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The History of the Heisman Trophy and Heisman Trophy Winners

June 19, 2018 9 min read

The History of the Heisman Trophy and Heisman Trophy Winners

The Heisman Trophy is one of the most prestigious and memorable awards in sports. At 25 pounds of brass, and almost 100 years of history, this award is the most sought after individual trophy in collegiate sports. Autographed sports memorabiliafrom Heisman winners are among the most popular items to collect. The following is your ultimate guide to the history of the award, and all the Heisman trophy winners.

History of the Heisman Trophy

The Heisman Trophy is the annual award given to that year’s most outstanding Division 1 college football player.  It was established in 1935 by the Downtown Athletic Club (DAC) in New York City to recognize "the best player East of the Mississippi."

In 1936, the Trophy was re-named the Heisman Trophy, in honor of one of the club’s directors, the late John Heisman. It was also broadened to include all college football players, no matter where they played.

The Trophy is awarded by secret ballot each year. There are around 1,000 ballots sent by the committee, mostly to sports journalists in six national regions. Previous trophy winners also get a vote.

The finalists are flown to New York where the winner is announced during a lavish ceremony.

The actual trophy was designed by sculptor Frank Eliscu.  The model for the statue was Ed Smith, who was a top collegiate player for New York University in 1934.  Running with the ball tucked in under his right armpit, Smith casts a vicious left stiff arm, blasting away defenders with his bronze open palm. It's instantly recognizable to any serious football fan.

Eliscu asked Smith, whom he went to High School with, to pose for a commissioned sculpture of a football player.  Smith didn’t realize until 1982 that the sculpture later became the Heisman Trophy.  The DAC was kind enough to present Smith with his very own Heisman Trophy in 1985.

While the Trophy itself is quite recognizable, no two are exactly the same. According to the MTM Recognition company, who have manufactured the trophy since 2005, they are hand crafted, and each one is different. However, the main shape of the trophy has always remained the same. Heisman Trophy Sports Memorabilia

Made out of case bronze, it is 13.5” tall, 14” long, 16” wide and weighs 25 pounds.

The Heisman was awarded every year at the Downtown Athletic Club of New York City. The club was physically cut off during the 9-11 attacks as part of the “frozen zone,” which prohibited the public from entering this zone during the 9-11 cleanup.  The extended closuer proved to be too much for the Club to withstand and it declared bankruptcy later that year. The Trophy is still awarded, although the presentation takes place at the Hilton New York.

List of Heisman Trophy Winners

1935 - John Jacob "Jay" Berwanger, running back, Chicago. Berwanger won the Downtown Athletic Club Trophy. It would be re-named the Heisman the following year. Berwanger was the first person to be drafted in the NFL, although he never played.

1936 - Larry Kelley, end, Yale.

1937 - Clint Frank, quarterback, Yale. The Original Don Draper, and the second Yale "Skull and Bones" man in a row to win the Heisman, went on to be an advertising executive. He was an aide to Gen. Jimmy Doolittle during the famous "Doolittle Raid" during World War II.

1938 - Robert "Davey" O'Brien, quarterback, TCU.

1939 - Nile Kinnick, running back, Iowa. This consensus All-American was the first to give a political speech during his Heisman acceptance.

He said, "I would like, if I may, to make a comment which I think is appropriate at this time. I thank God that I was born to the gridirons of the middle west and not to the battlefields of Europe. I can speak confidently and positively that the football players of this country would rather fight for the Heisman trophy than for the Croix de Guerre."

Despite the speech, he volunteered for battle during World War II and was killed during a routine training mission off the coast of Venezuela. In 1972, Iowa renamed its football stadium Kinnick Stadium.

1940 - Tom "Dudley" Harmon, running back, Michigan.

1941 - Bruce "Boo" Smith, running back, Minnesota.

1942 - Frank Sinkwich, running back, Georgia. Originally from Starjak, Croatia, Sinkwich was the first player from the Southeastern Conference to win the Heisman. He was also the first Heisman winner to be elected Most Valuable Player in the NFL.

1943 - Angelo Bertelli, quarterback, Notre Dame.

1944 - Les Horvath, quarterback, Ohio State.

1945 - Doc "Mr. Inside" Blanchard, fullback, Army. Part of the years when Army dominated college football, Blanchard was the first Junior to win the Heisman and the Maxwell, achieving both in the same year. Blanchard went on to be a pilot in the Air Force, serving during Vietnam.

1946 – Glenn “Mr. Outside” Davis, running back, Army. Despite being offered contracts with many teams, Davis was prevented by public sentiment from playing football until his West Point service contract was paid back.  After three years in the Army, he was finally furloughed, and played three years for the Rams.

