Here’s the first in a series of trivia tidbits about Heisman Trophy winners. First up, the pre-war Heismans.
Did you know …
… 1935 winner, Jay Berwanger, was also an accomplished track and field star and turned down an invitation to compete in the 1936 Olympics as a member of the US decathlon team?
… Berwanger once made a 70 yard touchdown run against Ohio State where he reversed field four times and was nearly forced out of bounds on both sides of the field before finally reaching the end zone? This is still mentioned as one of the wildest plays in college football history.
… after his playing days, Berwanger became a college football official and worked several Rose Bowl games?
… 1936 Heisman winner, Larry Kelly’s Yale teams beat rival Princeton so frequently that a poem with the last line, “there is joy in Princeton; Larry Kelley won’t be back” was penned?
… it was not unusual for Heisman winners to wear specially designed equipment during games? Jay Berwanger earned the nickname, “the Man in the Iron Mask,” for a facemask he wore to protect a broken nose. Larry Kelley used a special pad to protect an injured shoulder, and 1941 Heisman winner Frank Sinkwich drew national attention with his helmet that featured a special chin strap designed to protect a broken jaw.
… nearly all of the early Heisman winners were “60-minute men,” who played both offense and defense and rarely, if ever, came off the field during a game?
… 1937 Heisman winner Clint Frank of Yale was also a military aide to General Doolittle, who led the Tokyo raid in 1942, during World War II?
… 1938 winner Davey O’Brien became the first Heisman winner to play in a post-season bowl as his TCU Horned Frogs beat Carnegie Tech in the Sugar Bowl?
… O’Brien is not only the smallest Heisman winner, standing just 5 feet, 5 inches tall and weighing about 140 pounds, but is also the first winner to get an official reception from New York City, as Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia greeted him on the steps of City Hall?
…1939 Heisman winner, Nile Kinnick of Iowa was one of the last practitioners of one of football’s lost arts, the drop-kick? During his Heisman-winning season, Kinnick scored a touchdown against Notre Dame in the final minutes and drop-kicked the extra point, giving his Hawkeyes a 7-6 victory. In describing the game, famed announcer Bill Stern said it was, “one of the most exciting games he had ever broadcast.”
…Kinnick also played Junior Legion baseball with future Major League Baseball Hall of Famer, pitcher Bob Feller? Sadly Kinnick, a courier pilot, was killed in a 1943 plane crash. In 1972, the University of Iowa renamed its football stadium, “Kinnick Stadium” in his honor.
… after graduating from Michigan, 1940 winner Tom Harmon enlisted in the Army Air Corps as a pilot and was awarded the Silver Star for his actions as a member of the 449th Fighter Squadron? He survived two plane crashes and was married to actress Elyse Knox in 1944. The silk parachute that saved his life was used as the material for her wedding dress.
… that Bruce Smith was also the first Heisman winner to have his number retired when the University of Minnesota placed his “No. 54” jersey in their trophy case?