and Becky LeBlanc Simmons – will make a return visit to ND on behalf of their Dad, along with Erwin Jr.’s son Adam, and Becky’s husband Larry Simmons (a UT grad who will become fully versed in all manner of Notre Dame lore).

Erwin LeBlanc lived to age 102 before his death just over 10 years ago, in August 2005, and he was thought to be the oldest living ND alum before his passing.

“His positive attitude, strong faith, and sense of humor, along with a gifted memory, truly touched so many lives and made them better human beings for having known him,” Becky noted. “I know we owe most of that gift to the grace of God and his parents for raising him the way they did, but I also know that ND had a great influence on him that he carried throughout his life.”



It’s a common theme, for a university that draws students from the width and breadth of the United States. Students far from their families long for the comforts of home.

In the fall of 1931, it was sophomore Hugh Devore, who hailed from faraway Newark, New Jersey. He was the first football player from the Garden State recruited by Rockne, as he was a standout at St. Benedict’s Prep. But now, in the first Notre Dame football season since Rock’s death, there was emptiness about the whole experience. Devore sat on the bench near the statue of Father Sorin, out in front of the Dome, and declared, “That’s it; I’m going home.”

Just then, a Holy Cross priest appeared, and conducted an impromptu counseling session that eased Devore’s mind…and kept him at Notre Dame. And by his senior year, 1933, Hugh Devore was starting right end and co-captain of the Irish.

Notre Dame man Hugh Devore

Notre Dame man Hugh Devore

After graduation, Devore studied law at Notre Dame, and helped coach the freshman team in 1934. Then, he followed Four Horseman Jim Crowley, new head coach at Fordham University in New York City, and became line coach. His charges included the “Seven Blocks of Granite” and one youngster from Brooklyn named Vince Lombardi.

Devore coached four seasons at Fordham, served as head coach at Providence for four years, then returned to Notre Dame as line coach in 1943 and 1944, before serving a season as head coach in 1945 when Frank Leahy was in the service. He returned East for head coaching stints at St. Bonaventure and NYU, had a foray into the NFL with the Packers (1953) and Eagles (1956-57) before again returning to Notre Dame.

“During most of those coaching stops, Mom and us kids just stayed home in Orange (New Jersey),” says Tom Devore, youngest son of Hugh and Madeline Devore. “Coaching wasn’t a year-round thing like it is today, so Dad could get home for months at a time.” (A street in West Orange was eventually named Devore Drive.)

But when Hugh went back to become a Notre Dame assistant in 1958, it was time for the whole family to move with him. For the next five seasons, he was a key assistant and recruiter for the Irish.

“Dad was most frustrated by the guys he couldn’t get into Notre Dame because of grades…(Dick) Butkus, (Tommy) Nobis, (Joe) Namath. Namath stayed at our house during his visit to campus,” Tom recalled.

He also remembered another young visitor, from Akron Central Catholic High. “Alan Page, just an unbelievable guy, the biggest man I had ever seen,” Tom remembered. “He was very friendly, very impressive the way he carried himself.” There was a sense he might have a very positive future.

In 1966, Coach Devore made his final stop on the coaching carousel, becoming defensive coordinator for the Houston Oilers, a post he would hold the next five seasons before going to work for the Houston Sports Association. In that time, he would firmly establish the family’s home base in Texas.

Ready, set, hut...Patrick Devore, 16 months, is ready for action. He's the great-grandson of ND captain and coach Hugh Devore.

Ready, set, hut…Patrick Devore, 16 months, is ready for action. He’s the great-grandson of ND captain and coach Hugh Devore.

This week, more than 50 Devore family members will descend on South Bend. And despite any Texas ties, “Everyone is solid for ND,” says Tom, who with wife Cicely has seven children, four of whom are coming with their families to the Texas game. A walk on campus in the quiet of Thursday, with a stop at the Grotto, will set the stage for the festivities to follow.

Among those “solid for ND” would include Dr. George Devore, Hugh’s grandson, a dentist in Waxahachie, Texas. George spent two years as a student at Notre Dame, before the strain of a long-distance romance influenced him to finish up at the University of Texas.

“I survived my ‘excommunication’ from the family,” George laughs now. “My wife Lauren and I have been married ever since, so it’s all worked out OK.”

Naturally, the Texas Devores come into contact with a lot of Longhorns fans on a regular basis, making this week’s game an interesting topic of conversation.

“My business partner is a UT guy, so we have a little friendly back-and-forth,” Tom noted. “They haven’t had a lot to brag about lately.

“Let’s hope it doesn’t start this weekend.”