1947 - John Lujack, quarterback, Notre Dame.

1948 - Doak Walker, running back, Southern Methodist.

1949 - Leon Hart, end, Notre Dame.

1950 - Vic Janowicz, running back, Ohio State.

1951 - Dick Kazmaier, running back, Princeton.

1952 - Billy Vessels, running back, Oklahoma.

1953 - John Lattner, running back, Notre Dame.

Sports Memorabilia of Heisman Winners

1954 - Alan Ameche, fullback, Wisconsin.

1955 - Howard Cassady, running back, Ohio State. This is the first year that collectible football memorabilia directly related to the first Heisman winner is available. John Berwanger gets a card in 1955!

1956 - Paul Hornung, quarterback, Notre Dame.

1957 - John David Crow, running back, Texas A&M.

1958 - Pete Dawkins, running back, Army.

1959 - Billy Cannon, running back, Louisiana State.

1960 - Joe Bellino, running back, Navy.

1961 - Ernie Davis, running back, Syracuse. Davis was the first African-American to win the Heisman. He was drafted by the Redskins and traded to the Browns in 1962, but never played a game professionally. He was diagnosed with leukemia and died less than a year later in 1962.  Davis was the subject of a major motion picture, The Express.

1962 - Terry Baker, quarterback, Oregon State.

1963 - Roger Staubach, quarterback, Navy. After serving his four year military commitment, Staubach would go on to lead the Dallas Cowboys to two Super Bowl victories.

1964 - John Huarte, quarterback, Notre Dame.

1965 - Mike Garrett, running back, USC.

1966 - Steve Spurrier, quarterback, Florida.

1967 - Gary Beban, quarterback, UCLA.

1968 - O.J. Simpson, running back, USC. Few players would go on to be as famous, and as infamous, as Simpson. From acting in movies, to his many commercial endorsements, to his prowess on the football field, “The Juice” was a true icon during his time as a player. Unfortunately, these days he is remembered more for the alleged murder of his wife, for which he was found not guilty, and for the Las Vegas robbery incident, for which he served a lengthy jail sentence.

1969 - Steve Owens, fullback, Oklahoma.

1970 - Jim Plunkett, quarterback, Stanford.

1971 - Pat Sullivan, quarterback, Auburn.

1972 - Johnny Rodgers, running back, Nebraska.

1973 - John Cappelletti, running back, Penn State.

1974 - Archie Griffin, running back, Ohio State.

1975 - Archie Griffin, running back, Ohio State. The only player to ever win the Heisman twice, Griffin won four Big Ten championships, and was the first player to ever start in four Rose Bowls.

1976 - Tony Dorsett, running back, Pittsburgh.

1977 - Earl Campbell, running back, Texas. Texas Longhorns Heisman Winners Sports Memorabilia

1978 - Billy "Kung Fu" Sims, running back, Oklahoma. After football, Sims gained some notoriety by being one of the few players to have been confirmed to sell his Heisman.

Unconnected to the man, but connected to his name, was the fact that a fraudster was convicted in the biggest sports memorabilia scam in history, and was ordered to pay $24 million in fines and restitution. The scam involved a fake Heisman trophy and thousands of other bogus items. This is a good reminder that if you are in the market for football sports memorabilia, make sure to get it from a trusted, reputable dealer.

1979 - Charles White, running back, USC.

1980 - George Rogers, running back, South Carolina.

1981 - Marcus Allen, running back, USC.

1982 - Herschel Walker, running back, Georgia.

1983 - Mike Rozier, running back, Nebraska.

1984 - Doug Flutie, quarterback, Boston College. Star of one of the most memorable plays in the history of college football, Flutie is best remembered for his miraculous Hail Mary pass to defeat the University of Miami. While voting was completed before the game, Flutie himself believes he would not have won the award if the play did not happen.

1985 - Bo Jackson, running back, Auburn. Widely regarded as one of the most impressive athletes in the history of sports, Bo became a national phenomenon do in some part to the “Bo Knows…” Nike campaign. Bo is also the only person to ever become an all-star in two different professional sports as a running back for the then Los Angeles Raiders, and as an outfielder for the Kansas City Royals.

1986 - Vinny Testaverde, quarterback, Miami (Fla.).

1987 - Tim Brown, wide receiver, Notre Dame. Brown attended the college with the most Heisman recipients, Notre Dame. He was the last Notre Dame player to receive the award and the first wide receiver.

Heisman Trpohy Sports Memorabilia1988 - Barry Sanders, running back, Oklahoma State.

