During the height of Notre Dame football in the 1940s and during the World War II years, John Lujack established himself as a legendary figure inside Notre Dame stadium.
Lujack became one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game of college football during his time at Notre Dame, running the T-formation offense. The T-formation entails three players in the backfield behind the offensive line and signal caller. Two running backs and a fullback line up in a straight line, forming a “T” shape with the quarterback. In this formation, passes and runs can be called in order to run an efficient offense. Lujack perfected this craft with his accurate arm and ability to run when necessary during his tenure at Notre Dame.
Lujack was born in Connellsville, PA near Pittsburgh. His father, John Lujack Sr., was employed as a boilermaker for the railroad company in the town. Lujack attended Connellsville High School and immediately excelled in the classroom and in athletic competitions. He was a varsity athlete in four sports (football, baseball, basketball, track) and also became the president of his class, as well as the valedictorian. Many college programs took notice of Lujack’s talent and wanted him to play the aforementioned sports. Apart from Notre Dame, Lujack attracted recruiting attention from the other powerhouse schools of the era: the service academies. The members of the Connersville community urged Lujack to attend Army and even went so far as to ask the local Congressman for an appointment. Even though Lujack felt pressured by his hometown to play football at Army, he had grown up following the Irish football team on the radio and therefore decided to attend Notre Dame for his college education.
Lujack started his career at Notre Dame as the backup to fellow Heisman winner Angelo Bertelli when he arrived on campus in 1942 under head coach Frank Leahy. Lujack quickly rose to the starting position in 1943 because Bertelli was called to serve in the Marines after only 36 passing attempts that season. Bertelli would later be named the Heisman winner after the season even with the limited number of games he played in. Lujack struggled in 1943 as he developed into a complete college quarterback. He threw 8 interceptions and only completed 47 percent of his passes. On the plus side, Notre Dame won the national championship in his first year with a 9-1 record, and Lujack was able to muster up over 500 yards passing, 191 yards rushing, and four passing touchdowns.
After his first year as a starter, Lujack was called to serve in the Navy. He spent two years overseas serving the United States as an ensign, tasked with searching for German submarines. Lujack returned to South Bend in 1946 and steadily improved during his junior season. The Irish once again won the national championship at 8-0-1 as Lujack became more proficient in the T-formation, amassing with 778 yards passing, 5 passing touchdowns, and about a 50 percent completion percentage, all for a quarterback rating of 114.9. He finished third in the Heisman voting.
Lujack’s senior year solidified him as one of the greatest players to ever suit up in the college game. The senior posted a 9-0 record for a total of 24 wins as a career starter. He also won a third national championship (second in a row). On the season as a whole, Lujack threw for 791 yards and nine touchdowns. He completed almost 60 percent of his passes, and gained over 11 yards per carry on the ground. To top it all off he amassed his 2,000th career passing yard. He was named the Heisman Trophy winner in 1947 and also earned a consensus All-American for the second straight year. Lujack continued with the other three sports he played as well and earned varsity letters in all of them. He was named the Associated Press Athlete of the Year in 1947.
Following his graduation from Notre Dame, Lujack entered the NFL as the fourth overall selection and played defensive back, kicker, and quarterback in his 4 years for the Chicago Bears. He intercepted eight passes his rookie season and only missed two of his 46 extra point attempts. He held the single game passing yardage record for 2 years at 468, and also set the NFL record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback in 1950, with 11. Lujack returned to Notre Dame in the early 1950s as a coach for the offensive backfield, and was even in consideration for the head coaching position after Leahy departed. Lujack did not receive the coaching offer from University President Rev. Ted Hesburgh, CSC, but he did get elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1960. Lujack worked as a broadcaster for CBS following his retirement, and co-owned a car dealership, which he sold in 1988.
Lujack, now 87 years old, is the oldest living winner of the Heisman Trophy. He resides in Iowa and plays golf during his free time. He will be remembered forever as a standout and legend on the gridiron, an impressive feat considering he played at a school with such a rich tradition of football excellence.
Rich Hidy is a freshman studying business who could pass for an English major, given how much he writes about sports. Contact him at email@example.com.