One of the prime positions in Notre Dame football history has featured some impressive names.
When your team is referred to as *insert position here* U, it’s often for good reason. Given the recent history of the position in South Bend, it’s no surprise Notre Dame has been called Tight End U.
In the last few years alone, Notre Dame greats like Tyler Eifert, Kyle Rudolph and John Carlson just to name a few have taken the field at the tight end spot.
It’s been one of the better position groups as a whole, especially in the Kelly era. It’s in a little bit of a slump at the moment, but it’s hard to see that trend continuing.
Even with the departure of Alize Mack, young guys like Cole Kmet, Nic Weishar and Brock Wright have the future of the position looking bright.
Eleven Notre Dame tight ends have been taken in the NFL draft since 2000. Seven of those have gone in the third round or earlier.
But even with the last few years, there’s one player that, for me, stands head and shoulders above the rest as the gold (no pun intended) standard of Notre Dame tight ends: Ken MacAfee.
Back in the Summer, when we at Slap The Sign formed our All-Time Notre Dame Team, MacAfee was one of the first players I picked to make the team. He lost to out to Tyler Eifert, which is understandable considering Eifert’s place in Irish history. But before Eifert, there was MacAfee.
Let’s jump in the way back machine to the early 70s. MacAfee was a star in high school, even helping his team to consecutive State championships. When he arrived in South Bend, he got even better.
MacAfee’s receptions and yards improved each of his four years. He had 14 catches for 146 yards in 1974, 26 for 333 in ‘75, 34 for 483 in ‘76 and capped his career off with 54 for 797 in 1977. He also had 15 touchdowns in his career. Those may not be impressive today, but in those four years, the most passing yards in a season was 3,401 in 1977 (with a low of 2,580 in 1974.) Those numbers are a far cry from the 5,000 we see today.
MacAfee was a two time consensus All-American in 1976-1977. The team overall was 38-9 in his time there.
Ken MacAfee’s 1977 season is arguably one of the best seasons for a tight end in history, even if it may not look like it on the stat sheet. Along with his All-American honor that year, he also won the Walter Camp Player of the Year award and holds the distinction of being the only tight end in history to win the award.
Another trophy in his case is the now defunct Knute Rockne Memorial Trophy, which was presented to the best lineman in the country. The award has not been presented since 1996.
If that’s not enough, he also finished third in Heisman Trophy voting in ‘77. That’s the highest a Tight End has ever finished in Heisman voting. Since that time, nobody at his position has even finished in the top 10. He capped off his 1977 with a National Championship in a Cotton Bowl victory against Texas. He went on to be a first round pick in the NFL.
If you want to see MacAfee at his best, watch the Green Jersey game against USC. It was a two touchdown performance that solidified his place in Notre Dame history.
MacAfee is now immortalized in the College Football Hall of Fame, being inducted in 1997. Even though there may be players that put up bigger numbers — especially in an offensive era –it’s unlikely we’ll see someone with the accolades of MacAfee at a position like tight end.
People say it’s tough to beat the original, and that’s certainly the case with Ken MacAfee.