Wednesday, December 9, 2015

The First Heisman & Jay Berwanger of UChicago, 80 Years On

Jay Berwanger
Eighty years ago today the Downtown Athletic Club awarded its first Heisman Trophy to Jay Berwanger as college football’s most outstanding player.  He was the star halfback of the University of Chicago Maroons, in the team’s waning years as a Big Ten powerhouse.  That alone is a great trivia question. 

Berwanger was also a great track and field athlete, and for many years held a school record in the decathlon.  He tried out for but did not make the 1936 Olympics team in that competition.  In 1936 he became the first player drafted in the first ever NFL draft – the second great Berwanger trivia question.  The Philadelphia Eagles selected him then traded the negotiating rights to the Chicago Bears, but owner George Halas and Berwanger could not agree on a salary so Berwanger never played pro football.  Typical Halas, who over his long history with the Bears gained a reputation as a tightwad.  Berwanger eventually went into business, and passed away in his suburban Chicago home in 2002 at the age of 88.

His Heisman Trophy is on display at the University of Chicago.  I clipped a photo of it from the UChicago website; I don’t think they’ll mind. 

Speaking of the Heisman, at a school charity auction a few years ago I had the good fortune to win a football signed by 20 Heisman Trophy winners, donated by Johnny Lattner, the 1953 Heisman winner and star at Notre Dame and Fenwick High School in suburban Chicago Oak Park.  Lattner's signature is just to the left of the figure of the player.

R Balsamo

No comments:

Post a Comment