ATHENS – Matthew Beringer’s name is probably unrecognizable to most Georgia fans, though he has been around for a while. A senior now academically, he’s a golfer who came to UGA from Macon with an impressive reputation. He won the state championship as a high school freshman at Stratford Academy.
But if you’re a Notre Dame football fan – or even if you’re not – you’ve probably heard of Beringer’s great grandfather. His name was Don Miller, and he was one of the “The Four Horsemen of Notre Dame.” He was the one on the far left of that famous photo, and he bears a striking resemblance to the great-grandson who barely knew him.
That’s not Beringer’s only connection to the Fighting Irish. His great uncle, Creighton Miller, also was an All-American halfback at Notre Dame in the 1940s, and his mother, Karen Kramer, swam for the Fighting Irish.
“I’m not sure where all the athletic genes went,” quips Beringer, who gave up football in the seventh grade.
If you’re a young person and you’re not familiar with the story of “The Four Horsemen,” it’s understandable because it happened a long time ago.
In the 1920s, Notre Dame was a burgeoning powerhouse of a football program under coach Knute Rockne. Powerhouse was a distinction usually reserved for Army in those days.
But under Rockne, the Fighting Irish devised an innovative scheme for advancing the football. Known as the “T-formation,” or “Notre Dame box,” it utilized three running backs – a fullback and left and right halfbacks – and a quarterback, and defenders never could be sure who was going to end up running the ball.
Notre Dame utilized that scheme to dominate football in the early 1920s, including wins over Army in back-to-back years in 1923 and ’24. Famous sportswriter Grantland Rice of the New York Herald Tribune covered the 13-7 win over the Army in October 1924 and penned one of the most famous passages in sportswriting history to describe how Notre Dame did it.
Outlined against a blue-gray October sky, the Four Horsemen rode again. In dramatic lore their names are Death, Destruction, Pestilence, and Famine. But those are aliases. Their real names are: Stuhldreher, Crowley, Miller and Layden. They formed the crest of the South Bend cyclone before which another fighting Army team was swept over the precipice at the Polo Grounds this afternoon as 55,000 spectators peered down upon the bewildering panorama spread out upon the green plain below.
Rice was referring there to Beringer’s great granddad, Miller, who played right halfback, and the quarterback Harry Stuhldreher, left halfback Jim Crowley and fullback Elmer Layden.
With those players in the backfield, Notre Dame lost only two games in three years from 1922-24. The Irish went 10-0 that season, rolling over the rest of their opponents and beating Stanford 27-10 in the 1925 Rose Bowl to claim the national championship.
After that game against Army, George Strickler, a student and “publicity aide,” came up with the idea to have four backs pose for a Four Horsemen picture back on the campus in South Bend. The news wires picked it up and it became one of the famous photos in sports.
Beringer has heard those tales his entire life. But nearly 100 years, later it’s not nearly the household story it once was.
“The kids from my generation, it kind of goes right over their heads,” Beringer said. “But it’s definitely something I’ve always thought was pretty cool.”
After college, Don Miller went into coaching and actually worked at Georgia Tech for four years. But he left the business and began practicing law later in Cleveland. He was appointed U.S. attorney for Northern Ohio by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Miller died in 1979 at the age of 77.
Crowley, by the way, came to the University of Georgia to coach running backs under coach Harry Mehre. He went on to become head coach at Michigan State and Fordham.
With such a strong family connection, it’s no surprise that Beringer grew up a huge Notre Dame fan. He said he remembers watching their games every Saturday at 3:30 p.m. on NBC.
And the Beringers go to South Bend pretty much every year. They make at least one trip every fall to see a game. The last one Matthew Beringer attended was his freshman year at UGA, when he attended the Notre Dame-Louisville game.
Beringer remembers being in South Bend for various recognitions of his famous family members over the years. He was only 3 at the time, but he was on the field at Notre Dame Stadium with the rest of his family when the 75th anniversary of the Four Horsemen was recognized.
Probably the most amazing thing is that Beringer did not attend Notre Dame himself. As one might imagine, there was pressure for him to do so. His father, Don Beringer, is named after his grandfather and graduated from Notre Dame. His older brother and sister, Brian and Sarah, both graduated from the university. (Another older sister, Colleen, went to Georgia Tech.) They were fourth-generation Notre Dame grads, including their mother’s father and grandfather, and Beringer’s father, an orthopedic surgeon in Macon.
An exceptional student, Beringer had the opportunity to attend Notre Dame on an academic scholarship and play golf for the Fighting Irish. But once he got an opportunity to play golf for the Georgia Bulldogs, the Notre Dame idea went by the wayside.
“I really wrestled with the idea of giving up this dream of going to Notre Dame,” Beringer said. “But I decided I wanted to be as good as I could be in golf and if wanted to realize my aspirations in that sport, then that’s something I have to give up.”
That opportunity came early on. Georgia golf coach Chris Haack offered Beringer when he was still a freshman coming off that GISA state championship with Stratford Academy. The Bulldogs had found success with Stratford golfers before. That’s where they got Russell Henley, a hero and mentor for Beringer.
But Beringer’s golf career hasn’t followed the same path as that of Henley, who was an All-American at Georgia and now plays on the PGA Tour. Entering his fourth season with the team, Beringer has played just two competitive rounds for the Bulldogs. He has a 74.5 stroke average, but UGA is a powerhouse of a golf program and Beringer simply has been unable to crack the lineup.
Some of his problems probably have to do with the fact that Beringer has grown 13 inches since accepting that offer from Georgia. He’s now 6-foot-3, with much of that growth coming in the last few years, and that “has wreaked a little havoc on my golf swing.”
But if you think the lack of personal golf success has given Beringer second thoughts about his decision to go to UGA, you’d be mistaken.
“I haven’t had one single regret about that,” he said. “Playing golf at Georgia and being able to go to this great school has been a dream come true.”
Beringer will make the annual pilgrimage north to South Bend to watch his Bulldogs take on his Irish. Georgia will play at Notre Dame Stadium on Sept. 9 (7:30 p.m. ET, NBC). The Beringer family will be joining a group of nearly 50 people, most of them from Macon, for the game.
But while there might be some divided loyalties among his family members, there will be none for this tall Georgia golfer.
“I’m rooting for the Dawgs all the way,” he said. “Go Dawgs!”