Dec. 16, 2014
Notre Dame football was a shell of itself when John Huarte first stepped on campus. But the California kid overcame injuries and coaching turmoil to put it all together as a senior, revitalizing one of the nation's premier programs and leading a magical run on his way to the Heisman.
-- Heisman Journal, December 2014
On a night when 2014 Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota from Oregon offered only the briefest of remarks--after presenting his more detailed comments and thanks Saturday night after the votes had been tabulated--the 80th Annual Heisman Memorial Trophy Dinner Gala Monday became an evening for nostalgia.
Front and center came former University of Notre Dame quarterback great John Huarte, who joined with friends and family to celebrate the 50th anniversary of his Heisman-winning season in 1964.
The Heisman Trust annually invites back former winners who finished first 50 years ago (Huarte), 25 years ago (Houston's Andre Ware in 1989) and 10 years ago (USC's Matt Leinart from 2004).
The event, at the New York Marriott Marquis, also honored former baseball great Joe Torre with the ninth Heisman Humanitarian Award.
Huarte's victory in 1964--culminating a 9-1 Irish season--comprised a simpler time compared to the glitz and glamour the award now includes. Huarte remembered coming to New York with longtime Notre Dame sports information director Charlie Callahan, before being joined by his parents who made the trip from California the next day. In those years all the Heisman events took place at the venerable Downtown Athletic Club.
In his remarks, Huarte took note of the fact that both he and Leinart came from Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, California. Huarte also said his brother Greg (another older Huarte brother David also attended Notre Dame) had suggested to him that he'd had 50 years to think about what he was going to say Monday night, so it ought to be good.
Huarte said, "All of us have a story to tell. My dad was an all-star minor-league baseball player who played with Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig.
"I got an offer from Notre Dame, and there were a lot of big players on the roster then. When I got to Notre Dame there were a lot of players with I's and C's and Z's and K's in their names.
"We had guys named Rutkowski and Perkowski, and they were good tough players but they weren't very fast."
For three years, Huarte's contributions were minimal. Then, as Huarte tells it, "Ara (Parseghian) and Tom Pagna put me in a great situation in 1964.
"To me, the Heisman Trophy is a symbol that you can do it.
"Reach out and believe you can do it."
Huarte's comments earned him one of the louder ovations of the night from the crowd.
Also in attendance Monday were former Irish Heisman winner Tim Brown from 1987, Huarte teammates Tom Longo and John Lium from Notre Dame, along with 1993 Lombardi Award winner and Notre Dame All-America offensive lineman Aaron Taylor. Don Criqui, who does play by play of Irish football on radio for IMG College, has worked with the Heisman Trust for years and also sat on the dais.
Another Huarte connection with a former teammate came recently when he traveled to Reno, Nevada, to visit ailing former Irish lineman Tom Regner just two weeks before Regner's death last month.
---by John Heisler, senior associate athletics director