Years ago, Western Pennsylvania was the place to go to get a quarterback. But, it wasn’t just the quarterbacks that were overloading the nation with college and NFL players. The entire area personified greatness on the gridiron. Guys like running back Tony Dorsett, or tight end Mike Ditka, or maybe even offensive tackle Bill Fralic are legends of the game. Western Pennsylvania had it’s steel mills and that bred toughness and grit.
But, the most famous of all were the quarterbacks.
Over the years, Western Pennsylvania quarterbacks like Johnny Unitas, Joe Montana, Dan Marino, George Blanda, Johnny Lujack, Jeff Hostettler, Jim Kelly and maybe the most famous of them all,
Joe Willie Namath were scattered throughout the nation. All of these guys, and more, were from the Pittsburgh area and they were the heart and soul of college football, and then later, the NFL. Some of these guys are the heart and soul of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
Besides all the stars, another more than solid quarterback from the area was Terry Hanratty from Butler, Pennsylvania. The small community of Butler is located just north of Pittsburgh, and like all of the other small towns in that area, it has seen it’s better days. It’s current population is around 13,000 residents, but back in the 1940’s and 1950’s, the number of residents was nearly double what it is today. In spite of it’s lack of size, a surprising amount of somewhat famous people came from Butler. Other than Hanratty, there are numerous athletes, actors, politicians and soldiers from Butler, Pennsylvania. That’s fairly unusual for such a smaller community.
The Notre Dame Fighting Irish and coach Ara Parseghian signed one of Notre Dame’s all time best recruiting classes in 1965. Led by Terry Hanratty of Butler, but he wasn’t even the only quarterback in this recruiting class. Coley O’Brien from Alameda, California joined Dan O’Connor from Chicago and Bill Mahoney from Phoenix with their perfect Irish names and some others to form a group of 9 total quarterbacks that signed with Notre Dame that year.
These were the years of no signing limits and lots of walk-ons. Notre Dame limited their own scholarships, but other schools would sign as many as they wanted and partly to keep players away from their rivals. They might sign as many as 100 recruits and run off the weaker ones.
These were also the years of freshmen being ineligible for varsity play and that rule did not change until 1972. The Notre Dame Fighting Irish did not have a freshman team then, but most others schools did. All the freshmen did was practice and if you’ve ever played football can you imagine how much fun that was?
Terry Hanratty was a name recruit, being one of the top 33 players out of the top football producing state of Pennsylvania, but he was not even the most sought after quarterback in this class. That probably would have been Coley O’Brien, or Mike Franger from Elkhart, Indiana. Franger was very highly recruited and quite the high school athlete in northern Indiana.
Other members of that recruiting class included George Kunz from Arcadia, California. Kunz went on to become a perennial Pro Bowler and one of the NFL’s all time greats after the Atlanta Falcons
took him with the 2nd overall pick in the draft.
Mike Bars from Farmington, Michigan was an offensive lineman in this class and the older brother of Joe Bars, who is the father of Alex Bars. Notre Dame is all about family.
But, as far as family goes, this class also contained Jim Leahy, the son of Notre Dame legend Frank Leahy. Notre Dame and the name Leahy are about as legendary as it gets. Talk about something to live up to, I don’t remember and can find little info on what happened to the youngest son of Frank Leahy, Jim.
Lineman Eric Norri from Virginia, Minnesota was supposedly the most highly regarded at his position in the country. They didn’t have the many recruiting services back in the 1960’s like they do today. Tom McKinley was an offensive lineman from Kalamazoo, Michigan and a future starter, as was undersized Tim Monty from St Albans, West Virginia.
Defensive back Tom Quinn was a star and a three year starter. Paul Snow from Long Beach, California was the younger brother of Jack Snow who was Irish Heisman winner John Huarte’s favorite target in 1964 and later with the Los Angeles Rams.
Bob Küechenberg from Hobart, Indiana played on both sides of the line and was later a star in the offensive line for the Miami Dolphins.
Tom Reynolds out of Ogden Dunes, Indiana played linebacker, but is probably more famous for decking a mugger in New York City while naked.
Notre Dame is known for it’s tight ends, and Jim Winegardner, from Lima, Ohio was a two year starter.
Still another member of this great recruiting class was a wide receiver out of Berkeley, Michigan
named Jim Seymour.
Seymour would become Notre Dame’s Jack Snow of the later 1960’s. Tall at 6-4, the 210 pound Seymour had hands like glue and caught just about everything that came near him.
In spite of the competition at quarterback, Terry Hanratty quickly rose to the top. He must have had Notre Dame head coach Ara Parseghian licking his chops when he was practicing with the freshmen team.
