SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Football fans are mourning the loss of a former Heisman Trophy winner and Bears’ quarterback on Tuesday.
Johnny Lujack, who was one of the greatest football players in Notre Dame history and had a brief but memorable run with the Bears, has died at the age of 98 at his home in Naples, Florida, the university confirmed.
A native of Connellsville, Pennsylvania, the quarterback would find his athletic success in the Midwest, first during his outstanding career in South Bend. Playing with the Fighting Irish from 1942-1943 and then again in 1946-1947 after serving in the United States Navy, Lujack was a two-time first team All-American, helping Notre Dame to three national championships.
In 1947, Lujack was named the winner of the Heisman Trophy, passing for 777 yards and nine touchdowns while rushing for 139 yards on an Irish team that went 9-0 to win a second-straight title.
Along with winning the Heisman, the quarterback was named the Associated Press Athlete of the Year.
Lujack’s success translated to the NFL where he was selected by the Bears with the fourth overall pick in the 1947 draft and would play a few positions for the team. In his rookie season, he not only played quarterback (6 touchdowns, 611 yards passing) but was also a defensive back, making eight interceptions.
In 1949, he led the NFL in passing yardage (2,658) and throwing touchdowns (23), including a franchise-record six against the Chicago Cardinals in the season finale. Only one other player in Bears’ history (Mitchell Trubisky, 2018) has thrown for as many scores in a game.
While his passing numbers fell off in 1950, Lujack’s rushing numbers went up as he led the NFL with 11 running scores. He was named an NFL first team All-Pro, the last quarterback for the Bears to receive that honor and just the third in franchise history (Sid Luckman and Joey Sternaman), and was elected to the first of two Pro Bowls with the Bears, doing the same in 1951.
Lujack was also a kicker for the team during his four years, hitting 4-of-9 field goal attempts and 130-of-136 extra points. In 1950, he established what was then a Bears’ record with 109 total points.
Those exploits in Chicago earned Lujack a spot on the Bears’ 100th anniversary team in 2019.
After four seasons in the NFL, Lujack would return to Notre Dame to be an assistant for his collegiate head coach Frank Leahy for two years.