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The Greatest of the Maxwell Football Club: Johnny Lattner

Updated: Apr 29

Johnny Lattner running with the ball in hand
Credit: University of Notre Dame Archives

From the tough streets of Chicago came a kid with an athletic prowess unmatched by his peers. By the time he graduated from Fenwick High School in the Oak Park suburb of the Windy City, he was forged in athletic excellence and blessed with sheer will and commitment.

As the Lou Gehrig of the gridiron for the Friars of Fenwick, Johnny Lattner played on both offense and defense. In addition, Lattner returned kicks and punts and served as his team’s punter. Lattner was the perfect player for the Big Ten Conference teams of the day in the Midwest.

Johnny Lattner participating in the coin toss as an honorary captain for Notre Dame
Credit: University of Notre Dame Archives

After considering the Michigan Wolverines, Lattner chose to take his three-tool skills on the football field to the mecca of college football greatness at the time, the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame.

A star halfback for the Irish from 1950 to 1953, Lattner showed college football fans why he was the best college football player in America. In 1953, Lattner rushed for 651 yards, recorded 14 catches for 204 yards, picked off four passes, and scored 2 touchdowns while returning kicks.

Johnny Lattner striking the Heisman pose
Credit: University of Notre Dame Archives

In a game against Oklahoma that season, the Irish had a 28-21 lead late, with the Sooners driving for a comeback. But that comeback dream turned into a nightmare as Lattner intercepted a pass to end the Sooners' drive and secure the victory for Notre Dame. That was the only loss for Oklahoma in that 1953 season and it began one of college football's greatest feats ever accomplished, the 47-game Oklahoma winning streak that spanned five glorious seasons, from 1953 to 1957. Ironically, the “streak” came to an end in a loss to Notre Dame during the 1957 season.

For his outstanding efforts on the gridiron, Lattner won the Maxwell Award as the best player in college football in 1952 and 1953, earning him the distinction as one of only two players to win the award twice. In addition, Lattner hoisted the Heisman Memorial Trophy in 1953, capping off a season of greatness, one for the ages. Johnny Lattner was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1979.


This article is part of the "Greatest of the Maxwell Football Club" Series, sponsored by the Maxwell Football Club. Click one of the links below for more in the "Greatest of the Maxwell Football Club" series.

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