I don’t follow the NFL, so I had no immediate answer when a friend of mine told me that Alabama will have four QB’s in the NFL this coming season. He wanted to know if Notre Dame ever had that many.
Let’s start with the fact that there are hundreds of NFL teams now (OK, there are 32, I am told).
During the GREAT decade of the 1950s, there were 12 teams.
So …. how many NFL QB’s did N.D. have at one time, during the first half of the 1950s? I didn’t have time to do a comprehensive search, but the following guys came up from memory.
There is some NFL overlap with these guys.
In 1946, the Irish QB’s were Johnny Lujack (ND’s GREATEST all-time player), George Ratterman and Frank Tripucka. Difficult to imagine many college teams boasting anything better.
They all played professional football and were followed soon after into the pros by Irish signal callers Bob Williams and Ralph Guglielmi. (And Tommy O’Connell, a five-year pro who was a standout quarterback at Illinois, was briefly at Notre Dame in 1949.)
Here’s a look at their football accomplishments:
— Johnny Lujack attended Notre Dame from 1942 to 1943 and then 1946 to 1947. His career was interrupted for two years after his sophomore season when he served during World War II as a Navy officer. When he returned, he appeared on the cover of the September 29, 1947 issue of Life magazine
He led the 1947 Fighting Irish to a 9–0 record his senior year while completing 61 passes on 109 attempts for 777 yards and rushing for 139 yards on 12 carries to win the Heisman Trophy. He was a two-time unanimous All-American and led Notre Dame to three national championships (1943, 1946 and 1947).
Lujack played four years for the Chicago Bears . During his rookie season in 1948, he played defensive back and had had eight interceptions while also kicking 44 out of 46 extra points. He threw an NFL record six touchdowns for 458 yards in the final game of the 1949 season against the crosstown rival Chicago Cardinals.
During the 1950 season, Lujack set an NFL record with 11 rushing touchdowns by a quarterback. Named to the 1950 All-Pro First-team, he set a Bears record for 109 total points in a season. That record was surpassed by Gale Sayers in 1965 with 123 points.
— George Rattermanplayed at Notre Dame from 1944 through 1946, primarily as a backup to Frank Dancewicz and then Lujack. He was the last of only four students in Notre Dame history to earn letters in four different sports (football, basketball, baseball and tennis),
He played professional football with the Buffalo Bills of the AAFC from 1947 to 1949, when the league merged with the NFL. In his first year at the age of 20, Ratterman threw 22 touchdown passes, setting a professional football rookie record that stood for more than 50 years until broken by Peyton Manning in 1998. He continued his career with the New York Yanks of the NFL in 1950 and 1951, the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League in 1951 and finished with the Cleveland Browns from 1952 through 1956.
He led the NFL in TD passes in 1950 while playing for New York. In 1956, he became the Browns’ starting quarterback and was the first player in the history of football to wear a radio receiver in his helmet, which allowed Cleveland coach Paul Brown to call plays using a microphone instead of sending in messenger players.
— Frank Tripucka played backup quarterback to Lujack on unbeaten Notre Dame squads in 1946 and 1947. With Lujack’s graduation, Tripucka became the starter his senior year. He completed 53 of 91 for 660 yards and a school-record 11 touchdowns en route to a 9-0-1 record and the Irish’s third consecutive season without a loss.
He was a first-round selection (ninth overall pick) by the Philadelphia Eagles but was traded during the preseason to the Detroit Lions. He then played three seasons with the Chicago Cardinals and one with the Dallas Texans before playing seven seasons in the Canadian Football League.
Tripucka came out of retirement in 1960 as the starting quarterback for the new Denver Broncos franchise. He led the league with 248 of 478 passes for 3,038 yards (the first 3000-yard season by either an NFL or AFL quarterback), to go with 24 touchdowns. Tripucka retired in 1963 after 15 professional seasons.
— Bob Williams guided the 1949 Irish to a 10-0 season and national championship as a 19-year-old junior quarterback. Williams finished fifth in voting for the Heisman Trophy in 1949 and sixth in 1950.
He holds the school mark for highest passing efficiency rating for a season with a 159.1 rating in 1949, when he was 83 of 147 for 1,374 yards and 16 TDs. He was named first team on the 1949 All-America team.
He was the second overall selection in the 1951 NFL draft by the Chicago Bears He played professionally in 1951, 1952 and 1955. He served in the Navy during the Korean War after the 1952 season.
— Ralph Guglielmi was a three-year starter for the Irish from 1952 through 1954. He earned unanimous All-America honors as a senior after completing 68 of 127 passes for 1,160 yards and six touchdowns. He finished fourth in the Heisman voting. In his three seasons as a starter, the Irish finished 7-2-1 in 1952 (third in final Associated Press poll), 9-0-1 in 1953 (second) and 9-1 in 1954 (fourth).
His career passing chart featured 209 completions on 436 attempts (both Notre Dame records at the time) for 3,117 yards and 18 TDs. He also rushed for 12 TDs and intercepted 10 passes, returning one for 98 yards.
He was a first-round NFL draft pick (third overall) of the Washington Redskins in 1955, moved on to play with St. Louis in 1961, the New York Giants in 1962 and with the Giants and Philadelphia in 1963. He played in 66 games as a professional, throwing for 4,119 yards and 24 TDs.