John Huarte‘s childhood working in the citrus and avocado orchard with his father and brothers is in the distant past, but the work ethic lingers on. That boy of Hispanic heritage , a descendant of Spaniards of Basque origin, never imagined that he would become a top figure in college football as a Notre Dame quarterback . Today he is a successful businessman, the owner of Arizona Tile , one of the largest building materials and luxury tiles companies in the United States.
The year 1964 marked the rest of his life. It was a dream season that saw Huarte become a college football star, one who beat idols like Roger Staubach, with Navy , and Bob Griese, who was playing in Purdue, both in their prime college careers who were enshrined in the NFL Hall of Fame .
“The Huartes migrated from Spain to Mexico, then to South America and later in 1890, my grandfather Martín went to live in Ventura, north of Los Angeles, California, as a missionary and there he met Pilar Aristegui, my grandmother. They were both Spanish Basque, they spoke both Spanish and Basque. They married and later had three girls and four boys. My grandfather died very young due to stomach cancer and my grandmother had to raise the children alone here, in the Los Angeles area, “said Huarte in an interview with UNANIMO Deportes.
Joseph Dominic, John’s father , was a professional baseball player for nine seasons in the minor leagues, and had the opportunity to play a couple of games with legends like Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig.
“My father was born in 1904, he played professional baseball and he did it very well. He was a shortstop with a very good arm, he even played two games against Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. Then he met my mother [Dorothy Catherine Eickholt], got married and had five sons and a daughter. He continued in my grandparents’ family business, bought a small farm and started building. That was at the time of the depression, in 1930. We grew oranges, lemons and avocados where I grew up, and had the best moments of my childhood, said Huarte.
Huarte never thought of playing football. Despite being a good athlete, most thought that he didn’t have the necessary physique to stand out on the gridiron; however, he attended Mater Dei High School, in Santa Ana, and later obtained a scholarship to study and play for the Fighting Irish at the University of Notre Dame.
From “benchwarmer” to National Champion
John was happy to be a part of the Notre Dame football team. The pride and tradition of blue and gold permeated him. He played for coach Joe Kuharich ‘s squad in 1961 and in 1962 he was the fourth string quarterback. The immovable starting QB was Daryle Lamonica and then there were Denis Szot and Frank Budka .
For the 1963 season, coach Hugh Devore took over the helm and recognized Huarte’s potential. He named him second-string quarterback, behind Budka. Then in 1964, Ara Parseghian was named coach of the Irish and John Huarte, in his final college year, got the starting job. This marked his life forever.
“The first game was against Wisconsin and everything worked out for me. We were America’s Number One. We played against Purdue, against Bob Griese, and we won, we also beat Navy with Roger Staubach,” recalled Huarte, who was considered a “small” quarterback.
John Huarte beat Morton and Butkus in the Heisman voting
Notre Dame, under coach Ara Parseghian, ended the 1964 campaign with a 9-1 record. Huarte completed 114 passes of 205 attempts for 2,062 yards, 16 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. That year, the Fighting Irish were crowned National Champions.
Huarte was also awarded the highest honor for a college player, the Heisman Trophy topping other college stars in the ballot (216 first place votes) such as Dick Butkus, Craig Morton, Bob Timberlake, Jerry Rhome, Brian Piccolo and his teammate, Jack Snow .
His foray into the NFL and his Super Bowl ring
Following John Huarte’s successful 1964 season, several NFL teams became interested in the promising young man from Notre Dame. Although he surprised them with his leadership ability, he had few opportunities to start. He won a Super Bowl ring with the Kansas City Chiefs as a back-up quarterback.
The New York Jets picked him in the second round of the 1965 Draft, but they had as the first overall selection an Alabama quarterback, Joe Namath, who at was named a starter the end of the preseason.
“Great guy, Joe Namath. He became a star, a great star … I went from New York to the Boston Patriots , played there for a year and then I was on five different teams for six years. In Boston I played very little, the starting quarterback was Babe Parilli . Then in 1968 I went to the Philadelphia Eagles during the period in which they went bankrupt, changed coaches and owners,” John Huarte, who with Philadelphia also was the second string QB as Norm Snead was the undisputed number one quarterback on the team.
“And then I came to Kansas City while Hank Stram was the coach, saw me practice and signed me for three years (1969-1971). Well, what happened is that the Chiefs won Super Bowl IV and I ended up getting a bonus and the big diamond ring. Chiefs’ star quarterback was Lenny Dawson, very smart, a really good passer, so it turns out I was on the championship team and that was fantastic for me and my career,” remembers Huarte.
The Kansas City Chiefs signed him as a backup during the postseason. Dawson, was hurt in the regular season. Mike Livingston took over during the start of playoffs, Tom Flores was named second QB while Huarte became the third quarterback. Dawson recovered in time to start Super Bowl IV, in which the Chiefs defeated the Minnesota Vikings 23-7.
In 1972 Huarte signed a one year deal with the Chicago Bears to be Bobby Douglass’ backup, to end his NFL career.
“I had a professional career for 10 years, but without much luck. After the end of my NFL career in 1972, I played in the World Football League (WFL) during the 1974 and 1975 seasons, with the Memphis Southmen , where I won a Championship and finally retired,” adds Huarte, who is proud of his Hispanic heritage and of serving as an example to young people that dreams can be fulfilled with a lot of work, effort and perhaps a touch of luck.