This is a story about legends. It involves a legendary sportswriter, a legendary coach, a legendary college football team and its legendary backfield.
It also includes a reserve wide receiver who may have made a rude hand gesture at the Wisconsin sideline while sprinting for a touchdown against the Badgers at Camp Randall.
"That's the legend," John Roach was saying Monday.
Roach is a well-known screenwriter, TV producer and Madison Magazine columnist. The player in question was John's grandfather, Jack Roach, who was from Appleton, and who, on the day in question, Nov. 8, 1924, was playing for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
The Irish were playing the Badgers in Madison on their way to a perfect season. Three weeks earlier, after a victory against Army at New York's Polo Grounds, sportswriter Grantland Rice had immortalized Notre Dame's offensive backfield with one of the most famous leads in newspaper history.
"Outlined against a blue-gray October sky," Rice wrote, "the Four Horsemen rode again. In dramatic lore they are known as Famine, Pestilence, Destruction and Death. These are only aliases. Their real names are Stuhldreher, Miller, Crowley and Layden."
The Four Horsemen of Notre Dame - Harry Stuhldreher, Don Miller, Elmer Layden and Jim Crowley - are the subject of a new book by Jim Lefebvre, a UW-Madison graduate and former Wisconsin State Journal sports reporter.
Lefebvre, who now lives in the Twin Cites, was in Madison last week signing copies of "Loyal Sons: The Story of The Four Horsemen and Notre Dame Football's 1924 Champions."
The event at Barnes & Noble drew a good crowd, including some of Lefebvre's former newspaper colleagues like Jay Poster, now a Catholic priest, and retired Cap Times city editor Ron McCrea, who worked with Lefebvre on the Madison Press Connection.
John Roach didn't make the signing, but he has been in touch with Lefebvre about Roach's grandfather, who not only played for the Irish but also the Chicago Cardinals in the National Football League. Jack Roach was a colorful character who played for Knute Rockne at Notre Dame and then served on Douglas MacArthur's staff in World War II. Later, he became close friends with Emil Wanatka, proprietor of the Little Bohemia resort in northern Wisconsin where John Dillinger narrowly evaded capture.
Jack Roach would occasionally refer to himself as the "fifth horseman," but then so did everyone else on that splendid, Rockne-led 1924 Notre Dame team, which won a national championship with a 10-0 season that included a victory over Stanford in the Rose Bowl.
Lefebvre, in an interview last week, said he got the idea for the book after looking for a volume on the Four Horsemen and finding nothing specific to the 1924 season. His real inspiration dates back decades: Lefebrve grew up in Green Bay and went to the same Catholic grade school there as Jim Crowley, one of the horsemen and a talented runner, passer and receiver. Lefebvre's youth was filled with Four Horseman stories.
There are abundant Wisconsin connections in the book. Stuhldreher, the Irish quarterback, eventually coached the Badgers. Lefebvre devotes an entire chapter to the Notre Dame-Wisconsin game in Madison in November 1924. He quotes the State Journal's inimitable Roundy Coughlin.
Lefebvre makes note of Jack Roach's 13-yard "touchdown scamper" to close the scoring in the game, but there is no mention of any gesture by Roach toward the Wisconsin sideline. John told me the Badger players had been yelling at his grandfather, berating him for being from Wisconsin but playing for Notre Dame.
Roach gave it right back. "The family lore is he went Deion Sanders on them before there was a Deion Sanders," John said.
Barry Alvarez spoke earlier this year about the possibility of Wisconsin and Notre Dame renewing their rivalry. Read Jim Lefebvre's "Loyal Sons" and you'll wish it could happen immediately.
Contact Doug Moe at 608-252-6446 or email@example.com.