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.