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The Heisman Trophy - up for grabs.

When Jay Berwanger received a telegram at his fraternity house at the University of Chicago in 1935, he became part of American football history, although he didn't know it at the time.

"It really had no significance for me," he recalls of his notification as the first winner of the Heisman Trophy. "I got a wire at my frat house and tickets to go to New York. I looked forward more to that than to the award."

Things have changed since then, of course. Winners of the Heisman Trophy have become members of an exclusive club--in O. J. Simpson's words, "the most coveted [award] in sports. Once you're a part of it, you become a part of the history of the sport. You become a part of the game's lore. I knew that if the game endured, my name would endure, too."

So it is that one of the most venerable of individual awards in American sports will have its 49th anniversary this December in New York, when the Downtown Athletic Club presents its prestigious prize to the college football player voted the best in the country.

Barring injury, this year's likely candidates include quarterbacks--Doug Flutie of Boston College, Chuck Long of Iowa and Bernie Kosar of Miami--and a group of running backs headed by Keith Byars of Ohio State, Grey Allen of Florida State and Allen Pinkett of Notre Dame. Bo Jackson of Auburn and Napoleon McCallum of Navy, two other top runners, were knocked out of Heisman consideration by early-season injuries.

Despite abundant talent at other positions, such as the Pitt offensive tackle Bill Fralic, the Southern Cal linebacker Jack Del Rio and the Texas safety Jerry Gray, it is assumed that the winner of this year's award will be a player who touches the ball. Since berwanger was first given the Heisman Trophy in 1935 by a vote of selected media representatives across the co aDame, is one of the two pass-catching rd D aends to get the award. "For a lineman rd D ato win it, he'd have to play both offense rd D aand defense. As it is now, it's rd D aonly exposure for half a game. But, rd D arealistically, he just doesn't have the rd D aoverall exposure the running backs rd D aand quarterbacks get. Now they just rd D alook at the stats." rd D a Running backs especially have rd D ahad a strong grip on the Heisman in recent times. They have won the award for the past 12 years, following the Auburn quarterback Pat Sullivan's selection in 1971. As for players at other positions, only two interior offensive linemen (players who spend most of their time blocking) have finished in the top five in the Heisman voting--Dave Rimington of Nebraska wound up fifth in 1982 and John Hicks of Ohio State, who probably came closest to winning it, finished second to the Penn State running back John Cappelletti in 1973. The Pitt defensive end Hugh Green was another Heisman rarity, finishing second to George Rogers, a running back from South Carolina, in 1980.

When Berwanger won the award, it was so new it wasn't even called the Heisman Trophy. At that time it was just the "Downtown A.C. Trophy," and he recalls, "There was no anticipation as there is today." He does remember, however, that they "had a great affair and I was treated royally. I stayed at the Downtown Athletic Club, and out of my window I could see the statue of Liberty. That was thrilling."

A wide-eyed youngster, Berwanger was taken on a sightseeing tour of New York and trip members the highlight of the trip for him was "the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall and lunch at the Club 21."

In addition to being the first winner of the Heisman Trophy, berwanger has the distinction of being the first player drafted by the National Football League. A nifty halfback for the University of Chicago, Berwanger was made the No. 1 pick by the Philadephia Eagles when the NFL held its first draft of college players in 1936, but he says, "I really wasn't interested in pro ball. They weren't paying any money, something like $100 a game. You couldn't blame them. This was following the Depression and nobody had any money."

George Halas, the longtime owner of the Chicago Bears, was a friend of Berwanger's and obtained the rights to his contract from the Eagles. That was all he got, the rights.

"We didn't have any real serious talks," Berwanger remembers. "I told him $25,000 for two years, no cut. I was being slightly facetious. He said, 'Good night, it was nice talking to you. Have a good time.' There was no bitterness."

Actually, the first Three Heisman Trophy winners (Berwanger and Larry Kelley and Clint Frank, both of Yale) did not play pro football. When the quarterback Davey O'Brien of Texas Christian University signed the first contract for a Heisman winner (with the Philadelphia Eages in 1939), he received a $12,000 bonus for a two-year contract. O'Brien played two years and left pro football for a career with the FBI.

For a while, Berwanger earned a living as a nespaper columnist in Chicago, a coach on the University of Chicago team and a speechmaker. "I made speeches for $100 to $150, so it came out all right financially for me." Eventually he became a successful rubber and plastics manufacturer. He says that although his Heisman Trophy hasn't opened any doors for his business, "it makes conversation with the customers."

The same might be said for Angelo Bertelli, another of Notre Dame's record six winners. Bertelli, who won the Heisman as a quarterback for the Fighting Irish in 1943, now runs a retail liquor business in New Jersey and says, "A day doesn't go by when somebody doesn't mention it when they're introducing me."

Bertelli's award was "strictly a Notre Dame situation," he says. "Creighton Miller finished fourth [and Jim White ninth]. We were national champions. It was the second year of the T-formation. Frank Leahy had put it all together. I had finished second as a sophomore and fourth as a junior, so really, they were thanking me for three years."

