Following the 1963 season, Notre Dame football was in shambles. Hugh Devore's 1963 team finished the season with a record of 2-7. After eight seasons at Northwestern, Ara Parseghian was hired by Notre Dame in hopes of restoring the winning tradition and bringing back championships. Parseghian believed in John Huarte, and named him the starting quarterback for the 1964 season, despite having very limited game experience.
Huarte had done very little in his first two years at Notre Dame. As a sophomore, he could not fight off the injury bug, and was limited to just 4-of-8 on passing attempts for 38 yards. This lack of experience relegated Huarte to the third string quarterback for the 1963 season, as he fell behind both Frank Budka and Sandy Bonvechio on the Irish depth chart. However, after a 2-7 season, Coach Parseghian decided to make major changes in the Irish football program, starting with the quarterback.
Standing a tad over six feet tall and weighing about 180 pounds, John Huarte was not the big burly quarterback that is associated with the position today. Huarte was even small for his time period, as guys like Namath, Staubach, and even moderately sized Johnny Unitas, were taller and thicker than the young Huarte. Couple that with Huarte's sidearm throwing style, and it is a wonder that he was able to get his pass attempts through the line.
Heading into the 1964, the Heisman Trophy was the last thing on John Huarte's mind. Afterall, Huarte was only months removed from the Irish third string. He may have had the confidence of Coach Parseghian, but he still had to prove his worthiness to his teammates, the fans, and himself.
Notre Dame opened the 1964 season on the road against Wisconsin. Huarte led the Irish to a convincing 31-7 victory, in front of a crowd of over 64,000. Having passed his first test, Huarte went on to lead the Irish to eight more consecutive victories, outscoring their opponents 270-57. Having held the number one ranking for four consecutive weeks, Notre Dame headed to Los Angeles where a meeting with the USC Trojans was all that stood between a miraculous National Championship season.
Huarte and the Irish came into the match-up heavily favored, and it appeared that they were on their way to a National Championship, up 17-0 at halftime. USC came back in the fourth quarter to make a game of it. On fourth-and-eight, with 1:33 seconds to go, USC quarterback, Craig Fertig hit Rod Sherman for the game-winning touchdown. Notre Dame, who did not play in bowl games at that time, had lost their championship and the game.
Despite losing the chance at a championship season, John Huarte had earned national acclaim of the Heisman voters. Huarte edged out Tulsa quarterback, Jerry Rhome, in one the closest Heisman votes in history. Huarte won the award by a mere 74 points. Huarte was actually announced the Heisman winner four days before the loss in the Coliseum, although the award banquet was not held until the following Friday night. Geographically, Huarte had placed first in the East and Midwest regions, while he finished second in the West and third in the South. Huarte ended up first overall, topping the likes of Dick Butkus(3rd), Brian Piccolo (10th), Gayle Sayers (12th), and his own favorite receiver, Jack Snow(5th).
Under the tutelage of Parseghian, Huarte had put together a dream season in 1964. Looking back, 1964 was really the only quality season that Huarte had collegiately or professionally. In addition to leading Notre Dame to a 9-1 record, Huarte completed 114-of-205 passes for 2,062 yards and 16 touchdowns. His 2,062 yards and 16 touchdowns were just two team records that Huarte broke that season. In all, the consensus All-American rewrote the Notre Dame record books, breaking twelve team records.
While Huarte and Notre Dame lost to USC on Novermber 28, 1964, the day was not all bad for the young gunslinger. As Huarte was busy prepping for the game, he became the draft picks of two professional football teams. Likely concerned about his size and limited experience, Huarte dropped to the sixth round of the 1965 NFL draft, before being selected by the Philadelphia Eagles with the 76th overall pick. However, the New York Jets of the AFL were willing to pick Huarte much earlier. Desperately needing a quarterback, the Jets selected Huarte in the second round of the draft. The Jets offered Huarte $200,000 to sign with the club, an offer that Huarte quickly accepted. Unfortunately for him, the Jets spent their first round pick on another quarterback, Joe Namath. Namath went on to stardom, while Huarte never did succeed. Huarte went on to play in seven seasons professionally, although he never saw the field with the Jets. He played two seasons with the Boston Patriots, a year with Philadelphia and Minnesota, two with Kansas City, and finally finished his NFL career with the Chicago Bears. Huarte spent the majority of his professional career leading the taxi squad, although he did see limited action in his seven years. After the NFL, Huarte played for a little while in the World Football League with the Memphis Southman, before retiring in 1975 when the league folded.
In 2005, the College Football Hall of Fame, welcomed John Huarte into its elite fraternity. Despite only one full season at the helm, Huarte impressed the selection committee with his leadership, skill, and passion for the game. In one of the most improbable seasons in Notre Dame history, the young man from Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, California, led the Irish to within a play of the National Championship. While the remainder of his football career would fall short of expectations, John Huarte made the most of his business degree from Notre Dame.
In 1977, Huarte founded Arizona Tile. Now, 29 years later, Arizona Tile has expanded to 22 locations across 7 states, and has become the largest independently owned importer of ceramic tile and natural stone slabs in the United States. Huarte, who is a heavy contributor to the Toys for Tots charity, has his sights on expansion in the near future. He plans to expand Arizona Tile across the United States and into Canada. John Huarte is living proof that attending the University of Notre Dame is not only a four year decision, but a forty year decision. Even with all of his success after football, Huarte will always have the memories of that magical 1964 season, and a nice piece of hardware to prove it.