Nov. 2, 2006
Timing Matters Senior John Huarte came out of nowhere to win the 1964 Heisman Trophy and nearly lead Notre Dame to the national title.
“Lack of a consistently good quarterback could again prevent Notre Dame from having a successful season.” 1963 Notre Dame Football Review, previewing the 1964 season
By Lou Somogyi
It took 41 years before John Huarte was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2005.
While it’s unusual for a Heisman Trophy recipient to have to wait so long, if anybody can appreciate the virtue of patience – and timing – it’s Huarte.
Entering his senior year at Notre Dame in 1964, Huarte had not even played enough college football to earn a school monogram, never mind be a bona fide candidate for the sport’s most prestigious individual award. Never before – and never since – has one college football player emerged so dramatically from obscurity one season to prominence the next. Oklahoma State’s Barry Sanders also was a bit of a late bloomer in 1988, but even he had accumulated nearly 1,000 yards rushing in his earlier years while backing up Thurman Thomas.
But Huarte had logged approximately five minutes playing time as a sophomore for a 5-5 team in 1962, and during the 2-7 implosion in 1963, Huarte finished the season as the No. 3 quarterback, behind Frank Budka and Sandy Bonvechio, and barely ahead of Dennis Szot, who had started that year’s opener.
Yet with the arrival of first-year head coach Ara Parseghian in 1964, Huarte led a renaissance that resulted in a No. 3 national finish in 1964 and laid the groundwork for future prosperity.
Luck and timing are vital components in life, but for more than four decades the now 62-year-old Huarte has preached a corollary to his message. “Sometimes when I talk to young people groups, I tell them my story and they’re quite amazed,” Huarte said. “But a lot of it is you have to be prepared when an opportunity comes along, too.”
Huarte has experienced a Heisman-like career in his personal and professional exploits as well. Currently the Owner/CEO of Arizona Tile Company, he has seen his business, the largest importer of granite in North America, branch out from Phoenix to Denver, Oakland, San Diego…and even have international offices in several different continents.
The father of five grown children, he has been married for 41 years to wife Eileen. Huarte views his role as a grandparent of nine as his greatest celebration.
His Cinderella 1964 campaign isn’t far behind.
The Anaheim, Calif., product enrolled in 1961 from Mater Dei High, but it wasn’t until the spring of 1964 that new Irish mentor Ara Parseghian found the diamond amidst the Irish scrap heap, as well as many others such as little-used halfback Jack Snow (three carries, 26 yards), who was shifted to split end.
In the 1964 opener alone, Huarte passed for 270 yards, highlighted by 61- and 42-yard scoring tosses to Snow, who would finish fifth in the Heisman balloting. The two continued to thrive and a new Irish legend was born en route to a 9-0 start and No. 1 ranking.
“There can be a tendency in sports to think all good things come from yourself,” Huarte said. “When you really look at it, it takes a lot of forces on the outside – coaches, opportunity, teammates… to make it happen.
“I did a lot of basic work to develop the fundamental skills, and then was very fortunate to have Ara come along. Fortune in sports is strange. A lot of it is being at the right place at the right time.”
As a second-round draft choice of the AFL’s New York Jets in 1965, Huarte signed a $200,000 deal on Jan. 9. One week earlier, the Jets signed a rookie named Joe Namath, injured most of his senior year at Alabama, for $427,000.
John Huarte averaged 10.05 yards per pass attempt during his senior year – a Notre Dame record that still stands (minimum 100 attempts). His 205 attempts resulted in 2,062 yards. Kevin McDougal’s 1993 season is a distant second (9.69 yards per attempt).
“That was really a business deal,” explained Huarte of his contract. “Notre Dame was the best draw in New York at that time. I was drafted high by the Jets, and helped them sell about 40,000 season tickets that year. It was a commercial transaction.”
Huarte never played a minute in his one season at New York – but his own greatest transaction was made there when he met Eileen Marie Devine during an elevator ride in the Big Apple. The stunning Miss Devine actually had been asked out by Namath on a couple of occasions, but she politely declined.
How many people in history can say they not only won the Heisman, but married a woman Namath attempted to woo?
