Notre Dame 1945 - 1948

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John “Pep” Panelli was an outstanding fullback who played on the 1945, ‘46, ‘47 and ‘48 Notre Dame football teams. He was a starting fullback behind Jim Mello on the 45 and 46 teams and alternated at half back before securing the lead fullback position in 1947 and 1948. Notre Dame was undefeated national champions in the ‘46 and ‘47 season and was undefeated ranked #2 in the ‘48 season. With the return of war veterans to college on the GI bill, this was called the most competitive era of college football and it was in this era that Panelli distinguished himself in 1948 as the second leading rusher on the Notre Dame team (behind Emil Sitko) and led the team in average yards per carry (7.5 yards/carry on 92 carries). He scored 18 touchdowns and was recognized as a talented all-purpose football player: a fast and very cagey runner, a smashing blocker and a “savage” tackler on defense . When Panelli hit them “they stayed hit”. After graduation, at John's homecoming banquet which was attended by legendary coach Frank Leahy, Frank called him the finest fullback he had ever coached. Leahy in his book Notre Dame Football – The T Formation tells how the “fullback lateral” end run was well suited to Panelli's skills, and was considered by “scouters” the most dangerous part of the Notre Dame attack. “Pep” is still recognized amongst the top 10 Notre Dame running duos of all time. Panelli was above all a team player who eschewed personal glory to support the needs of the team. He remains one of the great unsung hero's of Notre Dame's greatest football era and was a cornerstone of what Sports Illustrated called the greatest football team of all time—the 1947 Notre Dame football team. He was 3 rd team All-American in 1948, made Frank Leahy's All-American team, and went on to capture MVP in the East-West All-Star game at the end of the '48 season.

Highlights included:

  • Pep's opening score from the 5 yard line that helped make a win possible over a tough Northwestern team in a 26 to 19 victory in 1947.
  • ND's longest run of the day was Pep's 51 yarder in Notre Dame's 42 to 6 defeat of Indiana in Bloomington in ‘48.
  • His touchdown from the 1 yard line made the difference in the 12 to 7 victory over Northwestern in 1948 leading to an undefeated season.
  • Panelli recovers a fumble on the opening kickoff to Iowa in 1948. On the first offensive play of the game he scrambles 34yards for a TD. He scores a second TD on a 39 yard run in the 3 rd quarter…all total, 154 yards in 12 carries.
  • Panelli's 70 yard runback of a partially blocked punt breaks the Irish out of their doldrums in the Purdue opener in '48.Purdue was ahead 13 – 12, but the Irish won 28 – 27.
  • Panelli takes a delayed side toss from Tripucka, falls behind Fischer, Cifelli, and Hart and rambles 73 yards for a TD against Nebraska in Lincoln – 1948. After the team had been pelted by fish and vegetables by the Nebraska fans, Panelli called this his most pleasurable TD.
  • Playing Iowa in 1947, Panelli scores from the 34 yard line on and end run. It's called back on a team penalty. ND repeat's the identical end run on the very next play, and Panelli repeats the score from the 39 yard line.