Johnny Lujack (2009)

Connellsville native John Lujack is considered one of the greatest T-formation collegiate quarterbacks of all time. But there was a time when Lujack doubted his ability to get a scholarship and play major college football.

John Lujack  

“In my senior year of high school (1941), they named four All-State teams in Pennsylvania and I didn't make any of the four teams,” Lujack recalled.

“I did make All-County, but then, as my good friend and Notre Dame teammate Creighton Miller liked to say, ‘I understand that your high school was the only one in the county.' That wasn't true, but it did make people laugh.

“Honestly, I didn't think I was good enough to get a scholarship to attend Notre Dame. I told people that if I could just make the traveling squad in my junior or senior year, I could probably come back to Connellsville, run for mayor and win it hands down.”

Lujack played for a couple of pretty good teams during his high school playing days with the Cokers.

“I remember that we had an awfully good team in 1941. We were tied the last game of the season against Brownsville or we would have gone on into the playoffs,” Lujack said. “That was a big disappointment to us, but we really had a nice team. We had Wally Schroyer at fullback and Dave Hart at halfback and Dick Pitzer, who eventually went to West Point and was captain of the Army team. I played against him in the 1946 Army-Notre Dame game. I think back to those days many, many times and eventually I get a clipping of some sort and I remember this clipping said that I ran for two touchdowns of over 70 yards against Mt. Pleasant and I don't remember that at all.”

Lujack played for Art Ruff at Connellsville and holds him in high esteem.

“He was a very strong fundamentalist,” Lujack offered. “He was a really fine coach and he was always for the players. If you wanted a good high school coach that would coach my son, I would want it to be Art Ruff.”

When he graduated from Connellsville, Lujack sifted through some college offers and enrolled at Notre Dame in 1942.

“Henry Opperman was a strong athletic supporter of Connellsville and for some reason he thought that I could go on to college,” Lujack recalled. “I was getting offers from Pitt and Duke and other schools. Opperman got hold of a guy named Fritz Wilson in Pittsburgh and he was kind of responsible for Notre Dame scouting in and around the Pittsburgh area. Eventually I went out to Notre Dame for a tryout and after I had the tryout, about a day or two later, I received a scholarship, which really kind of surprised me, because I didn't really think that I was good enough to make a Notre Dame team. I said to my parents and my brothers and sisters, ‘If I can make the traveling squad at Notre Dame my junior or senior year, I will be happy and feel that I had a successful career.’”

Lujack was off the mark in his assessment of his abilities.

He took over at quarterback for Notre Dame as a sophomore in 1943 when Angelo Bertelli joined the Marines and he ended up helping the Irish to three national titles and establishing a reputation as one of the great signal-callers in college football history.

In his initial start versus Army in '43, he threw for two scores, ran for another and intercepted a pass in a 26-0 victory. Lujack spent most of the next three years in the U.S. Navy, but returned in time to earn consensus All-America honors as a junior and senior on Notre Dame teams in ‘46 and '47 that did not lose a game.

Lujack won the prestigious Heisman Trophy in 1947.

“As you look back now, you say, ‘Boy that's something,’” Lujack stated. “In 1947, I was the 13th Heisman winner. It really didn't have the publicity and the hoopla that you have going on today. I was told after the Southern Cal game in 1947 that I won the Heisman Trophy and I was really very surprised, because I wasn't after any individual stuff. Now it really means an awful lot when somebody says John was an All-American at Notre Dame and that doesn't grab them, but then if they add 'and he was a Heisman Trophy winner,’ it grabs their attention.”

Lujack was a No. 1 draft choice of the Chicago Bears, and in four busy seasons, he twice was All-Pro, once on defense and then on offense.

He also was the Bears' extra-point kicker and led the NFL in scoring one season, all for a top seasonal salary of $20,000.

One of Lujack's big highlights with the Bears occurred on December 11, 1949 when he passed for 468 yards and six touchdowns in a 52-21 shellacking of the Chicago Cardinals. The 468 passing yards is a Bear record that still stands today.

When Bernie Crimmins left Frank Leahy's staff in 1952, Lujack was hired as his replacement at Notre Dame.

After Leahy resigned in January of 1954, Lujack had mild aspirations for the head-coaching job, but when it went to Terry Brennan, he returned to the Chicago area and his insurance business.

In 1948, Lujack married Patricia Schierbrock of Davenport, Iowa, a girl he had met with a little urging from Leahy's secretary, Snub Pollard. Pat's father, Frank, had retired from a Chrysler Company dealership in Davenport, but he long had desired a Chevrolet agency.

When he approached Lujack as a partner, they went into business and the Lujack’s were home in the Davenport area for the next 45 years.

Now 84 years old and retired, Lujack lives in Iowa during the summer and California during the winter.

Lujack was elected to the National Football Foundation Hall of Fame in 1960 and remains close to the Notre Dame scene.


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