Resident Jack Landry, 97, Brings Ties to Notre Dame Undefeated Championship Team to Senior Living Community
GREENSBURG, Pa. — As the college football season unfolds each autumn, it’s almost a certainty that fans at some point will turn their attention to the University of Notre Dame.
Are the Fighting Irish having a good season? Or bad? Is Notre Dame among the national contenders?
Notre Dame historically has maintained its status among the top programs in college football, producing 11 consensus national championships and 20 undefeated seasons.
Newhaven Court at Lindwood senior living community has its own special tie to Notre Dame football and a stretch of dominant Fighting Irish teams in the late 1940s.
Jack Landry, 97, and his wife Jan, 90, are residents at the senior living community in Greensburg. Jack played fullback at Notre Dame from 1948 to 1950. He was part of Fighting Irish teams once labeled by “Sports Illustrated” as the second greatest dynasty of the 20th century.
“I was lucky. It was a good experience to play under a good coach and learn a lot,” said Jack Landry, referring to legendary Fighting Irish coach Frank Leahy. “There were a lot of opponents and other schools that were good, but none of them lived up to the Leahy standard. He just had a level of quality for his staff. You remember all the various things he required you to do whenever you’re playing, and I think that’s what made him so good.”
The Landrys display decorative plates commemorating their 1956 wedding date at Notre Dame on the wall of their cozy apartment at Newhaven Court at Lindwood. Other photographs of Jack wearing his Notre Dame uniform are included in a digital shuffle of family photographs visible next to their couch.
“Since Jack and Jan arrived here earlier this year, there has been a lot of talk about college football and especially Notre Dame football,” said Newhaven Court at Lindwood Executive Operations Officer Lori Grant. “Our community is tight-knit. Our team members and the residents are like ‘family.’ When Jack and Jan talk about the glory days of Fighting Irish football, it really gets everyone into the spirit of football season.
“Watching football with friends and family is one of the many things residents of Newhaven Court at Lindwood love about the community,” Grant said. “Steelers themed parties, New Year’s Day bowl game-watching, March Madness. It’s all about enjoying their time together in the community.”
Jack Landry was part of the Frank Leahy-coached national championship 10-0 Fighting Irish team in 1949, as well as the nationally second-ranked 9-0-1 Notre Dame team in 1948. His role on those undefeated teams certainly has generated a lot of interest this football season at Newhaven Court at Lindwood, a senior living community recognized two straight years as a U.S. News & World Report Best Assisted Living and Best Memory Care community.
The 1949 team highlighted a Notre Dame dynasty record of 46-0-2. In that span, the Fighting Irish won three national titles in four years (1946, 1947, 1949) and produced two Heisman Trophy winners, Johnny Lujack in 1947 and Leon Hart in 1949.
At fullback in three seasons from 1948 to 1950, Landry produced 947 rushing yards, gaining 4.2 yards per carry.
But Jack Landry’s journey to Notre Dame wasn’t conventional by today’s standards. Like many people of his generation, World War II interrupted plans and Landry made sacrifices to a greater calling.
When Pearl Harbor hit
“His two older brothers were drafted when Pearl Harbor hit. He dropped out of high school at 17 and went to war,” Jan Landry said of her husband. “He went into the Navy for three years and didn’t get home until he was 20 years old.
“He had to finish high school. Notre Dame wanted him. He was a super athlete. He also was a light heavyweight champion boxer in the Navy.”
Jack Landry went back to school – literally.
“When he got home from the war, he went right back to his high school,” Jan Landry said. “You had to still be 19 to be able to participate in sports. His birthday was in May so he was able to play his senior year of high school football.”
His play at Aquinas High School in Rochester, New York, drew the attention of Notre Dame. But Landry wasn’t taking any chances.
“His high school coach had been a Notre Dame player. During a blizzard they went all the way to Buffalo because Frank Leahy was giving a talk that night in Buffalo,” Jan Landry said. “They got on a train in the snow and finally made it to Buffalo. He met Leahy, and Leahy said, ‘Jack, I’d like you to come and play for me.’”
Jack’s next stop was in the Fighting Irish backfield. He eventually became friends with future Heisman Trophy winner Lujack.
His coach made quite an impression on Landry. In 11 seasons at Notre Dame, Leahy’s teams won 87 games at an .864 winning percentage.
“He had a football mind. Not many people realized that,” Jack Landry said. “He was always thinking of football, strategies and outcomes. That was just the way he was.”
The National Football League’s Chicago Cardinals selected Landry in the 12th round of the 1951 NFL Draft. But Landry eventually took a position in the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) for five years before later returning to football as an assistant coach both at Notre Dame and the University of Nebraska.
In 1954, Jack met Jan, who had a position with Capital Airlines based in Washington, D.C., and frequently traveled. The couple married on the Notre Dame campus in 1956.
Jack and Jan Landry had eight children — five sons, three daughters. Two of their sons, Pat and Chris, followed their father’s lead and played major college football at Michigan State University.
“We’ve had a wonderful, wonderful life,” said Jan Landry. “He’s been a wonderful husband, friend and father.”
The Landrys have been a wonderful addition to the Newhaven Court at Lindwood community, according to Greg Berkebile, Community Relations Director.
“Jack is humble, thoughtful and bright. Jan is outgoing and tells so many great stories about Jack,” Berkebile said. “To me what stands out about Jack’s football career is how he played college football after he took a break to answer the call of duty in the Navy during World War II. Then he returned to be part of a terrific football team – a dynasty. And now, he’s part of our ‘team’ at Lindwood.”