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University of Chicago Department of Athletics & Recreation

Jay Berwanger

In November 1935, the University of Chicago's Jay Berwanger received a telegram from Manhattan's 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 points.

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 States – Gerald Ford, during a 1934 game between UChicago and Michigan.

"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 I've known."

In 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 Navy's flight-training program and became a naval officer. After the war, he established a plastic and rubber manufacturing company in Chicago's western suburbs.

In 1954, Berwanger was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. Then in 1989, he was included on Sports Illustrated's 25-year anniversary All-America team, which honored players whose accomplishments extended beyond the football field.

Berwanger died during the summer of 2002.