Former Irish star Lattner dead at 83
SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — John Lattner, the 1953 Heisman Trophy winner who helped lead Notre Dame to a 9-0-1 record and a No. 2 ranking in Frank Leahy’s final year as coach, has died. He was 83.
Lattner died early Saturday morning at his home in Melrose Park, Illinois, of mesothelioma, said his daughter, Gretchen Spillane. She said he was exposed to asbestos while working as a pipefitter in high school or college and had been diagnosed with the cancer about 18 months ago.
Notre Dame held a moment of silence before its basketball game against Louisville on Saturday.
Lattner, a two-time All-American, was a halfback, defensive back, punter and kick returner who edged Minnesota’s Paul Giel for the Heisman. He captured college football’s top individual honor even though he didn’t lead the Fighting Irish in rushing, passing, receiving or scoring that season.
Lattner had 13 career interceptions, still the third-best in school history. He had 3,095 all-purpose yards, a school record that stood until 1979.
The 6-foot-1, 190-pounder was on the cover of Time magazine on Nov. 9, 1953, with the words “a bread-and-butter ball carrier,” a description used by Leahy. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1979.
In 1952, he ran for 732 yards on 148 carries, an average of 4.9 yards an attempt, and had 17 catches for 252 yards. He won the Maxwell Award, given to the nation’s top college football player.
In 1953, he rushed for 96 yards to help lead the Irish to a 27-14 victory over Georgia Tech, ending the Yellow Jackets’ 31-game unbeaten streak. He also had an interception in a 27-21 victory over Oklahoma. The Irish finished the season ranked No. 2, following a 14-14 tie with Iowa.
Lattner won the Heisman and Maxwell that year, rushing for 651 yards on 134 carries and had 14 catches for 204 yards. He also returned eight kickoffs for 331 yards, two for touchdowns, a 41.4 yard return average that remains second best in school history.
He also played basketball for the Irish when three players were declared academically ineligible for the second semester during the 1951-52 season. He scored the winning basket with nine seconds left in overtime in a 75-74 victory over New York University in Madison Square Garden.
Lattner was drafted seventh overall by the Pittsburgh Steelers and played one season. He ran for 237 yards on 69 carries and five touchdowns and had 25 catches for 305 yards and two touchdowns.
Lattner, who was born in Chicago, served two years in the Air Force and sustained a career-ending knee injury playing in a military game.
He owned a restaurant in Chicago and a fire there in 1968 killed three people and destroyed his Heisman Trophy. He later worked for a printing business and a business-supply firm.