Johnny Lujack, the famous Notre Dame quarterback who won the 1947 Heisman Trophy, made three national championship teams and then starred in the NFL for the Chicago Bears, died Tuesday in Florida. He was 98 years old.
was his death announce by Notre Dame.
When the 1947 college football season began, Lujack was on the cover of Life magazine, kneeling in his green jersey, gold helmet, and shorts. He’s been Notre Dame’s most iconic player since the 1920s, when Knute Rockne, The Gipper, and the Four Horsemen turned a small Roman Catholic university in the obscure town of South Bend, Indiana, into a pop culture brand.
Lujack was a great passer and great runner at quarterback, as well as a great defensive quarterback, kick taker and occasional punter. He was a two-time All-American and played in one losing football game for Notre Dame. He also played baseball, basketball, and ran track.
Elected in College Football Hall of Fame in 1960 and was the oldest living Heisman winner, the award is given annually to the college football player.
“He was probably the greatest athlete I ever saw in college football,” Frank Tripucka, Notre Dame’s Lujack quarterback and longtime professional quarterback, told Steve Delson of the oral history “Talking Irish” (1998).
Lujack has received hundreds of fan letters at Notre Dame. While playing with the Bears, he portrayed himself on the ABC radio series “The Adventures of Johnny Lujack,” a summer 1949 replacement for “Jack Armstrong, The All-American Boy.”
Lujack took over as starting quarterback at Notre Dame in November 1943 when Angelo Bertelli left for military service. He took the Irish to a 9-1 record and their first No. 1 national ranking.
He left Notre Dame for the Navy during World War II and served on a ship chasing German submarines in the English Channel. He returned in 1946, when the Irish fielded a strong team made up largely of veterans.
When Notre Dame played Army in November 1946 in a game between undefeated teams, Lujack sprained his ankle, but played nonetheless, both on offense and defense. He threw three interceptions, but in the third quarter, playing defensive midfield, he saved the day for Notre Dame.
When he came across the field, he hauled Army fullback Doc Blanchard, the 1945 Heisman Trophy winner, at the Irish 36-yard line, resulting in a low tackle as Blanchard walked down the left flank.
“I was the last guy between him and a touchdown,” Lujack told The New York Times in 1981. “I read afterwards where I was the only guy to ever make a one-on-one tackle. If I had known that during the game, I might have missed the tackle.”
The so-called Game of the Century ended in a 0-0 draw. But Notre Dame (8-0-1) beat Army for its second national championship, and Lujack was named an All-American.
Lujack took Notre Dame to a 9-0 record and a third national championship in 1947, his Heisman Trophy year, when he passed for nine touchdowns and 777 yards and ran for 139, averaging over 11 yards per carry. The Associated Press named him American Athlete of the Year.
In January 1948, the Bears signed Lujack to a four-year plus bonus contract, for a total amount of about $80,000. (Just over $1 million in today’s money).
Lujack led the NFL in pass completions (162), passing yards (2,658) and touchdown passes (23) in 1949, when he threw for six touchdowns, passing for a league-record 468 yards in a game against the Chicago Cardinals. He was a two-time Pro Bowl starter and was named an NFL first-team player in 1950. He retired after four pro seasons to become a running backs coach at Notre Dame.
John Christopher Lujack Jr. was born into a family of Polish descent on January 4, 1925, in Connellsville, Pennsylvania. He was one of six children of John and Alice Skowronek Lujack. His father was a railway boiler manufacturer.
A star at Connellsville High School in football, basketball, and track, Johnny was thrilled to hear Notre Dame games on the radio. He arrived at Notre Dame in 1942, when coach Frank Leahy was installing the T formation to replace the single wing.
When Bertelli joined the Marines, leaving the Notre Dame team that won its first six games, Logak literally stepped into his shoes. He told The Times in 1981. “I had a tear in one of my boots off the cleat in the previous game. When Bertelli left, I asked for a new pair, and they said, ‘Why don’t you try on Bertelli boots?'” “.
Lujack led Notre Dame to three more wins, then endured the only loss of his college career when Notre Dame was defeated by Great Lakes Naval Training Station, which fielded notable former players who were on military service. Bertelli was named the first Irish Heisman Trophy winner at the end of the season.
When Lujack joined the Bears after his two postwar seasons at Notre Dame, he alternated at quarterback with Sid Luckman and Lujack’s fellow rookie Bobby Layne, both future Pro Football Hall of Famers. He also played defense, intercepting eight passes.
Lujack eventually became the Bears’ No. 1 quarterback and threw for a career-high 41 touchdowns while rushing for another 21 touchdowns in four seasons. But he was hampered in 1950 by shoulder injuries; He played despite the pain, resting in other positions late in the 1951 season to keep his arm strong.
When his four-year contract expired, he wanted to be traded. Aside from the beating he took, he had long been angry with George Halas, the Bears’ owner and trainer. Lujack later stated that when he checked his contract to join the Bears, he found that Halas had changed the agreed-upon salary numbers, lowering the total by $1,500. (He said Helles quickly returned that amount when he pointed out the discrepancy.)
“I don’t mind anyone being a tough negotiator,” Lojack told Jeff Davis of his biopic on Halas, “Papa Bear” (2005). “I just don’t want to be conned because of my inexperience.”
When Leahy offered Lujack a job as an assistant coach at Notre Dame for 1952, he took it, ending his professional career. But when Terry Brennan, formerly the outstanding quarterback of Notre Dame, was named head coach in 1954 after Leahy’s retirement, Lujack left to run a family auto dealership in Iowa. He later became an analyst for college and professional football webcasts.
No information on Lujack’s survivors and whereabouts in Florida when he died was not immediately available.
Over the years, Lujack has remained a respected figure at Notre Dame.
When Notre Dame and Army met in the first football game at the new Yankee Stadium in 2010, he was on the field for the coin toss with the team captains. In the fall of 2012, he was a goodwill ambassador for Notre Dame when Navy played in Dublin.
The memory of his exploits has survived.
“The two biggest winners in the ’40s were FDR and John Lujack,” said ESPN’s longtime college football analyst Benno Cook. “But even Roosevelt only won two elections in the 1940s, while Lujack won three national titles.”