The Fighting Irish had gone through a period of mediocrity before the arrival of Parseghian. He took over the Notre Dame program in 1964 and took a team that had been 2-7 the previous season, and completely turned them around. He spotted a little used quarterback named John Huarte and turned him into a Heisman Trophy winner. The Fighting Irish completed a 9-1 record in 1964 and if not for a loss to the Trojans of USC in their last game, they would have been national champs.
A national championship for the Irish would have to wait until the 1966 season and the class of 1965 was eligible for varsity play.
1965 came and went with the Irish going 7-2-1. Their losses came to pesky rivals Purdue and Michigan State, who seem to play out of their minds when facing Notre Dame.
I don’t remember 1966 football and I so wish I did. The Fighting Irish were loaded with legends like Alan Page and Mike Lynch leading the defense and the offense with sophomores Terry Hanratty and
Jim Seymour, plus All American running back Nick Eddy and fullback Rocky Bleier.
They blew through their schedule until they got to their game against Michigan State.
The Spartans were loaded as well with All Americans Bubba Smith and George Webster. They also had fullback Bob Apisa, the first Samoan to play major college football. Samoan Pioneer
Wide receiver Gene Washington and running back Clinton Jones were 1st round draft picks, as were Smith and Webster.
The game between Notre Dame and Michigan State was billed as the Game of the Century, but didn’t live up to the enormous hype and it ended in a 10-10 tie with Notre Dame winning most Polls and the national championship. The probable championship for the Irish came because of their 51-0 beating of USC right after the Michigan State game.
Hanratty made some All American teams as a sophomore while throwing for over 1,200 yards. The game was a lot different back then with a much slower pace.
His favorite target, Jim Seymour caught 48 passes for 862 yards and 8 touchdowns.
The Fighting Irish entered the 1967 season ranked number 1, based on their national title and the return of stars like Hanratty and Seymour. But, it was not to be.
In their second game, the top ranked Irish visited the 10th ranked Purdue Boilermakers and were upset 21-28.
Ranked 5th, the Irish hosted top ranked USC and lost game number two, 7-24. The Trojans went on to win the national championship in 1967.
The Irish recovered and won out and finished with an 8-2 record.
The Irish stars Seymour caught 37 passes as a junior and Hanratty threw for 1,400 yards. They became known as Mr Fling and Mr Cling, not the greatest of nicknames, but it apparently stuck.
In 1968, Terry Hanratty was a consensus All American while again throwing for over 1,400 yards. Hanratty wasn’t totally immobile and he ran for nearly 300 yards as a senior.
Our guy Seymour hauled in 53 receptions for 736 yards and 4 touchdowns.
The Irish beat 5th ranked Oklahoma in their opener in 1968 and did so very convincingly at 45-21 while they were ranked 3rd. The Irish dropped to number 2 in the Polls, but old rival Purdue lay in waiting and this time the Boilermakers were the very top team in the country. The Boilers beat the Irish fairly big, 37-22.
The Irish beat Iowa, Northwestern and Illinois easily, but old nemesis Michigan State upset Notre Dame, 17-21. This was not even a really good Spartan team, but again, they played their best against Notre Dame.
The Irish beat Navy, Pitt and Georgia Tech before and end of the year meeting with USC.
Notre Dame was ranked 9th and the Trojans were ranked 2nd.
Hanratty threw for over 4,000 yards at Notre Dame which doesn’t seem like a lot, but teams just didn’t throw all that much back then. Hanratty was a 2nd round pick by his favorite team, the Pittsburgh Steelers. Although, he was mostly a back up in the NFL to the great Terry Bradshaw. That takes nothing away from his legendary status as a national championship quarterback at Notre Dame.
Seymour caught 138 passes at Notre Dame, most of them coming from buddy Hanratty. The Chicago Bears took Seymour with the 10th pick of the 1st round in the 1969 NFL Draft. But, Seymour never lived up to the pick and he only played 3 seasons for the Bears. After sitting out a season, Seymour gave the short lived World Football League a shot and played the 1974 season with the Chicago Fire.
Unfortunately, Seymour passed away in 2011 from cancer.
Hanratty to Seymour was one of the more deadly combinations in Notre Dame history and they were large parts of the 1966 national championship team. They will always live on in the memories of Notre Dame fans.
If you want to read more about Notre Dame quarterback Terry Hanratty, author Lisa Kelly has a great book out about Notre Dame.
Please visit her website at: https://www.themenwebecamend.com
She’s got two excellent books out about Notre Dame and if interested in buying, but from her website and she will send you signed copy.