Football, Medicine and the Heisman Trophy: A Chicago Family's Connection to Notre Dame

Football, Medicine and the Heisman Trophy: A Chicago Family’s Connection to Notre Dame

NOTRE DAME, Ind. — For some, a school is more than just a place of learning. For some, it’s a legacy.

Richard Marshall Cronin was a freshman at the University of Notre Dame in 1945.

“He saw this quarterback coming up to him and said, ‘I wasn’t going to let him go by me,'” Claire Cronin, the Cronin family matriarch, said.

It was a memory that my grandfather would recount many times the day he went out for the football team.

But Dick Cronin’s greatest contribution to Notre Dame football wasn’t on the field. In fact, his playing career was long over when one spring day in 1964 he received a phone call.

“One buys [Parseghian] told him that his star, John Huarte, had a shoulder injury and that they were going to operate on him at Notre-Dame, ”recalls Ms. Cronin.

“It was his freshman year, in spring training, where he got injured,” adds John Cronin, Dick Cronin’s youngest son of nine and a Notre Dame graduate in 1992.

“He [Ara] said, “Send him to Chicago to my friend Dick Cronin,” said Mrs. Cronin.

Cronin, now an orthopedic surgeon specializing in sports-related injuries, agreed to see him.

ABC57 reached out to John Huarte, legendary Notre Dame quarterback and 1964 Heisman Trophy winner.

Huarte says that during a spring scrimmage, defensive end Jerry Long tackled him cleanly, but he landed on his right shoulder, ramming him into the 50-yard line at Notre Dame Stadium.

“The collarbone that enters the outside of the shoulder was separated, and then two doctors said, ‘Oh, we have to have surgery,'” Huarte recalled. “Ara Parseghian said, ‘What are they!'”

So, Huarte says he and backfield coach Tom Pagna traveled to Chicago.

“That’s where I met Dr. Cronin,” says Huarte. “He had me hold up a few sandbags, facing the camera, had pictures straight ahead and he could see the separation. And he said, ‘Leave him alone.’

“I worked on it very patiently; swimming, handball,” recalls Huarte. “And after about six weeks it went back to normal and didn’t bother me in that 1964 season.”

John Huarte says that in hindsight surgery would have ended his career.

But this is not the case… far from it…

John Huarte then enjoyed a season for the record books, throwing for over 2,000 yards with 114 completions en route to a Heisman Trophy. At that time, no Irish quarterback had completed more than 100 assists in a season. His passing efficiency rating at Notre Dame still ranks among the best in the record books.

“[I’m] extremely lucky Dr. Cronin made the call and just saved my career, he did,” says Huarte.


But although it was the story that got all the attention, it was just another day for Dr. Cronin.

“He treated everyone, everywhere and never billed anyone until he came into the office,” Ms Cronin recalled, calling it unusual, especially as costly medical debts were on the rise.

On Saturdays, my grandmother describes an open house with high school football players, friends, and seemingly strangers getting checked in the living room…a line out the door.

“He never got rich [sic] practicing medicine,” says Cronin.

Dick Cronin died in 2016 aged 89 from complications of dementia. But what he left behind was hope for a meaningful life.

And some of us picked up where he left off.


“I’ve always dreamed of going to university,” says Michael Cahill, Dick Cronin’s grandson.

“Like many brilliant men with Alzheimer’s disease [disease], or dementia anyway, he hadn’t spoken in months and months,” Ms Cronin recalled. “Michael Cahill came over and he said, ‘Grandpa, I’m going to Notre Dame,’ and he said, ‘Go Irish’.”

For dementia patients, towards the end, it is said that what remains is what they really liked the most. But what the disease took, motivated Michael Cahill.

“Grandpa, the way he cared for patients and the way he told his family about his love for medicine, certainly inspired me too,” Cahill says.

Cahill graduated from Notre Dame and now attends medical school at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia. But he dreams of returning to South Bend.

“Being the team orthopedic surgeon would be a dream of mine,” Cahill says, his eyes shining and a wide smile stretching across his face.

It may be a vocation, or the coming together of two generations, but whatever it is, it’s following in the footsteps of his grandfather… and he’s not the only one either.

A double-digit number of Dick and Claire Cronin’s children and grandchildren attended Notre Dame or became doctors.

Thus, for some, a school is more than just a place of learning. For the large Cronin family, it’s a matter of tradition.

“It was in our blood,” Ms Cronin says.

“It was something we shared, and I think he was proud of me as well,” adds John Cronin.

“It was truly God, Country and Our Lady,” proudly says Ms Cronin, 95, who watches every game and has been a loyal fan since the 1940s.

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