Angelo Bertelli, who as a senior quarterback at the University of Notre Dame in 1943 became the first of seven Irish winners of the Heisman Trophy, died Saturday at his home in Clifton, N.J. He was 78.
The 6-1, 173-pound Bertelli claimed college football’s most prestigious award in ’43 despite playing in only the first six games of the Irish season before he was called into active duty in World War II.
Bertelli’s career at Notre Dame began in ’41 as a sophomore single-wing tailback as he threw for 1,027 yards, led the nation with his .569 completion percentage (70 of 123) and helped his team to a 8-0-1 record and a final number-three ranking in the Associated Press poll.
As a junior, he became the first of Frank Leahy’s T-formation quarterbacks for the Irish, throwing for 1,039 yards and 10 touchdowns in ’42. In a win over Stanford that year, he completed 10 straight passes and threw for four TDs overall in that contest.
In those first six games he played in ’43, he helped the Irish average 43.5 points per game, as Notre Dame eventually claimed the national championship with a 9-1 mark. He completed 25 of his 36 passes in those games for 512 yards and 10 TDs. He won the Heisman in ’43 after finishing second in ’41 and sixth in ’42.
Bertelli earned first-team All-America acclaim in both ’42 and ’43. He was elected to the National Football Foundation College Football Hall of Fame in 1972.
He served as a captain in the United States Marine Corps during World War II — where he saw action in the Pacific Theatre of Operations, including Iwo Jima and Guam. He played professional football with Los Angeles and Chicago of the All-America Football Conference for three seasons before a knee injury ended his playing career.
“Angelo Bertelli has been a prominent figure in our athletic program for the last six decades, from the time he enrolled as a freshman in 1940,” said Rev. E. William Beauchamp, C.S.C., Notre Dame’s executive vice president.
“He obviously was an outstanding football player — but he also has represented the University with class and distinction on hundreds of occasions based on the celebrity status he earned with his athletic exploits, especially the winning of the Heisman Trophy.
“When you talk about the history and tradition of Notre Dame football, one of the central figures always has been Angelo Bertelli.”
Born and raised in West Springfield, Mass., Bertelli graduated from Cathedral High School in Springfield, Mass., and received his bachelor of science degree from Notre Dame in 1944. He spent the last 48 years as president of a beverage distributorship in Clifton.
Bertelli is survived by his wife, Gilda Passerini; two sons, Michael of Allendale, N.J., and Robert of Hoboken, N.J.; two daughters, Lauren Bertelli of Waldwick, N.J., and Judith Wry of Manchester, Conn.; two sisters, and five grandchildren.
Visitation will be from 2:00-4:00 and 7:00-9:00 p.m. EDT at Bizub-Quinlan Funeral Home in Clifton. The funeral will be at 9:15 a.m. EDT Wednesday at St. Andrew the Apostle Roman Catholic Church in Clifton, with burial at Immaculate Conception Cemetary in Upper Montclair, N.J. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to Tri-Hospital Hospice in Passaic, N.J., or a charity of your choice.