All discussions about Notre Dme's GREATEST football player (while at ND) begin and end with one name...Johny Lujack...
Oldtimers select him as our greatest defensive back. The year Angelo Bertelli won the Heisman (1943), Lujack replaced him at QB with four games to play, when Angelo went off to serve in the Navy. Lujack actually had better stats that the Springfield Rifle for that season. Besides being a two-way star, John also kicked and punted.
During this frosh year, besides being at the helm while the Irish won the National Championship, Lujack also was the starting right fielder on the baseball team and a starting guard on the basketball team. Just for good measure, he also picked up a monogram in a FOURTH sport as the story below relates:
Scholastic Headline: Lujack — Busy Man
Johnny Lujack was a busy man last Saturday. He was playing right field for the Notre Dame baseball team in its encounter with Western Michigan. After the Broncos were retired in the top of the fifth inning, Johnny jogged over, picked up the javelin and tossed it 162 feet to win the event. Returning to the diamond, he blasted a prodigious triple over the left-fielder's head. In the bottom of the seventh inning, he competed again for the Handymen. Still in his baseball uniform, he cleared 5' 11" in the high jump twice but his loose fitting baseball togs dislodged the bar*. Johnny called it a day a few minutes later by slapping out a clean single for his third base hit of the afternoon. *He didn’t place, but 5’11 would have won!!
Javelin throw—Won by Lujack (ND) ; Kondratovich (ND), second; Quasey (ND), third. Distance, 162 feet
John was the third ND man to earn four Monograms in a single year. The first two, Alfred Dutch Bergman and Rupe Mills, did it in 1914. Both later played Major League Baseball. The only other ND man to accomplish this feat was George Ratterman, who Frank Leahy called the greatest athlete he ever coached. How good must he have been! Ratterman was Lujack’s back-up in 1946. He also played a bit of baseball. He was a two-year starter on the basketball team, once being the second leading scorer. On the tennis team, for three years he alternated in the top two positions with one of the Evert brothers, dad and uncle of Chrissie. Ratterman was one of the top QB’s in the country for a long time, but had the misfortune of playing behind Lujack and Otto Graham.
Lujack’s NFL career, with the Bears, was cut short by injuries, but his record indicates he would have been a Hall of Famer, the same honor he earned for his collegiate career. During his first year (1948), despite playing in only nine of 12 games, he had eight interceptions as a defensive back. He made 44 or 46 extra points, in an era where that kick was not as automatic as today. In 1949, he led all Quarterbacks in Attempts, Completions, and Touchdowns (23). For good measure, he was 42-44 in extra points, made his only field goal attempt, and…….oh by the way…..punted for a 41 yard average on three kicks. His passing stats fell off in 1950, but he led the NFL in rushing TD’s, with 11. His career yards per carry average was 5.6.
John turned 90, earlier this year. He is the oldest living Heisman Trophy winner. FYI, ND’s Johnny Lattner is #2. Paul Hornung is #4. (Howard “Hopalong” Cassady, of Ohio State, is #3 in seniority).
A final note about Lujack………..during the final sixteen years before I retired, I was one of the hosts of the visiting football teams when they came in to the Stadium for their Friday afternoon walk-through. One year, when Florida State came to play, I greeted Bobby Bowden. As I welcomed him, his first words were that he became an ND fan in the late 40’s and Johnny Lujack was his favorite player. Bowden recited Lujack’s most famous play at Notre Dame……….when he tackled 1945 Heisman Trophy Winner Doc Blanchard, saving a touchdown and preserving a 0-0 tie and Notre Dame’s 1946 National Championship.