1989 - Andre Ware, quarterback, Houston.

1990 - Ty Detmer, quarterback, Brigham Young.

1991 - Desmond Howard, wide receiver, Michigan.

1992 - Gino Torretta, quarterback, Miami (Fla.).

1993 - Charlie Ward, quarterback, Florida State. Famously stating before the 1994 NFL Draft, "I deserve to be a first rounder," Ward decided that he wouldn't play football unless he was selected in the first round. He wasn't picked, and so he never played football as a pro.  As a consolation prize, Ward decided to play in the NBA, and remains the only Heisman Trophy winner to play basketball professionally in that league.

1994 - Rashaan Salaam, running back, Colorado.

1995 - Eddie George, running back, Ohio State.

1996 - Danny Wuerffel, quarterback, Florida. Eddie George Sports Memorabila - Heisman Trophy

1997 - Charles Woodson, cornerback, Michigan. As a cornerback or safety, Woodson is the only completely defensive player to receive the Heisman. He would later play for the Oakland Raiders and Green Bay Packers, receiving Defensive Player of the Year honors, and a Super Bowl Trophy, during his stint with the Packers.

1998 - Ricky Williams, running back, Texas.

1999 - Ron Dayne, running back, Wisconsin.

2000 - Chris Weinke, quarterback, Florida State. Weinke's storied career starts out as a Triple-A ballplayer for the Toronto Blue Jays. Recruited by Bobby Bowden into the Florida State system as a football player, Weinke became the oldest player to ever receive the Heisman at age 28.

2001 - Eric Crouch, quarterback, Nebraska.

2002 - Carson Palmer, quarterback, USC.

2003 - Jason White, quarterback, Oklahoma.

2004 - Matt Leinart, quarterback, USC.

2005 - Reggie Bush, running back, USC. Capping off a four year period where USC men won the Trophy three of four years, Bush dominated with the highest number of Heisman votes since O.J. Simpson. Bush would later vacate the award after an NCAA investigation proved that he received improper gifts while at USC, a direct violation of NCAA policy.

2006 - Troy Smith, quarterback, Ohio State.

Heisman Winners Sports Memorabilia

2007 - Tim Tebow, quarterback, Florida. Tebow was the first underclassmen to ever win the Heisman. However, Tebow went on to a very short, though widely publicized, NFL career, and is now playing professional baseball in the New York Mets minor league system.

2008 - Sam Bradford, quarterback, Oklahoma.

2009 - Mark Ingram, running back, Alabama. Though they are one of the most recognizable and storied programs in college football, Ingram was the first member of the Crimson Tide to receive the award.

2010 - Cam Newton, quarterback, Auburn.

2011 - Robert Griffin, quarterback, Baylor.

2012 - Johnny Manziel, quarterback, Texas A&M. One of the most polarizing players in recent history, “Johnny Football” was the first freshman recipient of the Heisman, and, at the time, was expected to be the first two-time winner since Archie Griffin in 1975. However, controversary surrounded Manziel since he won, causing a second trophy to elude him. The controversy would not end in the NFL, when after being drafted by the Browns, Manziel found himself without a job shortly thereafter. He is currently trying to spark a career resurgence however, as he recently joined the Canadian Football League.

2013 - Jameis Winston, quarterback, Florida State.

2014 - Marcus Mariota, quarterback, Oregon.

2015 - Derrick Henry, running back, Alabama.

2016 - Lamar Jackson, quarterback, Louisville. A touchdown scoring machine, Jackson is the youngest recipient of the award, winning it at just 19 years and 338 days old.

2017 - Baker Mayfield, quarterback, Oklahoma. Mayfield is the first walk-on to ever win the Trophy and was the first overall draft pick in the 2018 NFL Draft to the Cleveland Browns. Baker Mayfield Heisman Trophy Sports Memorabilia

Heisman Trophy Memorabilia and Sports Collectibles

Heisman trophy sports memorabilia seems to be just about everywhere. From autographed Heisman helmets, jerseys of the players to the actual Heisman Trophy itself. A few players have sold their trophies, often fetching a few hundred thousand dollars. 

Football fans have loved watching the incredible careers of the Heisman winners, and one of the most hotly debated topics in the sports world is who the next winner could be.

If you are looking to own your own piece of Heisman history, you can get all kinds of swag, collectibles, and sports memorabilia from all the Heisman trophy winners from the pros at Powers Sports Memorabilia. Matt Powers is a recognized national expert in sports memorabilia and is always glad to help a fan. Contact himtoday, and see how you can add to, or start, your own collection.

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