Huarte was then traded to the Boston Patriots, where he backed up Babe Parelli. He remained a journeyman behind people such as Len Dawson for the 1970 Super Bowl champs (Kansas City) before retiring from the soon to be defunct World Football League in 1975.
In the NFL, Huarte completed 19-of-48 (39.6 percent) pass attempts for 230 yards and one touchdown, thereby earning the rap as a Heisman bust. But if marrying the woman of your dreams, attaining financial wealth and winning a Super Bowl ring during your pro career is a disappointment, millions of males would jump at the chance to sign up for such failure.
“Most pros play maybe two or three years,” Huarte reflected. `I was fortunate to get 10 years out of it and make more money as a young married man than doing anything else. Then I closed the door and put all my energies into business.”
Proud of his Notre Dame education and the school’s values, Huarte cherishes his moments back on campus and at the Hall of Fame. Both places are about achieving dreams, and Huarte has fulfilled his.
The Heisman Trophy winner in 1964, John Huarte was the sixth Notre Dame player to win the award over a 22-year span, starting in 1943.
“The Hall of Fame Foundation does an unknown amount of good for young people, giving them the idea – that little sparkle in the eyes – that maybe I can do that,” Huarte said. “Planting that seed of hope is absolutely crucial.”
Being prepared for that moment when hope arrives, as Huarte was in 1964, is just as important.
Lou Somogyi is the editor for Blue & Gold Illustrated.
John Huarte By The Numbers
1 Number of people in college football history to win the Heisman Trophy prior to even receiving their first school monogram. Huarte holds that distinction, and was almost joined by Georgia freshmen Herschel Walker (third in 1980) and Oklahoma freshman Adrian Peterson (second in 2004), both of whom were Heisman runners-up.
6 Heisman Trophy winners Notre Dame produced in the 22 seasons from 1943 through 1964, with John Huarte being the sixth. It took 23 years before Tim Brown became the seventh in 1987. Brown is the lone Irish recipient over the past 41 seasons.
8 Seasons spent in the NFL by Huarte (1965-72), tying him with end Leon Hart for the most years in the league among Notre Dame’s first six Heisman winners, and it included a Super Bowl ring while a member of the Kansas City Chiefs. Ultimately, the seventh Heisman winner, Brown, would play the most with 18 years.
9 Notre Dame quarterbacks enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame, with Huarte’s taking place in 2005. Chronologically, the others are Harry Stuhldreher (1922-24), Frank Carideo (1928-30), Angelo Bertelli (1941-43), John Lujack (1943, 1946-47), Bob Williams (1948-50), Ralph Guglielmi (1951-54), Paul Hornung (1954-56) and Joe Theismann (1968-70).
10.05 Yards per pass attempt Huarte averaged during his senior year – a Notre Dame record that still stands (minimum 100 attempts). His 205 attempts resulted in 2,062 yards. Kevin McDougal’s 1993 season is a distant second (9.69 yards per attempt).
18.1 Yards per completion by Huarte during the 1964 season (minimum 50 completions), another Irish standard that has yet to be surpassed over the past 42 years. Only two other players eclipsed 17 yards per completion in Irish history: George Izo in 1958 (17.8) and Ralph Guglielmi in 1954 (17.1).
93 Seconds away Notre Dame was from winning the national title after a 9-0 start and a 17-0 halftime lead at USC in the finale. Controversial penalty calls and a Trojan rally led to the game-winning touchdown on fourth down by USC with 1:33 left for a 20-17 victory.
270 Yards accumulated by Huarte through the air in the 1964 season opener at Wisconsin, a 31-7 Irish victory. The previous year, Frank Budka led the Irish in passing with 251 yards – for the entire season.
John Huarte and Jack Snow teamed up for 60 receptions for 1,114 yards and nine touchdowns during the 1964 season. Huarte would win the Heisman while Snow finished fifth in the voting.
300 Yards passing by Huarte, on 21 completions in the 28-6 victory over Stanford in 1964. It was the first time Notre Dame won a football game in which its quarterback reached 300 yards through the air.
2,062 Yards passing by Huarte during his Heisman Trophy winning campaign. Not only did he become the first Irish quarterback to eclipse 2,000 yards passing in a season, but he shattered the previous single-season standard of 1,374 set by Bob Williams in 1949.
