November 27, 1943 - Champions & Heismans After A Loss

By IrishTrpt07 & Olson

As the United States became more entrenched in World War II, Army and Navy became stronger football schools. At this time as well, many other institutions had powerful football teams able to pick from the top talent around the country. These institutions included Iowa Pre-Flight and Great Lakes NTS (which at one point featured a young Ara Parseghian). With their glut of talent, and Notre Dame without its star power (especially quarterback Angelo Bertelli) Great Lakes would win the game 19-14. Johnny Lujack would take over at quarterback and Notre Dame was leading until 28 seconds remaining when Great Lakes lofted a 46 yard hail mary TD pass.

The Great Lakes team was made up of many former Notre Dame players.

  • Emil Sitko (ND frosh in 1942) was a star HB for the Bluejackets. Against his old team, Sitko gained 117 yds and scored 1 TD. Emil also intercepted a Lujack pass.

  • Steve Juzwik-ND grad and starting Irish HB in '40 & '41 also played in the Bluejackets backfield with Sitko.

  • Starting Irish OG in 1940 Pete Kelly also played for Great Lakes that day, as did fellow ND '42 frosh teammate of Sitko - Mike Romano.

After the game, a sad Frank Leahy greeted Emil Sitko with the comment - "my team lost today." Emil was said to have responded, 'so did mine Coach".

Emil Sitko played service football for two more seasons after the Great Lakes victory. He was drafted in the first round of the NFL draft of 1946 (even though he had yet to play a down of varsity football at ND-the '42 frosh that Sitko was a member of were not eligible at that time. Sitko played on a frosh team that featured Johnny Lujack).

Instead of turning pro - Sitko returned to ND and played on the all the great undefeated teams of the late 40s. He would play a total of eight non-professional seasons of football.

  • 1942 ND frosh team (frosh weren't eligible for varsity in '42 at ND) - In '42 when Sitko was a frosh at ND, the freshman players were not eligible for the varsity.
  • 1943 Great Lakes - Due to manpower issues created by the war, freshmen were declared eligible. That lasted through 1946 (the reason Leon Hart was able played varsity as a frosh in '46).
  • 1944 Norman, Ok Naval Station
  • 1945 St Mary's Preflight Cal.
  • 1946 ND National Champs - Prior to the season, Sitko was drafted in the first round of the NFL draft. He was eligible because his original class was due to graduate. Instead Emil came back to ND and since he had never played a down of varsity football, he still had 4 years of eligiblity.
  • 1947 ND National Champs
  • 1948 ND undefeated-tied once
  • 1949 ND National Champs - Emil used all 4 of those years at ND and led the Irish in rushing all four year. The Irish never lost a game while Emil played for the team from 46 through 49.

Notre Dame in 1943 is the only team ever voted National Champions after losing its season finale (19-14 to Great Lakes NTS). It didn't hurt, of course, that we defeated the teams ranked 2nd (Iowa Pre-Flight) 14-13, 3rd (@ Michigan) 35-12, 4th (Navy, @ Cleveland 33-6), 9th (@ Northwestern) 25-6, 11th (Army @ Yankee Stadium) 26-0, and 13th (Georgia Tech) 55-13. Great Lakes finished 6th. Oddly, the only top 6 team not on ND's schedule in 1943 was Purdue, which at No. 5 was the highest-ranked undefeated team. Purdue didn't play Michigan that year, either.

While listening to the game at Parris Island, SC in boot camp for the Marines, Bertelli is handed a telegram informing him that he has just won the Heisman Trophy. Bertelli would become the first of seven winners at Notre Dame.

Keywords: football, great lakes naval training school, heisman, angelo bertelli, army, navy, iowa pre-flight, michigan, northwestern, georgia tech, purdue, johnny lujack, emil sitko, steve juzwik, pete kelly, mike romano, frank leahy, ara parseghian, leon hart

Posted On: 2013-12-03 00:15:02 by IrishTrpt07 & Olson


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