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The Heisman Trophy

A Brief History of the Heisman Trophy

The idea of an award to the most outstanding college football player was originally conceived by members of the Downtown Athletic Club, formerly located in the southern end of Manhattan. Renowned for its devotion to sports, members of the Downtown Athletic Club appointed a Club Trophy Committee charged with conducting the first award presentation at the conclusion of the 1935 football season.

The Design of the Heisman Trophy

First, the trophy itself - what should be its style, size and design? The traditional cup or bowl seemed too commonplace, lacked distinction and was in no way emblematic of the athletic talent to be honored and immortalized. The Club Trophy Committee decided, after deliberation, that the trophy should be the replica in bronze of a muscular footballer driving for yardage.

To create this trophy, a well-known sculptor and National Academy Prize Winner, Frank Eliscu, was engaged. He set to work at once selecting Ed Smith, a leading player on the 1934 New York University football team, as his model. In due course, Eliscu prepared a rough clay model. It was approved by the DAC Committee and sent uptown to Jim Crowley (one of the legendary Four Horseman of Notre Dame), then Head Football Coach at Fordham, for his inspection. He showed the replica to his players who took various positions on the field to illustrate and verify the side step, the forward drive and the strong arm thrust of the right arm. Sculptor Eliscu closely observed these action sequences and modified his clay prototype to correspond. The result was a truly lifelike simulation of player action. It was then converted into a plaster cast, a step preliminary to ultimate production in bronze.

A Memorial to Players and a Coach

The final inspection of the cast was made after a dinner at the McAlpin Hotel on November 16, 1935, attended by Coach Elmer Layden and the entire Notre Dame football team (they had just played a memorable 6-6 tie with Army before 78,114 fans). The members of the Fighting Irish squad were impressed by the animation and fidelity of Eliscu's model - especially Wally Fromhart, Don Elser and Wayne Millner. The 1935 Notre Dame team thus put its seal of approval on this new trophy. Now it was ready for its final stage, bronze casting, after being refined by a diversity of intercollegiate contributions; the live model from New York University, the Fordham team which brought reality to the prototype, the men from Notre Dame who endorsed it, and two of the "Four Horseman" who gave it their personal blessing. The trophy was, indeed, an almost classic sculpture, an artistic as well as athletic triumph.

The finished product, cast in statuary bronze, faithfully depicts a skilled and sinewed football player, sidestepping, and straight arming his way downfield to a mythical touchdown! The statue is 14" long, 13 ½ high and weighs 25 pounds.

The first award of the DAC Trophy was made on December 9, 1935 to Jay Berwanger, a triple threat cyclone in Chicago's backfield. In 23 games (1933-1935) Berwanger gained more than a mile from scrimmage.

Following John W. Heisman's death in 1936, the DAC Trophy was renamed the Heisman Memorial Trophy as a fitting tribute to the memory of the distinguished American athlete and inventive football genius. In 1968, the Heisman Trophy Committee voted to award two trophies each year - one to the winner and one to the college or university he represents.

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