10 Questions With Jack Snow By Lou Somogyi There are three amazing Horatio Alger-type stories in Notre Dame’s history at quarterback.
In 1993, Kevin McDougal, a nondescript player for three years behind Rick Mirer, and expected to play behind freshman Ron Powlus, took the throttle and became the school’s career pass efficiency king while leading Notre Dame to an 11-1 record and No. 2 finish.
In 1977, third-team quarterback Joe Montana, who sat out the 1976 season with a shoulder injury, was inserted in the third game when the Irish trailed by 10 points in the fourth quarter at Purdue. He rallied the Irish to victory and steered them to the national title.
And in 1964, John Huarte, who finished the previous year as the third-team quarterback, emerged to win the Heisman Trophy and guide the Irish to a 9-0 start a year after Notre Dame was 2-7.
Huarte recalls his introduction to Notre Dame, the dramatic Cinderella campaign and his relationship with the late Jack Snow, who shattered the school records that year for single-season receptions (60), yards (1,114) and TD receptions (9) en route to finishing fifth in the Heisman.
Question: How did you get introduced to Notre Dame, and what would prompt you to matriculate there from California when the Irish were in their Dark Age of football? John Huarte: My introduction came by radio when I was about 12 years old or so, sitting on an irrigation ditch on a farm on a Saturday, listening to some far off team called Notre Dame. Then I’d ask my dad and he’d explain who it was.
There was some history. My high school coach had gone to Notre Dame. My brother, David (Class of 1960), was in geology at Notre Dame. The head coach, Joe Kuharich, had also recruited heavily in California: Tommy MacDonald, Daryle Lamonica, Jack Snow, Nick Eddy, myself…a few others. So the distance wasn’t really unusual in my mind. I had dreamed of going to Notre Dame and maybe playing football there. The fact that Notre Dame was struggling…well, maybe they needed some better players and I might be able to help. I didn’t really think too much about that.
Q: During your senior year in high school, Notre Dame was 2-8, the same record it had four years earlier. During your freshman year in 1961, Notre Dame lost five of its last seven games. In 1962 the team finished 5-5 and in 1963 it was 2-7. What was the atmosphere like? JH: After I arrived at Notre Dame, I remember it was quite common that there were articles in the newspapers and around campus that maybe Notre Dame should de-emphasize football because they couldn’t play with the big schools. I was kind of surprised about that. Being a young person, it’s pretty hard to measure that.
I was just thinking of an opportunity for me to play. During my four years, it was hard for me to measure how good teams were and how good we were or weren’t in comparison, because this was the only place I had been. Gradually over my freshman and sophomore years, I began thinking we have some pretty good talent. I kept thinking that it was a lot of small breakdowns that were causing us to lose games.
Q: During the 2-7 campaign in your junior year, you didn’t play much and Jack Snow used to mention that you two would be on the sidelines watching other teams hit on long passes and have nice passing attacks, and you’d say to each other, “We could do that.”
JH: That’s exactly true. In fact, I can remember one game in particular in 1962 when we played at Northwestern (a 35-6 Irish loss to the then No. 3-ranked Wildcats) when Ara Parseghian was coaching there. We were watching his quarterback, Tommy Myers, throw to a guy named Paul Flatley. Jack and I were not being used and as we watched the other team advance the ball with the passing attack, we would kind of nod to each other with the full knowledge that we could do the same thing.
We sort of gave up on the forward pass there. When Ara came in, it was an entirely different program.
Q: When you saw the news that Ara was hired, was there a surge of excitement or did you feel that you’d be put on the shelf after not showing anything the first three years?
JH: I was just elated because what I had seen first-hand from his style of coaching, I knew it would be transferred to Notre Dame. I thought there was a strong possibility that we would get a chance to show our skills. That first spring, Ara knew very little about his players so he was experimenting and moving a lot of people around. I was just one of many quarterbacks being considered. After a few weeks, he moved me to the first team. I was confident that we would move the ball and be successful.
A few days before our first game at Wisconsin, Ara made a commitment to me and basically said, `I’m going with you. You have the skills. If you make a mistake, don’t worry about it. You’re my quarterback.’ That was very smart for him to do at that time. I needed to hear that because I had not played much for three years.
