Herb's Archive features
an article on the late Emil "Red" Sitko, star of the Irish in the late
forties. It's from the December 17, 1973 Fort Wayne News-Sentinel
article by Jim Costin.
BUT IT TOOK 50 YEARS
Red Sitko Finally Stopped
It took 50 years but they finally found a way to stop Emil Sitko. Some
of the greatest defensive lines in the country couldn't do it. Doctors
couldn't do it when they warned the Redhead to slow down some time ago.
Only the fact that he had more heart than a human is supposed to possess
kept him going this long.
A great sportsman, Red planned to go hunting Saturday morning. No, he
probably wasn't supposed to use all that energy it requires to tromp
throught the woods. And he sure wasn't supposed to an All-Amercian
football player, either. Notre Dame's halfbacks today, Art Best and Eric
Pennick, go 210 pounds and 205 respectively and stand 6-1. Red played at
about 175 and was listed at 5-8. That little extra heart he owned , even
then, had to be bigger than the average for him to even get a tryout.
Red never got out of bed Saturday morning. From 1946 through 1949 he got
out of bed every Saturday morning though there were 38 Notre Dame
opponents over those four seasons who wish he hadn't. To play on an
unbeaten football team is rare indeed. But, to go though college as a
starter and play four years and never miss a game and never be on the
loser's side in those four years is tough to comprehend. Red did it, at
His exploits have been mentioned. Like the fact he carried the ball 363
times in those four years; gained 2,226 yards; scored 26 touchdowns; led
the Irish in rushing all four years; was named to every single
All-American team as a senior and some as a junior; and averaged an
amazing 6.1 yards a try.
If Red were standing behind me right now, he would say, "Jim, don't put
that kind of stuff in the paper--people don't care what happened 25
Unlike most athletes of his caliber, Red never attempted to capitalize
on his reputation. Some claimed that he made a mistake. If that's so,
then it's a mistake to be humble, a mistake not to be a so-called pop
off, a mistake to be yourself. We first met Red at South Bend when he
was playing for the Irish. In recent years we were fortunate to see him
often and just shoot the breeze. I consider myself lucky to have known
him. Not, certainly, because he was one of the all-time college greats -
as his records prove - but more because he was just plain Red, himself.
He never attempted to be anything else.
Sitko's coach, the late Frank Leahy, was a stern disciplinarian if there
ever was one. We would say if he had one favorite it was Red Sitko. We
remember watching practice once, probably in 1947. The varsity had
scrimmaged long when Leahy called a halt and said in his own meticulous
way, Emil, are you going home to Fort Wayne this week end, Emil?" This
was a Saturday afternoon before the start of the season. Red replied,
"Yes, coach, I am." And Leahy said, "Emil, lad, you are excused for the
day, and we will see you on Monday." And with that Red headed for the
dressing room and Fort Wayne. The rest of the squad continued to
In the 1949 Southern Methodist game, Sitko's last at N.D., it was 20-20
late in the contest when the Mustangs kicked off to the Irish and they
started deep in their own territory. Notre Dame had a 19-year-old
quarterback, Bob Williams, calling the plays. Sitko walked up to him and
said, "Okay, for a kid you're a good quarterback, but you give me the
ball every play until I tell you different." Sitko, 26 at the time, then
carried the ball every play until he reached the SMU three, then
returned to the huddle and said, it's okay now kid, give it to someone
else. He did, N.D. scored and won, 27-20.
That was typical of Sitko. He did all the work, then let someone else
get the glory.
In recent years he officiated at many high school football games in this
vicinity and always enjoyed it. We're sure he didn't do it for the money
and once told us, "it's just fun to still put on the cleats once or
twice a week." And he thoroughly enjoyed working with kids as is proven
by the fact he helped coach the St. Henry's CYO grade school team the
past six years.
We can't ever recall Red without a smile. We remember one afternoon
while playing golf with him when he hit his second shot on the 15th hole
at Brookwood about eight inches from the pin. He walked up, tapped the
birdie putt and missed. Some other guys might have tossed their putter
to the next tee. Red looked at me, smiled and said, "Oh well, I'm happy
to get a par."
Which reminds me of rule No. 9, author unknown, from a sports writers'
rule book: "Since none of us goes by the reviewing stand save once, it
might be that the way to pass the judges is laughing."
We'll bet Red did just that!