Nine-Fingered Lineman? There’s a Precedent

By Jim Lefebvre

New York Giants defensive lineman Jason Pierre-Paul made headlines this week when he suffered fireworks-related injuries at a Fourth of July celebration in Miami, and subsequently had to have his right index finger amputated.

If Pierre-Paul is able to make a successful comeback, he wouldn’t be the first notable football lineman to play with nine digits.

Chuck Collins, one of Notre Dame's famed Seven Mules, played with one finger amputated.

Chuck Collins, one of Notre Dame’s famed Seven Mules, played with one finger amputated.

Back in 1924, the most famous football squad in the land was Knute Rockne’s Notre Dame Fighting Irish. The flash-and-dash of ND’s precision backfield – Harry Stuhldreher, Jim Crowley, Don Miller and Elmer Layden – earned the nickname The Four Horsemen.

Playing in front of the Horsemen was a line that became known as The Seven Mules. (In a team vote on which unit was more valuable, The Mules won, seven to four.)

At left end was Chuck Collins, from Oak Park, Ill., and Chicago’s St. Ignatius High School. As a youngster, Collins showed his mettle when his younger brother Ed, later a Notre Dame footballer as well, fell through the ice of the Des Plaines River, and young Chuck led a daring rescue.

Chuck Collins came to Notre Dame a 167-pounder and grew into a 198-pound force by his senior year. He was a highly effective player despite the fact that, like Pierre-Paul now, he was missing the index finger on his right hand. While playing for St. Ignatius, an opponent stepped on his hand. The finger became infected and had to be amputated.

During Notre Dame’s undefeated 1924 season, which earned the school its first consensus national championship, Collins’ play was lauded by this account:

“He is the type of player who very seldom waits for action, being better satisfied with himself if he is able to start it. Few men have gained on him this season….The majority of Army’s losses were directly traceable to Collins’ unusual ability….Chicago may be well proud of its native son.”


Portions of the preceding are from Loyal Sons: The Story of The Four Horsemen and Notre Dame Football’s 1924 Champions (2008, Great Day Press).