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Birth:
02 Nov 1928 1
Death:
24 Sep 2002 1
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Full Name:
Leon J Hart 1
Birth:
02 Nov 1928 1
Death:
24 Sep 2002 1
Residence:
Last Residence: Birmingham, MI 1
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Social Security:
Card Issued: Unknown Code (PE) 1
Social Security Number: ***-**-9408 1

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Heisman Trophy winner Hart dead at 73

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) -- Leon Hart, who won the 1949 Heisman Trophy and helped Notre Dame win three national titles, died Tuesday at 73.

He also was a member of three NFL championship teams in his eight seasons with the Detroit Lions.

Hart died at the St. Joseph Medical Center in South Bend, Notre Dame associate athletic director John Heisler said. Hospital spokeswoman Betty Rowley said she did not know the cause of death.

"It simply falls into that category of the good die too soon," Notre Dame coach Tyrone Willingham said. "He has been such a fine person and such a fine player and such an integral part of this program's history."

The Irish went 36-0-2 during Hart's four years at the school, winning national championships in 1946, 1947 and 1949, and finishing No. 2 in 1948. He was one of the last two-way players at Notre Dame.

John Lujack, a quarterback who won the Heisman in 1947, said he knew when Hart joined the Irish in 1946 that he was in for a great career.

"He was a big freshman, he weighed about 260 pounds, we tried to fool him on a couple of plays and he wasn't very foolable," Lujack said. "We knew he was going to be a great player. He was second team to Jack Zilly, our regular right end, and he played an awful lot as a freshman. That didn't happen a lot at Notre Dame."

Lujack said the 6-foot-5 Hart was on the losing end of game once in college. In 1948, some former Irish players suited up and played in the spring game against the Irish.

"We beat them; the pickup team beat them, and they were undefeated," Lujack said. "We had a really good time. I think that was the only time the varsity was beaten by the pickup squad."

Hart, who was from Turtle Creek, Pa., was one of only two linemen to win the Heisman. Larry Kelly of Yale was the other, in 1936. Hart was the last non-skilled position player to win the Heisman until Michigan cornerback Charles Woodson in 1997.

Hart and former Notre Dame quarterback Angelo Bertelli are the only players to win the Heisman Trophy and national championship in the same season and then become the first overall player taken in the NFL draft.

Hart was The Associated Press athlete of the year in 1949.

"He was a great act," said John Lattner, who won the Heisman at Notre Dame in 1953. "I remember watching him in high school. He was a great athlete and had a great pro career. He was a nice guy, too."

Hart, a mechanical engineering student, also was an outstanding student, Lattner said.

"Leon was probably a little more intelligent than the average football player," Hall of Fame lineman Lou Creekmur, who played for the Lions from 1950-59, said from his home in Plantation, Fla. "He had a degree in engineering and he had an IQ that was a lot higher than the rest of us.

"Sometimes he'd flaunt it."

Playing in the NFL from 1950-57, Hart helped the Lions win titles in 1952, 1953 and 1957. He earned All-Pro honors in 1951.

During his pro career, Hart played end, defensive end and fullback.

In his eight seasons with the Lions, he had 174 catches for 2,499 yards and 26 touchdowns. He ran for 612 yards and five touchdowns, all in 1956, and had four interceptions, eight kick returns and twice returned fumbles for touchdowns.

After retiring from football, Hart lived in Birmingham, Mich., and ran a number of businesses, including one that made tire-balancing equipment.

His son, Kevin, played for the Irish from 1977-79. His grandson, Brendan, is a walk-on junior tight end for the Irish.

A funeral service is scheduled for Saturday in Birmingham, Mich. He will be buried on the Notre Dame campus.

 

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