When Notre Dame broke Army’s record for most consecutive wins in
college football by defeating Navy, 40-0, on Oct. 29, 1949, in
Baltimore, South Bend’s Ernie Zalejski led the charge. His
three-touchdown effort spearheaded ND’s 33rd consecutive win, and
merited a glowing account of the feat by the Associated Press.
“Zing, zing, zing came the touchdowns. They were stabs like
stilettos in the dark. The befuddled Middies never knew from which
direction they were coming. The chief Notre Dame slasher was Ernie
Zalejski, a skittering left halfback. He scored three of the six Irish
touchdowns. Ernie got Notre Dame out in front in four minutes and 35
seconds of the opening period. He grabbed a 22-yard toss from
quarterback Bobby Williams on Navy’s 25. He was in the clear, and
merely romped across.”
Zalejski, who enjoyed a stellar career at Washington High School,
and then played for Notre Dame and the Baltimore Colts, passed away on
Sunday at the age of 86. He played on two state championships at
Washington and three national championships at Notre Dame (1946-49).
Washington lost only one game in Zalejski’s three seasons on the
varsity, and Notre Dame never lost a game in the four seasons in which
Zalejski wore the Blue and Gold.
Notre Dame compiled a 36-0-2 record in the four seasons Zalejski
played. He scored two touchdowns and rushed for 154 yards on 14
carries his freshman season of 1946, averaging 11.0 yards a carry. He
was hampered by injuries and played sparingly the next two seasons,
but in his senior season he scored five touchdowns and averaged 5.9
yards a carry (171 yards on 29 carries).
According to Tribune archives and information supplied by former
Washington High athlete Jerry Klaybor, Zalejski scored 56 touchdowns
in his prep career. He finished with 346 points in three seasons on
the varsity. The Panthers rolled up a 28-1-1 record during that
stretch. Washington was 9-1 during Zalejski’s sophomore season. The
Panthers won state titles with records of 10-0 in 1943 and 9-0-1 in
1944, and Zalejski scored 18 and 22 touchdowns during those seasons
Zalejski scored 17 touchdowns of 50 yards or more. He won Northern
Indiana Conference Most Valuable Player honors in 1944. Zalejski is in
the Indiana Football Hall of Fame, and is also in the South Bend Hall
“It was a golden time in South Bend football,” said Klaybor, who
watched Zalejski as a youth at Oliver School. “There’d be 10,000
people, everybody standing at the old School Field in that era. There
were a lot of great halfbacks at that time, but nobody could touch
Ernie. He was quick, he was shifty, and he was smart.
“Ernie was one of the best athletes to come out of South Bend. He was
one of the best halfbacks ever. There’s no doubt about that. He wasn’t
wrapped up in himself. He was all team. But when he got that ball, he
was a very, very shifty young fellow. Not very many people caught him.
He scored so many touchdowns on long runs, 60, 70, 80 yarders.”
Tribune columnist and former sports editor Bill Moor chronicled
Zalejski’s humility in an article when Zalejski turned 80.
“I always thought it was unfair how the guy who carried the ball got
all the credit and the guys who made it happen by doing all the
blocking and dirty work never got the hurrahs,” Zalejski told Moor.
Zalejski joined the Army right out of high school in January of 1945.
He served in the Philippines and was in the U.S. occupation force in
Former Tribune sports editor Joe Doyle said Zalejski returned from
Japan and was briefly stationed in Seattle.
“As soon as he got discharged, he left for South Bend,’’ Doyle
recalled. “The night before the (1946) home opener against Purdue, he
arrived at Notre Dame, he enrolled in school, and then he played in
the game. When he got going, Ernie was spectacular. He got hurt a
little bit, but when he was healthy, he was a great back.”
Zalejski was drafted by the Chicago Bears in the fifth round in 1950
as a defensive back and halfback. He played with the Baltimore Colts
one year; but injuries limited his career. Although Zalejski
experienced defeat only once in high school and never in college, his
pro career was a different story. The Colts were 1-11 in 1950, his
only season in the NFL.
After his playing days, Zalejski coached at Joliet Catholic High
School (1954-1958), compiling a record of 24-13-4. He eventually
worked for the U.S. Saving Bonds Division of the U.S. Treasury