Former Notre Dame consensus All-American offensive guard Mirko Jurkovic died Wednesday afternoon from colon cancer. He was 42.
Mirko Jurkovic played for the 1988 national champs on defense before becoming an All-America offensive guard.
He leaves behind his wife of 19 years, Angi, and their three children, Mirko Jr., Claire and Samantha. His brother John, played in the NFL for 10 years and is a co-host of "The Carmen, Jurko & Harry Show" on ESPN 1000.
Funeral services will be held at St. Pius Catholic Church in Granger, Ind., Jan. 12 and interment will be at Cedar Grove Cemetery, Notre Dame. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Mirko Jurkovic Memorial Fund at any Wells Fargo branch.
Earlier this fall, Blue & Gold Illustrated featured Jurkovic and his battle with cancer. Here are excerpts of that story:
At another time in his life, Mirko Jurkovic might have thought that playing at Notre Dame for offensive line coach Joe Moore and head coach Lou Holtz might be his most difficult challenge. Compared to the last two years, those four seasons were the salad days.
In August 2010, Jurkovic was diagnosed with colon cancer. After undergoing a full colectomy, he went through eight months of chemotherapy before receiving a clean bill of health. However, in October 2011, a bowel obstruction revealed new nodules of cancer that had infiltrated his system.
While he’s reluctant to equate battling for one’s life with the intense competition on a football field, Jurkovic is thankful that athletics provided him the instincts to deal and respond to the pain and sadness.
“You put a game plan together and you figure out what you’ve got to do, what it’s going to take,” Jurkovic said. “Then you have support from wife, kids, family, extended family and friends, and you start to realize you’re not alone. There’s an incredible community of patients that are going through it, and you quit feeling sorry for yourself and figure out what you’ve got to do next.
"Then you enjoy every day a little more, and you get through it like anything else. I don’t think people realize the strength they have inside themselves until they’re dealt with something like that. Once they have it, people tend to be stronger than they thought they were.”
Jurkovic’s parents immigrated to the United States from Croatia in 1967 and settled in at Calumet City, Ill. Although English was his second language, Jurkovic’s senior course load at Thornton Fractional North High included Advanced Placement Calculus and Honors Physics. Older brother John already was a Division 1-AA All-American at Eastern Illinois as a defensive end, but Mirko was an even more sought after prospect.
His only two recruiting trips were to Michigan and Notre Dame before choosing the Irish and enrolling as a freshman in 1988. Although overshadowed by fellow freshman starters Raghib “Rocket” Ismail at wideout, tight end Derek Brown and outside linebacker Arnold Ale, Jurkovic became a top reserve along the defensive front, behind George “Boo” Williams. He played in all 12 games for the national champs, with his longest stints of eight minutes apiece coming in victories against No. 1 Miami (31-30) and No. 2 USC (27-10).
With everyone scheduled back for the 1989 defensive line, Jurkovic was shifted to the offense the following spring to groom behind senior right guard Tim Grunhard. In 1990-91, Jurkovic was the starting right guard and earned consensus All-America notice his senior year. During Jurkovic’s four seasons at Notre Dame, the Irish posted an 11-4 record against teams ranked in the AP Top 10 at the time of the game — including 7-2 versus the Top 3.
His final game was a 39-28 defeat of No. 3 Florida in the Sugar Bowl in which the offensive line and fullback Jerome Bettis took over to the tune of 245 yards rushing in the second half.
His most memorable moment, though, came during his junior year with the 29-20 victory versus defending national champ and No. 2 Miami, which featured an impenetrable fortress led by No. 1 NFL pick Russell Maryland.
In the fourth quarter, with Ismail moved to running back, the Irish drove 77 yards to up their lead to 29-20. Later backed up at their four-yard line with the game still on the line, the Irish ran out the clock against Miami’s stacked look. Ismail finished with 100 yards rushing and Notre Dame 276 overall against a unit permitting just 62 yards per game on the ground.
“We hadn’t done this before, but there in the huddle we were holding hands as linemen,” recalled Jurkovic of the esprit de corps with right tackle Justin Hall, center Mike Heldt, left guard Tim Ryan and left tackle Gene McGuire. “The running backs and receivers were just hitting us on the helmet to indicate how well we were doing. Then in the locker room as we just sat by our lockers, Joe Moore cried and hugged each one of us.
“There were a lot of great games, but those are the two I still remember like it was yesterday.”
Reports of Jurkovic’s tender knees didn’t help his draft status, but the ninth-round draft choice of the Chicago Bears refused to use that as an alibi for playing only one year in the NFL.
“Everyone’s got something that hurts,” Jurkovic said. “The bottom line is I didn’t do enough to make the coaches keep me.”
Jurkovic married his wife, Angela, a Purdue graduate, in 1993, and has worked since 1999 with Stryker, one of the world’s leading medical technology companies.
Upon his return to South Bend in 2003, the affable Jurkovic was asked by Notre Dame to team with former running back Reggie Brooks (1989-92) to help host the University’s post-game radio show. He has continued in that capacity to this day in the weeks where he didn’t have chemotherapy, and served as the color analyst for Don Criqui of the IMG Network in the Purdue game.
“I’ve often said that life after football is much easier than football, because you go to Notre Dame to get prepared for life,” Jurkovic said.
It was one he lived and represented extremely well.