Johnny Lujack, a national champion and Heisman Trophy-winner at Notre Dame, died Tuesday at the age of 98 following a brief illness, the Associated Press reported.
Lujack was one of the first major college football stars in an age when the sport did not have the same level of publicity and popularity that it has now. He went on to win three national championships at Notre Dame — and the 1947 Heisman Trophy — before being selected by the Chicago Bears in the first round of the 1946 NFL Draft.
He received his start in Western Pennsylvania, born and raised in Connellsville, Pennsylvania. Lujack attended Connellsville High School from 1938-41, lettering in baseball, basketball, football and track, before going on to star at Notre Dame.
But despite leading Connellsville to an unbeaten 1941 season, due to a tie in the final game of the season, he was not afforded the opportunity to play for a WPIAL league championship. He was elected to the WPIAL Hall of Fame in 2022.
Many in Connellsville wanted Lujack to attend the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, but he decided to attend his favorite college team growing up, Notre Dame.
After two successful freshman and sophomore seasons at Notre Dame, winning his first national title in 1943, Lujack’s NFL career was interrupted by World War II. He served as an officer in the United States Navy, hunting German submarines in the English Channel as an ensign in the later years of the war.
He returned to Notre Dame following the conclusion of the war and won the national championship in 1946 and 1947 — also winning the Heisman Trophy and AP Athlete of the Year in 1947 — to conclude one of the most successful individual and team-based careers in college football history.
In the 1947 season, Lujack threw for 777 passing yards and added 139 rushing yards, while also starring on defense, to lead the Irish to an undefeated season — establishing himself as one of the best T-formation quarterbacks in college football history.
For his success at Notre Dame in the 40s, Lujack was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame upon the conclusion of his playing career and was later named as one of the 100 Greatest Bears of All-Time.
After being selected by the Bears, earning a $17,000 salary as a rookie in 1948, Lujack spent four seasons in Chicago — leading the Bears in scoring each season. He played quarterback, defensive back and served as the placekicker in a short but successful professional career.
He finished his NFL career with 6,295 passing yards with 41 touchdowns, 742 rushing yards with 21 more touchdowns and 12 interceptions — earning Pro Bowl honors in 1950 and 1951 and first-team All-Pro honors in 1950. He led the NFL is passing yards and touchdowns in 1949 and in rushing touchdowns in 1950.
Following his NFL career, Lujack served as an assistant at Notre Dame under Frank Leahy for two seasons before going into the car dealership business with his father-in-law. He worked as a color commentator for a few seasons, as well, but largely focused on his car dealership business.
Lujack married his wife Pat Schierbrock in 1949, and the couple had three children, Mary, Jeff and Carol. He donated $50,000 to his alma mater Connellsville in 2005, with the Johnny Lujack FieldHouse and training facility named for him.