Johnny Lujack, oldest Hall of Fame member, Passes at 98

July 27, 2023 by

Johnny Lujack, the oldest living College Football Hall of Fame inductee and the 1947 Heisman Trophy winning quarterback from Notre Dame, passed away July 25 in Naples, FL. He was 98.

"Johnny Lujack became of one of the greatest players in the storied history of Notre Dame football," said NFF Chairman Archie Manning. "He graced the cover of Time Magazine, played on three national championship teams, and only lost one game with the Fighting Irish. He did it all: passing and running at quarterback, punting and also playing defensive halfback. He stayed involved in the game throughout his life, becoming a regular at the NFF Chicago Chapter annual scholar-athlete banquets. We are forever grateful for his contributions, and our thoughts and prayers are with family, friends and Notre Dame at this time of loss."

Notre Dame in 1943 won its first six games by a combined score of 261-31. Future Hall of Famer Angelo Bertelli was the quarterback, and on the basis of those six games, Bertelli won the 1943 Heisman Trophy. But after the sixth game, Bertelli and several other Notre Dame players were called to active duty with the Marine Corps in World War II.

John Lujack was Bertelli's replacement at quarterback. He led Notre Dame to important victories over Army 26-0 and Iowa Preflight 14-13, clinching the national championship and giving Lujack a role in his first of three national titles for Hall of Fame Coach Frank Leahy. In the school year of 1943-44, Lujack also lettered in basketball, baseball, and track, making him the first 4-sport letterman at Notre Dame since 1912.

Lujack would serve in the Navy during World War II on a ship chasing German submarines in the English Channel. He returned after the war as the Notre Dame quarterback from 1946-47. Notre Dame went 17-0-1 in that period and won two more national championships.

Lujack was unanimous All- America two years and won the Heisman in 1947. He also played defensive halfback. In 1946, he famously tackled future Hall of Famer Doc Blanchard, cutting off a sure Army touchdown, in a game, then dubbed the Game of the Century, that ended 0-0 before a crowd of 76,000 at Yankee Stadium.

His passing totals at Notre Dame 1946-47 included 14 touchdowns and 1,569 yards. During his Heisman Trophy winning season, he passed for nine touchdowns and completed 61 of 109 passes for 777 yards while running 139 yards on 12 carries, averaging more than 11 yards. The year ended with the Associated Press naming him as their Athlete of the Year.

Lujack played for Chicago Bears 1948-51. Against the Chicago Cardinals in 1948, he threw six touchdown passes. He set a NFL record in 1950 with 11 rushing touchdowns by a quarterback. After four years with the Chicago Bears, including two Pro Bowls, Lujack returned to Notre Dame to work as an assistant coach for two seasons. 

Born Jan. 4, 1925, in Connellsville, PA, Lujack was a four-sport athlete at Connellsville High School, playing baseball and basketball as well as competing for the track and field team. 

He is survived by his children, Mary and Jeff. His wife, Patricia Ann "Pat" predeceased him in 2022. The couple was married for 74 years. Johnny and Pat's daughter, Carol, passed away in 2002.