Q: You had a shoulder injury in the closing days of that spring which was originally diagnosed as needing surgery. What happened?
Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis and John Huarte in front of a pep rally crowd prior to last season’s BYU game. Huarte was honored for being selected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 2005.
JH: That was a dangerous situation that had a separation in the collarbone of my throwing shoulder. My dad had been a pro baseball player who had a very good arm, and he knew you didn’t want to be fiddling around with the joints of a throwing arm. You didn’t have the advances in surgery back then as you do today.
The first three doctors said there had to be surgery. Ara Parseghian then asked (assistant coach) Tom Pagna to drive me to Chicago, where we could see a specialist friend of his from his days at Northwestern. The specialist’s decision was the opposite of everyone else’s. He said, “Just leave it alone and it will be fine.” That was the course of action we took. If they had done surgery, you never would have heard of me. To aid the healing I did a lot of swimming, rested, and in six to eight weeks it gradually returned to normal. I gradually did some easy throwing, and by the time fall came, I was fine.
Q: Jack Snow once said that before the team even met with Ara, the two of you marched into Ara’s office and Jack laid it on the line saying, “I’m the best damn receiver here and this is the best damn quarterback.” Do you recall that meeting?
JH: (laughing) That’s just the way it happened. Jack was kind of a saucy personality, and he coaxed me into going down there and talking to him. I think it was because we ready to be seniors and for three years we had done hardly much of anything. He wanted to make a point for him to remember us. I can say that Jack was the ringleader of that conversation, and I just basically went along and seconded what he said. He did most of the talking for the two of us.
Q: How did you and Jack develop such a close relationship? Was it just both having California ties?
JH: We had gone to summer school and stayed out for hours passing and catching the ball, running patterns together. Jack took real pride in his work and I was working on getting the ball there and the timing. Jack was doing most of the work with all the running. It was much easier for the quarterback to drop back about seven yards and deliver the ball. During summer school and even back in California, we’d have a lot of time working together. He was from Long Beach and I was from Anaheim, so that’s only about 25 miles or less.
Q: Even though Ara won national titles in 1966 and 1973, he has said that 9-0 start in 1964 was the most joy he had as a coach because there were no expectations, and once success was tasted, everyone couldn’t wait until the next day to get out there again. Would that be an accurate appraisal?
JH: It was very much like that. Ara also brought in an excellent team of assistants, a real good management group. Tom Pagna was the one who worked closely with me, along with Ara. The whole team was just hungry for leadership and Ara gave us that – plus we had pretty good talent that was excited about finally being able to display it.
Q: When and how did you find out about the Heisman?
A: It was a shout down the hall from a guy named George Keenen, who was a roommate of mine on the second floor in Walsh Hall. He answered the phone in our room and he shouted down the hall, “John, you got it!” I got on the phone and (sports information director) Mr. Charlie Callahan with his raspy voice confirmed that I had been awarded the Heisman Trophy and I would be going to New York with my parents. It was extremely exciting.
I think what happened is Notre Dame coming back from a poor record for a number of years just captured the imagination of the people throughout the country. We also had a national schedule, and we came back in a dramatic fashion.
Q: With the death of Jack Snow last year, did you feel you lost a piece of yourself?
JH: It was very difficult. I knew he had contacted the staph infection and I had been in touch through his daughter, Michelle, and his former roommate. We were all wondering whether he was going to recover, and at first the doctors thought he could. Then he had to go back in the hospital…it was very difficult. You have those close memories and ties as young people playing college ball, the great turnaround. You go from not being recognized to playing in the pros – and he ended up having a heckuva pro career. We had a very special situation as a couple of California kids and how things turned out for us.
1964 Heisman Trophy Voting 1. John Huarte, Notre Dame (1,026) 2. Jerry Rhome, Tulsa (952) 3. Dick Butkus, Illinois (505) 4. Bob Timberlake, Michigan (361) 5. Jack Snow, Notre Dame (187) 6. Tucker Frederickson, Auburn (184) 7. Craig Morton, California (181) 8. Steve DeLong, Tennessee (176) 9. Cosmo Iacavazzi, Princeton (165) 10. Brian Piccolo, Wake Forest (124)