November 1935, the University of Chicago's Jay Berwanger received a telegram
from Manhattans Downtown Athletic Club, informing him that he had
won a trophy for being the most valuable football player east of
the Mississippi. The prize, then known as the Downtown Athletic
Club Trophy, was renamed the Heisman Trophy the following year.
Renowned for his
versatility, Berwanger played nearly every position on offense and defense.
During the 1935 campaign, he rushed for 577 yards, passed for 405, returned
kickoffs for 359, scored six touchdowns, and added five PATs for 41
Following the 1935
season, the Chicago Tribune awarded Berwanger the Silver Football as
the Most Valuable Player in the Big Ten. In a poll of the 107 opposing
team players he faced during his senior year, 104 said the six-foot,
195-pound Berwanger was the best halfback they had ever seen.
Berwanger was the
only Heisman recipient who was ever tackled by a future president of
the United StatesGerald Ford, during a 1934 game between Chicago
Jay was most
deserving of his Heisman Trophy. He could do it all, President
Ford recalled. He was an outstanding runner as well a passer and
kicker. I remember him fondly as one of the greatest athletes Ive
addition to his distinction as the first-ever Heisman Trophy recipient,
Berwanger was the first player chosen in the inaugural National Football
League draft in 1936. He was selected by the Philadelphia Eagles who
traded his rights to the Chicago Bears. Berwanger turned down the opportunity
to pursue a professional football career, citing low pay.
During World War
II, he enrolled in the United States Navys flight-training program
and became a naval officer. After the war, he established a plastic
and rubber manufacturing company in Chicagos western suburbs.
In 1954, Berwanger
was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. Then in 1989, he
was included on Sports Illustrateds 25-year anniversary All-America
team, which honored players whose accomplishments extended beyond the
Berwanger died during
the summer of 2002.