FORMER SUBWAY ALUMNI LEADER REFLECTS ON HIS "NOTRE DAME ODYSSEY"


Herb Juliano
(1922-1998)

Herb's Archive features the obituary of Leon Hart from The New York Times, September 25, 2002.

 

Leon Hart runs for a touchdown in the 1948 tie with USC. "It was the most destructive run I've ever seen,"  remarked Coach Leahy after the game.

Leon Hart runs for a touchdown in the 1948 tie with USC. "It was the most destructive run I've ever seen," remarked Coach Leahy after the game.

 

Leon Hart, 73, Massive End And Heisman Trophy Winner
By RICHARD GOLDSTEIN

Leon Hart, who won the 1949 Heisman Trophy as a massive end at Notre Dame and played on Detroit Lions teams that won three National Football League championships died yesterday at a hospital in South Bend, Ind. He was 73.

Hart's death was announced by Notre Dame, which said he had been hospitalized since Sept. 15, the day after he attended the Notre Dame-Michigan same. The cause was not immediately reported. In recent years, Hart underwent heart bypass surgery and was treated for prostate cancer.

At 6 feet 4 inches and about 260 pounds, Hart was one of college football's biggest ends to his era, and he played on both offense and defense on Notre Dame squads that dominated the college game In the late 1940's. Hart and Larry Kelley, Yale's two-way end who won the Heisman Trophy In 1936, are the only true linemen to have received the Downtown Athletic Club's award as college football's top player. The other Heismans have gone to quarterbacks, running backs, a few wide receivers and a cornerback.

Hart was a three-time All-American at Notre Dame. In his four collegiate years, the Irish won 36 games and tied 2, and were ranked No. 1 in the nation three times. He was co-captain of the 1949 national championship team and was named athlete of the year for 1949 by The Associated Press, winning by a wide margin over the Brooklyn Dodgers Jackie Robinson and the golfer Sam Snead. He was named to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1973.

On offense, Hart was a formidable blocker in addition to being a bruising runner once he caught the football. On defense, he was a strong pass rusher.

Long after retiring from football, he retained pride in having often played 60 minutes, and he took a dim view of football's free substitution rules.

"Today, you ask a guy if he plays football and he says, 'No, I play left linebacker.' " Hart remarked when he came to New York for a Heisman ceremony and the showing of a film by Bud Greenspan on the history of the award. I watched a game last year when Alabama ran in 70 players by half time," Hart said then. "The game used to belong to the players on the field. Now it's a puppet show, a chess game. The quarterback is not a field general anymore."

Hart's ability to overpower defenders after receiving a pass was displayed most notably in Notre Dame's 14-14 tie against Southern California at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in 1948.

The Notre Dame coach, Frank Leahy, told Collier's magazine in 1949 how "eight Southern California lads had their arms around Leon at various times after he caught that short pass from Frank Tripucka, but he just ran over them and left them for dead. "It was the most destructive run I've ever seen," Leahy said.

Hart, who came to Notre Dame out of Turtle Creek High School, near Pittsburgh, caught 49 passes for 751 yards and 13 touchdowns at Notre Dame.

After Hart graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering, he was selected by the Lions as the first pick in the N.F.L. draft.

Playing eight seasons with Detroit, mostly at end but also at fullback late in his career, he appeared on Lions teams that won the N.F.L. championship in 1952, 1953 and 1957, each time defeating the Cleveland Browns. He was named All-Pro in 1951 as both an offensive and defensive end.

He caught 174 passes for 2,499 yards and 5 touchdowns, all those rushing scores coming In 1956.

After his playing days ended, he lived in Birmingham, Mich., and owned a company that manufactured tire-balancing equipment. His son Kevin played for Notre Dame in the late 1970's, and a grandson, Brendan, is a junior tight end on this year's team. He is also survived by his sons Leon Jr., Bill, Marty and Judd; a daughter, Mara Filo; and 13 other grandchildren.

In 1987, the Notre Dame wider receiver Tim Brown won the Heisman Trophy. Reflecting that year on his career with the Irish, Hart told the Los Angeles Times how It took stamina as well as talent to thrive.

"I never came off the field," he said.

"Jim Martin and I were co-captains in ' 49, and we just stayed on the field until the score allowed us to leave. I remembered Leahy saying, 'Leon, don't get hurt because you gotta play anyhow.' "

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