Joe Montana and Brady Quinn.
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The Best Notre Dame Quarterbacks Ever, Ranked

Notre Dame has no shortage of history on the gridiron, where quarterbacks like Joe Montana and Brady Quinn have played. But who is the best?

Autumn has almost arrived in South Bend, Indiana, and that can only mean one thing: a heaping plate of hype and pressure served to the starting quarterback at Notre Dame from fans and media nationwide. There won't be much of a debate over who wins the starting job this season for the Irish, as newcomer Sam Hartman arrives widely touted as the biggest QB transfer of the offseason.

Hartman looks to make an instant impact for Notre Dame's offense in their upcoming Week 0 clash with Navy in Dublin, as he hopes to "wake up the echoes" of the great Irish quarterbacks who came before him. What better time to take a look at the greatest quarterbacks in Notre Dame history?

1. Joe Montana

Joe Montana runs with the ball during a Notre Dame game.

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It's hard to start a list of legendary Notre Dame quarterbacks anywhere else than with "Joe Cool" Montana. He was the third-string quarterback heading into 1977 season for the Irish, and he a was certified Notre Dame legend two years later.

He won the job by Week 4 in '77 and led his squad all the way to winning the 1977 national title. Montana couldn't re-create the championship magic in 1988, but his "Chicken Soup Game" battle against the Houston Cougars and hypothermia went down as one of the grittiest performances by an Irish player ever as he led his team back to victory from a 24-point hole.

Oh, and Joe was the NFL quarterback GOAT before some guy Tom Brady showed up. He threw for 40,551 yards in the league and won four Super Bowls, putting his college stats to shame. While many quarterbacks had better stats than Montana in their time at Notre Dame, he was a fantastic college QB and will always be a hero in South Bend.

2. Johnny Lujack

Johnny Lujack poses in Heisman stance.

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Many Notre Dame old-timers will want to see Johnny Lujack first on any list of greatest Irish QBs ever, and they have a great case. Lujack was the Heisman Trophy winner in 1947 and won three national titles with the Irish. If that wasn't legendary enough on its own, Lujack can also truly be called an American hero, too. His career was interrupted by World War II after winning a national championship in 1943, his sophomore season. 

For two years, he served as an officer in the Navy hunting for German submarines in the English Channel. Then he came home to win the national titles in 1946 and 1947 as well as pick up an AP Athlete of the Year award and a Heisman. Lujack passed away on July 25, 2023, but Irish fans will remember him forever.

3. Brady Quinn

Brady Quinn walks off the field for Notre Dame.

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A national championship is about the only thing missing from Brady Quinn's Notre Dame football resume?. He broke 36 Irish football records in his time under the dome, and he still holds 22 of those records today. He struggled in his first two years in South Bend, but Charlie Weis helped unlock his potential as a junior in 2005. He threw 32 touchdown passes, seven interceptions and nearly 4,000 yards in leading the Irish to a 9-3 record. A near defeat of USC at home and Quinn's electric play down the stretch stoked offseason hype that Notre Dame was a national title contender again.

The title hype wasn't realized his senior year, as Quinn and the 2006 Irish had another 9-3 regular season, but he is easily the best Notre Dame quarterback of the 21st century. Another college legend who flailed in the NFL, Quinn never found consistent success in the league. Still, many would argue he is the best Irish quarterback ever, and the stats he put up certify him as a member of the Notre Dame's all-time quarterbacking Mount Rushmore at the very least.

4. Tony Rice

Tony Rice looks on during a practice.

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While the 2012 Irish and Everett Golson gave it their best shot, Tony Rice is still the most recent quarterback to win a national championship for Notre Dame. The 1988 champion and three-year starter was a dual-threat star in South Bend. During his college career, Rice completed 48.5 percent of his passes for 2,961 yards, 11 touchdowns and 20 interceptions, while also running for 1,921 yards on 384 carries for 23 touchdowns.

Rice was a star recruit for Lou Holtz but could not play as freshman due to low SAT scores. He would make up that lost time quickly, starting as a sophomore and leading the Irish to a 12-0 record and national title in 1988 as a junior. He had an amazing season again as a senior, but a heartbreaking loss at Miami left Notre Dame at 12-1 and just shy of repeating as national champs. A less-than-stellar NFL career could never dim the star that was Tony Rice at Notre Dame.

5. Joe Theismann

Joe Theismann hands the ball off for Notre Dame.

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Joe Theismann famously changed the pronunciation of his surname in pursuit of the 1970 Heisman award, but his second-place finish to Jim Plunkett that year would be the closest he'd come to lifting the famous trophy. Luckily for Joe, he still went down as one of the greatest Notre Dame quarterbacks ever. As a starter at Notre Dame, Theismann went 20-3-2, and threw for 4,411 yards and 31 touchdowns, and he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2003.

Theismann set school passing records in his era of physical, running football and is currently 10th in all-time passing yards at Notre Dame. Many of his records have since been broken, but he still holds the record for passing yards (526) in a 1970 loss against USC. Theismann remains one of the most successful pro quarterbacks ever to attend Notre Dame, as he won the 1983 MVP and Super Bowl XVII for the Washington Redskins. 

6. George Gipp

George Gipp poses for a photo.

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George Gipp played in an era when the forward pass was seen as inferior, but he has to be mentioned as he is without doubt one of the most fabled players to ever put on a  Notre Dame jersey. He didn't have gaudy stats or a high-powered passing attack — but ask even a Notre Dame hater, and they've probably heard the legend of "The Gipper."

Gipp was Notre Dame's first All-American under Knute Rockne who — not unusual for his era — played quarterback, halfback and punter. In 1920, he tragically passed away just three weeks after helping Rockne's squad to a win over Northwestern. It was in 1928, trailing at halftime to undefeated Army team, when Rockne immortalized Gipp with his "Win One for the Gipper" speech. The speech, which has since been cemented in college football lore, rallied Rockne's men to a 12-6 upset over Army. George Gipp was an All-American on the field and a mythical college football figure off it.

Honorable Mentions

So many great quarterbacks have played at Notre Dame that it's hard to fit them all on one list. From old-school do-it-all legends such as Angelo Bertelli, Paul Hornung and "Four Horsemen" member Harry Stuhldreher to high-flying modern passers such as Jimmy Clausen and Ian Book, Notre Dame always attracts talent at quarterback.

The list also features talents including Daryle Lamonica, Rick Mirer, Ron Powlus, Jarious Jackson, Terry Hanratty, John Huarte and more. The list is long and will grow longer as new, young quarterbacks arrive and try to make their own legend under the bright lights of Notre Dame Stadium.

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