Former WMU Bronco, Steelers Hero Is Grandson of A Heisman Winner
Here's another one of those "I didn't know that" moments that happens from time to time. This morning I'm reading through some post-mortems of yesterday's football action and saw this lead item in Peter King's Football Morning in America column on NBCSports.com.
It's about former WMU Bronco linebacker Robert Spillane and the big day he had yesterday for his Pittsburgh Steelers against the Baltimore Ravens.
But the part of the story I didn't know is Spillane is the grandson of a former Notre Dame Heisman Trophy winner, running back Johnny Lattner.
Lattner's story is a fascinating one. He was a star running back at Notre Dame, in an era when Notre Dame was the biggest thing in college football. The year he won the Heisman, Notre Dame was 9-0-1 and was the national runner-up behind Maryland. (There were no playoffs back then.) He was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers and had a great rookie season, but then entered the Air Force. While in the Air Force, Lattner messed up his knee and never played pro football again. In 1979, he was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame.
Lattner died in early 2016, so he didn't see Spillane play for Western in the Cotton Bowl following the 2016 season. In the column this morning, Spillane talks about his relationship with his grandfather, and he also talks about his days at Western and the influence former coach P.J. Fleck had on him.
Spillane is the epitome of perseverance. He was an unsigned free agent for the Tennessee Titans, playing a game in 2018 before being released. He signed with Pittburgh in early 2019, has been released twice, but after an injury to Deon Bush, coach Mike Tomlin has named him the starter for the rest of the season. That faith in Spillane paid off Sunday for the Steelers, who improved their season record to 7-0.