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Iowa History Daily: May 4 - Elmer Layden's Football Legacy

Iowa History Daily: On May 4, 1903, famed fullback of the legendary Notre Dame Four Horsemen and first commissioner of the NFL Elmer Layden was born in Davenport. A successful athlete who played professionally for three different ALF teams and coached at Loras College (then Columbia College) and Notre Dame, Layden was elected into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1951.

A three sport athlete at Davenport (now Davenport Central) High School, Layden shined on the track, on the basketball court, and most significantly on the gridiron. After competing at the highest levels of Iowa high school athletics, Layden chose to join Harry Stuhldreher, Don Miller, and Jim Crowley in South Bend to play for the legendary Knute Rockne.

During the three years the “Four Horsemen” shared the backfield for the Fighting Irish the team only lost twice. Layden earned All-American honors as a senior and gained national fame when he returned two interceptions for touchdowns in a 27-10 victory over Stanford in the 1927 Rose Bowl. Although professional football only existed in its infancy during the 1920s, the “Four Horsemen” reunited in 1925 to play for the AFL’s Harford Blues in a game against the Cleveland Bulldogs. Although Hartford lost 13-6, the Horsemen reportedly made out with a combined paycheck of $5,000. Layden went on to play for the Brooklyn Horsemen and the Rock Island Independents before deciding to move to the sidelines in 1926.

Leyden’s first head coaching gig led him to Dubuque where he led Columbia (now Loras) to a 8-5-2 record in 1925-26. After a six year stint at Duquesne University, Notre Dame named Layden the head football coach and athletic director in 1934. A seven year head coach for the Irish, Leyden’s teams compiled a 47-13-3 record, and captured a national championship in 1938. When the National Football League owners voted to try to bring all professional football under one league in 1941 to mirror the structure present in Major League Baseball, they tapped Layden for the post of commissioner. Layden saw the league through World War II before moving into private business in 1946. He died on June 30, 1973. #IowaHistoryDaily #IowaOTD #IowaHistoryCalendar


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