#3 Leon Hart: Notre Dame Football’s Top 25 Players

(Photo: Notre Dame Media Relations)
(Photo: Notre Dame Media Relations)

#3 Leon Hart, TE/DE 1946-1949

Leon Hart was the strapping son of a Westinghouse Crane operator who lived in Pittsburgh’s Southeast suburb of Turtle Creek.  He was one of Notre Dame’s first “middle class”  recruits.

A Multi-Sport Star; A Prized Recruit

There was nothing Hart could not do, on the classroom or on any field of athletic endeavor.  He was equally as adept at baseball and basketball as he was in football.

But Notre Dame drew a bead on him for football, and Leahy, fresh back from the Navy in the Pacific Theatre of operations,  assigned assistant coach Edwin “Moose” Krause to recruit Leon Hart.  Krause was shocked when he first picked up Hart for a recruiting visit when he got off the train in South Bend.  Moose felt “mousy” as he often kidded that the massive 6’4” 245 pound Hart was the first recruit he

Ever “had to look up to.”

Leon Hart was an easy close for Krause and Leahy as he wanted to play football for the Fighting Irish and study engineering at Notre Dame.

Here’s Look At You Kid

Hart arrived in 1946 as a 17 year old and was surrounded by “battle-tested” veterans. This was not a cliché, as players like John Lujack, Ziggy Czarobski, Jim Martin, Emil “Six yard” Sitko and George Connor were veterans of  the US Military during World War II. They had, indeed, been tested in battle.

But Leon Hart, the fresh-faced kid, fit right in and played a good bit.

November 9, 1946

Hart was on the field for the epic 0-0 tie versus Army at Yankee Stadium.  It was the only time, EVER, in college football history, that four eventual Heisman Trophy winners appeared on a football field in the same game.

The foursome and the years they won were:

  • Felix “Doc” Blanchard, Army ’45 (“Mr. Inside”)
  • Glenn Davis. Army ’46 (“Mr. Outside”)
  • Johnny Lujack, Notre Dame. ‘47
  • Leon Hart, Notre Dame ‘49

Agent Zero of “Tight End U”

Hart was the first DNA  strand of tight end U at Notre Dame. Guys like Mutscheler, Gmitter, Casper,  #22 on our list, Ken MacAfee. Bavaro  and dozens of others would follow but it was Hart who would become the only Tight End to ever win the award, who started it all.  Simply, there was nothing he could not do.

Leon Hart Could Block

The Notre Dame rushing attack was devastating when Hart played.  As Leahy had proved with Bertelli he was comfortable with passing the football, but Notre Dame pounded people on the ground when Hart was blocking at Tight End.  Notre Dame rushed for over 305 yards per game during the four years that Hart played.   They scored 33 points per game in that span, an unheard of total in the pre-spread days, and they were doing it against the nation’s toughest schedule.

Leon Hart Could Run

With backs like Sitko, Brennan and others, Leahy had a bevy of running back options but would deploy Hart as a runner when the situation required. Even though he ran between the tackles he averaged over 4 yards per carry in his Notre Dame career.

Leon Hart Could Catch the Ball – And Score

Though the Irish were run first in the Leahy dynasty from 1946-1949 Hart caught  44 passes for 644 yards and an astounding 12 Touchdowns. Leahy often waxed poetic about Hart’s ability to make yards after the catch as he dragged opponents’ tacklers with him.

Leon Hart The Defender

Hart would probably have made this list as a defender even if he had never taken a snap on offense. Notre Dame pitched 12 shutouts in the 38 games of the Hart era and allowed less than a touchdown a game. They outrushed opponents by over 170 yards per game in the four year span. Hart was a rock when he set the edge, a violent tackler and causer of fumbles.

Leon Hart Was an RKG

Hart was a proud graduate of Notre Dame’s vaunted School of Engineering and he topped it off, when he was still only 20, by serving as Student Body President.

Leon Hart, Heisman Trophy Winner

Hart romped to the award in ’49, and he was competing against SMU legend Doak Walker, who had won in ’48.  Hart scooped up other major awards, including AP Athlete of the Year, beating out #42, Jack Roosevelt Robinson of the Brooklyn Dodgers.  Hart was easily the first draft choice in the NFL draft, going to the Lions.

Leon Hart Never Lost a Game at Notre Dame

36-0-2. Football’s most famous tie, against Army, and one against USC in ’48.  His teams outscored opponents 33-7

Leon Hart went on to win three NFL championships while he played for the Detroit Lions.

Hart’s Toughness

Middle class kid or not, Hart was as tough as nails. He was the Iron Man form the Iron City.   He believed that two platoon football corrupted the college game and thought that real men played the full 60.

Unbeaten, Heisman Trophy winner, Iron Man, Student Body President.  Leon Hart.

Go Irish!


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  1. I agree that Angelo Bertelli belongs in the top 25, but I think #5 is a stretch. Maybe #25 and bye bye Red Salmon.

    The four horsemen at #4 is a copout when the list is titled “Notre Dame Football’s Top 25 Players.” I think none of the Four Horsemen would make it as an individual, and according to the 1997 Media Guide they played 1922-1924, not 1921-1924 (freshmen were ineligible in 1921) and Stuhldreher was backup QB to Frank Thomas in 1922, Layden and Crowley each played LH, Miller was RH, and Paul Castner was FB. If you’re going to count an entire backfield unit you should have had 1952-1953 with QB Ralph Guglielmi, LH Joe Heap, RH Johnny Lattner and FB Neil Worden (they all were on the 1951 team, but only Worden started).

    I guess #1 is the Gipper and #2 Johnny Lujack.

    Final point, the Four Horsemen are all in the College Football Hall of Fame, but were not elected as a foursome, but as individuals (Layden in 1951, Stuhldreher in 1958, Crowley in 1966, and Miller in 1970).

  2. Well, greg, that would be a surprise, and while we don’t count NFL performance in this ND list (which leads to some very curious results, which will be explained in some afterposts) if we were going to pick a Notre Dame guy on one play at Notre Dame it would be Johnny “One Play” O’Brien. And of course Bobby Mitchell caught that pass from Izo for the Washington team against the Cleveland Browns.

    Sadly, in the omissions category entitled “Italian quarterbacks not on this list” (and remember, the great Frank Carideo is on this list, as is Angelo Bertelli), Izo would trail Ralph Guglielmi, though he would easily surpass Frank Alloco and Matt Lovecchio. Huarte was as Basque as Miguel du Unamuno

    I think you may disagree with #1 and #2, but they will probably not be outrageous picks to most folks.

  3. How about the great George Izo for #1 or # 2. He still holds the longest TD pass in NFL History, 99 and a half yards!

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