Bertelli's situation was unique, for he won the Heisman Trophy wihtout actually finishing out the season. He was taken into the service of the Marine Corps during the height of the Second World War after playing most of his senior year at Notre Dame. When told he had won the Heisman, he was on a Marine base.

"We were in the recreation hall listening to the Notre Dame-Great Lakes game," he remembers. "Norte Dame lost at the end, and we were all sa. I walked out of the recreation hall crying. But a guy came up to me and handed me a telegram telling me I had won the Heisman. All of a sudden, I became happy. I was tickled pink. I was happy not only for winning the Heisman, but because I was going to get out of boot camp for a while and see my family."

Bertelli described himself as "a forward passer, not a runner. I did a lot of faking and counter plays. I was also a defensive halfback."

At Notre Dame, he became the main instrument of Leahy's T-formation genius under disruptive circumstances. "There was a lot of controversy then," he says, "because Leahy had broken from the traditional Notre Dame shift by [Knute] Rockne to go with the new T-formation."

Hart, a rugged end who played both offense and defense, also had the good name of Notre Dame to help him in the Heisman voting in 1949. The Notre Dame quarterback Bob Williams finished fifth and their fullback, Emil Sitko, eighth that year. The Fighting Irish were national champions for the third time in four years that season and what little television exposure there was, Notre Dame received it.

At the time, Hart was unaware of the Heisman's significance, as were the rest of the players on the Notre Dame team. "It wasn't pushed, even then," Hart says. "Nobody thought about it. My coach, John Drew, said, 'Leon, you won the Heisman Trophy.' I was really pleased, but then it hit me. I asked, 'Hey, what's the Heisman Trophy?'"

Now, Hart realizes it is "a badge that you wear for the rest of your life" and would be hesitant to put a value on his 25-pound bronze statuette that rests these days on the Notre Dame campus.

"the Freedom Train [in 1976] wanted to put the trophy on display, and I told them the University of Notre Dame now owned it. They asked me what I would insure it for. I said, 'How do you insure something that's irreplaceable?'"

For trivia buffs, Hart became an important part of the Heisman scheme, as the last lineman to win the trophy. (The first was the Yale end Larry Kelley, in 1936.) Hart, now an auto-supplies manufacturer, went on to a successful pro career with the Detroit Lions of the National Football League and also became a trivia subject there: the last NFL player to be named All-Pro on both offense and defense (in 1951).

Hart, by the way, is one of the players to escape the so-called "Heisman Jinx" that has haunted innumerable winners through the years. For the most part, Heisman winners have not had successful careers in professional football. A notable disappointment was running back Archie Griffin of Ohio State, the only two-time Heisman winner (1974 and 1975).

"O.K., it's true," says Griffin. "Heisman winners don't necessarily become great pro players. But you have to look at that statement closely. I used to get the ball 30 times a game at Ohio State. I got it about 8 times a game in the pros. It was something to get used to. I used to think I wasn't deserving because I didn't make the yards. But, obviously, I couldn't do with 8 carries what I used to do with 30."

Of all the award winners, probably the one who gave the most dramatic speech at the Heisman ceremonies was John Cappelletti, who dedicated the prize to his leukemia-stricken younger brother, Joey, in a tearful speech in 1973. The story of their relationship was so powerful that it was made into a movie for TV.

As the 1,000-odd Heisman Trophy voters, made up of sportswriters and sportscasters as well as former winners, cast their ballots for this year's winner, it is obvious that the trophy has come a long way since even Cappelleti's day and certainly since Berwanger won in 1935. The former University of Chicago star, who says he was born too early to capitalize on the Heisman glory, no doubt would have settled for a contract equaling just the money being spent by schools on candidates these days. The Heisman is generally assumed to be eventually worth a million dollars to the winner.

This past summer, sports-publicity departments at various schools mapped battle plans to sell their candidates. The pitches included elaborate schemes such as the one at Navy, where McCallum was hauled down to the Inner Harbor in Baltimore and photographed in an 18th-century naval uniform, a sword in one hand and football in the other, in front of the frigate U.S.S. Constellation. The photo appeared on a poster bearing the legend I HAVE NOT YET BEGUN TO RUN, with apologies to another Navy hero, John Paul Jones.

Boston College, meanwhile, went the route of a packet about Flutie, who is depicted on the red-bordered front cover about to unleash a pass. On the back of the jacket are pertinent comments from coaches about the Eagles' top player.

Still, Flutie knows he has to win it on the field as well as win the public-relations campaign.

"As far as I'm concerned, the only way to judge it is by victories," he says. "If we were losing ball games, I could be throwing the ball from beginning to end and have all kinds of stats and records that I could break. But the bottom line is winning or losing ball games. Who cares if I throw for 400 yards and lose 41-20? It's a matter of winning."

And now. . .the envelope, please.
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Copyright 1984 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Rappoport, Ken
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Dec 1, 1984
Words:2054
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