The cause was cancer, the university said.
Seymour played three years for the in the , but he made his name as an athlete in college. At 6 feet 4 inches, weighing more than 200 pounds and able to run 100 yards in less than 10 seconds, he was bigger and faster than virtually any other college receiver at the time, a physical type who set a standard for the position long before the likes of , and ever caught a pass.
Seymour made all-American teams in each of his three seasons at Notre Dame, helped transform a team known for its defense into an offensive powerhouse. By the time he graduated in 1969, Seymour was the career receiving leader at Notre Dame, with 138 catches for 2,113 yards — an average of more than 15 yards a catch — and 16 touchdowns.
In 1965, the Fighting Irish, coached by Ara Parseghian, had gone 7-2-1 and given up only 73 points, but without a solid passing attack they had ended the year scoring a total of 3 points in their last two games. Enter Seymour and Hanratty, who had been recruited by Parseghian in the hope of replacing a previous twosome, the Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback John Huarte and the receiver Jack Snow, who had graduated in 1964.
Hanratty and Seymour were both sophomores in 1966 — at the time regulations barred freshmen from playing varsity football — and their presence made an immediate impact. In their first game, a victory against Purdue, Seymour caught 13 passes for 276 yards, which remains a Notre Dame record.
Throughout college football, passing games were exploding that year, so much so that in midseason magazine ran a story proclaiming a revolution in the game. On the cover was
Seymour missed three games that season because of injury, but after a famous 10-10 tie against another undefeated team, , a game in which Hanratty was hurt, Notre Dame clinched a national championship the next week by beating Southern California, 51-0, a game in which Seymour caught 11 passes for 150 yards and 2 touchdowns.
“We had a great team,” Hanratty said in an interview Thursday, recalling that the defense had future pro standouts in Jim Lynch, Pete Duranko, Kevin Hardy and Alan Page and a fine running back in Nick Eddy, all holdovers from the previous season. “The only two question marks were the two snot-nose sophomores.”
Hanratty said he and Seymour got to know each other by working out together in an old field house, a dirt-floor arena with a ceiling so low that any long pass had to be looped over the roof support beams.
“We got to know each other so well that I knew his every move, when he was going to cut inside, when he was going to cut outside,” said Hanratty, who played eight years in the N.F.L. “Anyway, it was so different back then. Jim was 6-foot-4, 215, and ran like a deer; he was a hard cover for anyone. I mean, add 30 more pounds to him and he’s a lineman. I’ve got a son going to Notre Dame this fall, and he’s 6-5 and 300. I tell him he’s bigger than anybody I ever played with in college or the pros.”
James Patrick Seymour was born in Detroit on Nov. 24, 1946, and grew up in suburban Berkley, Mich. A hamstring injury in a college all-star game in his senior year at Notre Dame cut down his speed and curtailed his pro career, after which he owned an insurance agency in Arlington Heights, Ill.
His survivors include his wife of 41 years, the former Nancy Garvey; three sons, James, Jeffrey and Todd; four brothers, a sister and six grandchildren.
Many who saw Seymour play at Notre Dame recall his extraordinary grace as a pass-catcher. As Time described him, he could “ ‘juke’ his hips, dip his shoulder, toss his head, flutter his eyelashes, and leave a safety man twisted up like a pretzel as he cuts downfield for a pass.”
The magazine continued: “He can then leap four feet straight up and pluck a football out of the sky — with such tenderness that one observer reported: ‘You can stand right next to him and never hear the ball hit his hands.’ ”