New ‘Rip Miller Trophy’: Honoring Navy, Notre Dame Football is Unveiled

The Notre Dame Club of Maryland and the Baltimore Chapter of the U.S. Naval Academy Alumni Association held a joint luncheon in Baltimore on Friday, February 18, to formally unveil the new Notre Dame–Navy football trophy. The trophy is named in honor of Edgar “Rip” Miller, one of Notre Dame’s famed “Seven Mules,” who served the Naval Academy for 48 years as a coach and athletic administrator.

Rip Miller: One of the 1924 Seven Mules

Rip Miller: One of the 1924 Seven Mules

ND Club of Maryland member Peter Twohy (ND ’88) designed the trophy, working with Jason Hardebeck of the Baltimore Chapter of the Naval Academy Alumni Association, and engaged multiple craftsmen to implement the design. Different from a typical rivalry trophy that is held by the winner each year and inscribed with the score of the game, the Rip Miller Trophy is composed of two symmetric halves, each of which will be inscribed with the names of the team’s captains for each year and will be held by the respective institutions during the year, being reunited whenever possible for the weekend of the annual game. Notre Dame’s half will reside in the trophy case outside the Alumni Association office in the Eck Center.

Leading the effort to memorialize Miller with the new trophy has been Jim Coolahan of the Notre Dame Club of Maryland. Jim told the nearly 100 attendees at the luncheon about the effort over the past several years to develop a trophy recognizing the great history of the nation’s longest uninterrupted intersectional football rivalry.

Navy Athletic Director Chet Gladchuk told the gathering the trophy celebrates the shared values of the two proud football programs and the institutions they represent. The choice to feature the captains from each team is a nod to the notion of long-term excellence that players achieve en route to being named captain of their team.

John Delaney, president-elect of the Notre Dame Alumni Association, noted the unique nature of the trophy – that it isn’t claimed by one school or the other on an annual basis, but represents two great traditions coming together each year.  He read a letter from Jack Swarbrick, Notre Dame’s director of athletics, saluting all those who had a hand in establishing the trophy.

The trophy was unveiled by featured guest Mrs. Esther Miller, the widow of Rip Miller, who recently celebrated her 104th birthday. Mrs. Miller, speaking on behalf of her entire family, expressed her delight in seeing Rip honored this way.Es with trophy

The luncheon featured a special presentation on the life of Rip Miller, from football historian and author Jim Lefebvre. Jim authored the national award-winning book Loyal Sons: The Story of The Four Horseman and Notre Dame Football’s 1924 Champions, which featured Rip and the Seven Mules. His in-depth research for the book provides a unique perspective on this historical time in college football lore.

Rip Miller captained the 1920 Canton (OH) McKinley HS Bulldogs. After an opening loss to small college power Mount Union, the Bulldogs proceeded to shut out their entire high school schedule, outscoring eight opponents by a combined 285-0 margin.  McKinley was not forced to punt once the entire season, and earned the tag of “Ohio state champions.”

Rip entered Notre Dame in the fall of 1921. He played on the 1922, 1923 and 1924 teams, becoming the starting right tackle in 1924. The Irish posted a record of 27-2-1 those three seasons, including a perfect 10-0 march to the 1924 national championship. Miller was one of the “Seven Mules” playing in front of The Four Horsemen in 1924. Graduating in 1925, Miller was awarded the Kenealy Trophy as the school’s top senior scholar-athlete.

Rip Miller trophyLike all 10 of his fellow senior regulars, Rip went from playing college football in 1924 to coaching it in 1925, when he was line coach at Indiana.  When Indiana head coach Bill Ingram was named head coach at Navy in 1926, Rip was brought to Annapolis as line coach. Almost at once, he began advocating for Navy to play Notre Dame, and in 1927 the series began.

Rip served as head coach at Navy from 1931-33. He led the Middies to their first victory over Notre Dame, a 7-0 triumph in 1933. In 1934, he returned to an assistant coaching position and for the next 15 years, he guided Navy’s line with great distinction. Six of his players were eventually named to the College Football Hall of Fame.

From 1948 until his retirement in 1974, Rip served the Academy as assistant athletic director, while the directorship rotated through a number of officers each serving a short term.  So, it was said, Rip Miller was the glue that kept Navy athletics together.  He developed a system of “bird dogs” to identify highly-qualified young men who could handle the rigors of Academy life, while playing football.  Rip, it was said, was as active as any lobbyist on Capitol Hill, seeking appointments to the Academy for the young men his network had identified.

Miller was inducted in the College Football Hall of Fame in 1966. He died in 1991 at the age of 90 — the last to pass of the Four Horsemen and Seven Mules.