Notre Dame football legend Johnny Lattner dies at 83

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

Former Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Lattner, at 83, died this weekend.

The 6-1, 195-pound Lattner was a two-time consensus All-American as a two-way player and punter for Notre Dame's football team. He won the Heisman Trophy following his senior season in 1953.

The Chicago Sun-Times reported Lattner, who had been battling a form of lung cancer, died Friday night.

During his career with the Irish, Lattner set a school record for all-purpose yards in a career from rushing, receiving and returns. His mark of 3,138 yards stood until Vagas Ferguson surpassed it in 1979. Julius Jones currently holds the record with 5,462 yards.

Lattner also intercepted 13 passes as a defensive back in his three seasons with the Irish from 1951-53. Only Luther Bradley (17) and Tom MacDonald (15) have recorded more interceptions during their Notre Dame careers.

Lattner's senior season was also legendary coach Frank Leahy's last at Notre Dame. The Irish finished 9-0-1 and No. 2 in the Associated Press and United Press International polls behind Maryland. That season he rushed for 96 yards in a 27-14 win over Georgia Tech that ended the Yellowjackets' 31-game unbeaten streak.

The Nov. 9, 1953 issue of Time magazine featured Lattner on the cover, calling him “a bread-and-butter ball carrier.” He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1979.

He also played basketball when three players were declared academically ineligible for the second semester of the 1951-52 season.

Lattner, who was selected No. 7 overall in the 1954 NFL Draft, played just one season with the Pittsburgh Steelers before serving in the Air Force. A knee injury suffered during a military football game ended his playing career.

After his service in the military, Lattner opened Johnny Lattner's Steakhouse in Chicago for several years. A fire there in 1968 killed three people and destroyed his Heisman Trophy. The Heisman Committee provided him with a duplicate. He also served as an executive for a printing company. 

Living much of his life in Oak Park, Ill., Lattner is survived by his wife Peggy, eight children and 25 grandchildren.

A wake for Lattner will be held Friday, Feb. 19 from 3-9 p.m. CST at Fenwick High School's Lawless Gymnasium in Oak Park, Ill. The funeral service is scheduled for Saturday at noon CST at St. Vincent Ferrer Church in River Forest, Ill.

In this 2008 file photo, Johnny Lattner, left, and Dick Hendricks share a laugh Friday while signing autographs for fans at the College Football Hall of Fame. Lattner and Hendricks both played on Notre Dame's 1953 National Championship team. Lattner, 83, died Friday night. (SBT File Photo).