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Johnny Lattner, Heisman winner and Steeler, dies at 83

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Johnny Lattner, who was one of the greatest players in college football history but saw his NFL career cut short by an injury suffered in the Air Force, has died at the age of 83.

Notre Dame, where Lattner won the 1953 Heisman Trophy, confirmed Lattner’s death. The Chicago Sun-Times reported that Lattner had been suffering from lung cancer.

Lattner was born and raised in Chicago and played halfback, defensive back, punter and kick returner for legendary coach Frank Leahy at Notre Dame. Lattner won the Maxwell Award as the best player in college football in both 1952 and 1953; he and Tim Tebow are the only players to win more than one Maxwell in the 80-year history of that award. Lattner also won the Heisman Trophy in 1953, when he led Notre Dame to a 9-0-1 record.

The Steelers chose Lattner in the first round of the 1954 NFL draft, and as a rookie he finished eighth in the league in all-purpose yards and was chosen as a Pro Bowl kick returner. But in 1955 he left the NFL for the Air Force, and while playing in a football game in the service he suffered a knee injury serious enough that he was never able to play football again.

In his later life, Lattner had a successful business career and was known for his generosity and particularly for lending out his Heisman Trophy for charity events and fundraisers for Fenwick High School, where he was a football and basketball star in the 1940s and where many of his eight children and 25 grandchildren also played football.

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10 Responses to “Johnny Lattner, Heisman winner and Steeler, dies at 83”
  1. nels1959 says: Feb 13, 2016 4:18 PM

    His heisman was displayed at a bar on 63rd and kedvale called the green hornet pub for several years in the early eighties. An incredibly nice guy and humble beyond belief. He never acted like a star and always smiling. The fighting irish lost a legend today

  2. weepingjebus says: Feb 13, 2016 4:41 PM

    Rest in peace. A life well lived!

  3. whatjusthapped says: Feb 13, 2016 6:37 PM

    Notre Dame is very proud of Johnny Lattner, a class act as well as being a good football player. Recent grads like the donut stealing Golden Tate could learn a thing or two from Johnny.

  4. phootballphorever says: Feb 13, 2016 8:28 PM

    When players were classy.

    RIP sir.

  5. milkcan44 says: Feb 13, 2016 8:36 PM

    The article does not say why he left in 1955 for the Air Force. There was not a war going on at the time. Was he disinterested in playing pro football? Was it lack of pay?

  6. duanethomas33 says: Feb 13, 2016 9:08 PM

    Probably the best back ever to come out of Notre Dame. If not for the injury, Jim Brown would have shared that spotlight in the 50’s and 60’s. Great back!

  7. bmacwillconn says: Feb 13, 2016 9:22 PM

    What an amazing football career Johnny Lattner had. It was only overshadowed by how decent and wonderful a person he was. A true American hero. RIP Mr. Lattner.

  8. catquick says: Feb 14, 2016 1:56 AM

    GOD bless! Notre Dame!

  9. lagg1 says: Feb 14, 2016 4:59 AM

    God bless Duke Lattner. He made All-American both as a defensive back as well as an offensive star. He was just a good man with a big heart. Rest in peace!

  10. calref1944 says: Feb 14, 2016 10:45 PM

    As a Michigan fan, I have great respect for ND and their history. RIP, Mr. Lattner.

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