Thursday, May 19, 2005

Honoring Huarte | by Jay

Irish Heisman winner John Huarte was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame yesterday. Here's with the scoop:

NOTRE DAME, Ind. - John Huarte (pronounced HEW-ert), former Heisman Trophy-winning University of Notre Dame quarterback from 1964, is one of 11 former college players and two coaches named today to the National Football Foundation's 2005 College Football Hall of Fame Division I-A class by Jon F. Hanson, chairman of the National Football Foundation...

Huarte's Heisman Trophy victory ranks as one of the biggest upsets in the history of the award considering he missed much of his sophomore season due to injury and didn't even play enough as a junior to win a monogram (second and third in the voting were Tulsa's Jerry Rhome and Illinois' Dick Butkus - and other candidates included Alabama's Joe Namath and Kansas' Gale Sayers).

Behind the aerial efforts of Huarte and fellow Californian Jack Snow (he caught 60 passes that year for 1,114 yards and a Notre Dame-record nine touchdowns), Ara Parseghian in his first year turned Notre Dame from a 2-7 team in '63 into a 9-1 squad that came within minutes of the national title.

A consensus first-team All-American as a senior, Huarte threw for 270 yards in the '64 opening-game upset of Wisconsin -- including TD tosses of 61 and 42 yards to Snow -- and ended up finishing the year ranked third nationally in total offense (2,069 yards). He set 12 Irish records that year and earned back-of-the-year and player-of-the-year honors from United Press International. He was named MVP of the College All-Star Game in Chicago in 1965.

A second-round draft pick of the AFL New York Jets (and a sixth-round pick of the NFL Philadelphia Eagles), Huarte played in the pro ranks for eight years with Boston, Philadelphia, Minnesota, Kansas City and Chicago -- prior to retiring from the World Football League Memphis entry in 1975.

Originally a 6-0, 180-pound signalcaller from Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, Calif., Huarte becomes the 41st Notre Dame player to be chosen for the Hall of Fame since inductions began in 1951. Five former Irish coaches also have been selected. No other school has produced more than those 46 enshrinees, the most recent being Joe Theismann in 2003.
A couple of other good articles on Huarte's selection here and here.

By the way, Mater Dei in Orange County is the same high school that current Heisman QB Matt Leinart attended. (Also elected to the Hall this year was noted Irish nemesis Anthony Davis, but we won't mention that.)

Huarte winning the Heisman in '64 was sort of a "cinderella story, boy from nowhere" event. He logged only 5 minutes of playing time as a sophomore, and a mere 45 minutes as a junior. But then his senior year, Ara Parseghian was handed the coaching job and immediately began looking for a quarterback among his roster. From a 1964 Time magazine article:
In spring training Parseghian wandered around the field like an Arab horse trader. He spent hundreds of hours studying last year's game films, analyzing each man's potential. Finally one day he sauntered up to John Huarte, a quiet Californian who had played just 50 minutes of football in two years, and said: "John, you're my quarterback for the season. I don't care if you throw six interceptions in the first game. You're my quarterback. You're gonna live with me ten weeks this fall." Parseghian's next visit was with Jack Snow, the 6-ft. 2-in., 215-lb. end whom he had singled out as Huarte's No. 1 passing target. Between them, Huarte and Snow have already broken practically all of Notre Dame's season passing records.
Huarte busted out his senior year, setting nine Irish records and tying another. Career stats:

Att. Comp. Int. Yards TD Pct. Rush Yards
1962 8 4 0 38 0 .500 3 -14
1963 42 20 0 243 1 .467 11 -53
1964 205 114 11 2062 16 .556 37 7
TOTAL 255 138 11 2543 17 .541 51 -60
Huarte's 74-point Heisman win over Jerry Rhome of Tulsa was the sixth-slimmest margin in Heisman history (Illinois linebacker Dick Butkus finished third.)

Perhaps the only heartbreak for Huarte during his Heisman season was a 17-20 final-game loss to John McKay's USC that probably cost the Irish a National Championship (they still topped one national poll, but Alabama walked away with the AP & UPI titles). It wasn't for lack of heart on Huarte's part, in fact, the game came down to a last-ditch Hail Mary to Snow that fell incomplete.

The New York Times had a nice story on Huarte this morning:
In a football career that lasted until he was 32, John Huarte had only three memorable years.

In 1964, his senior season at Notre Dame, he won the Heisman Trophy after leading a team that finished 2-7 the year before to a 9-1 record and, in some polls, the national championship.

Fast forward to 1974 and 1975, when Huarte was the starting quarterback for the Memphis Southmen in the World Football League, which struggled through two money-losing seasons before folding.

"It was fun while it lasted," Huarte said.

Yesterday presented another moment to remember when the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame announced that Huarte was one of 11 and 2 coaches from major colleges who had been elected to the shrine in South Bend, Ind.

In a telephone interview from his home in Pacific Palisades, Calif., Huarte called his election "an incredible honor and a surprise."

"That's my other life," he said. "I haven't thought too much about college football."

Until his senior season, there was not much to think about. In his first three seasons at Notre Dame, he played a total of 50 minutes. But as a senior, he passed for 2,062 yards and 16 touchdowns. The Jets signed him for $200,000.

They also signed another rookie that year, Joe Namath, for $427,000, and Namath went on to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Huarte ended up on the Jets' taxi squad, which is now knows as the practice squad). In six N.F.L. seasons, Huarte played in 24 games, completing 19 of 48 passes and throwing one touchdown pass.

"I started one game," he said. "Except for that, I was a backup to Joe Namath on the Jets, Babe Parilli in Boston, King Hill and Norm Snead in Philadelphia, Len Dawson in Kansas City and Bobby Douglass in Chicago."

Finally starting with Memphis of the W.F.L., Huarte was teamed with the former N.F.L. stars Larry Csonka, Jim Kiick and Paul Warfield before the league folded.

"I liked it," he said.

"I was looking for something I could get my teeth into," Huarte said. "I got into stone, ceramic tile and granite. I've been doing it for 27 years now."

After football, Huarte went into the stone and tile business. He started Arizona Tile 17 years ago, and the company has more than 900 employees and 20 offices in the United States, the Czech Republic, Brazil, China, Italy and Mexico.

"Pro football was very frustrating," he said, "but you go on to another career. I got football out of my system. It wasn't all bad. I met my wife when I was with the Jets. New York was golden to me."

His wife, Eileen Devine, was a student at St. John's and a part-time elevator operator at Shea Stadium when they met. The Huartes have five children and eight grandchildren, all in California.

"Am I having a good life?" Huarte said yesterday. "Well, I'm working about half the time. This morning, I went to the drugstore and had breakfast with my 3-year-old grandson. That's pretty good."

One quick story. It seems my aunt went on a couple of dates with John Huarte back in college. Flash forward to two years ago: my uncle (her husband), my cousins (her sons) and I are at the ND/USC luncheon before the game at the Coliseum. We get a chance to meet Huarte, and he's the nicest, most gracious guy you'll ever meet. The story comes out that Aunt Pat used to date him.

The whole ride home, my cousins rode my uncle mercilessly. "Why did you get in the way, dad? We could have been athletes!"