Heisman Trophy Analysis: What Is Notre Dame's Sway On The Award?

By TD McGann
December 08, 2011 9:31 am
1,733 Views 3 Comments
History, Hype, & Folly
True, as ballyhooed all over the airways, the Heisman Memorial Trophy is indeed The Most Prestigious Award in College Football, if not in all the world of sports. 

However, true are a few other pertinent facts about it:
1.  It is inappropriately named.
2.  It is inarguably political.
3.  It is controlled with an iron fist.

Since 1935, the inaugural year of the award, only four times has it gone to a receiver.  All the other times, save one, it has gone to either a running back or quarterback. The one time it went to a defensive player was 1997, when Michigan’s Charles Woodson won it.  However, although excelling in defense at cornerback, he also played some pretty spectacular offense too catching passes, and returning punts and kickoffs. Linemen and linebackers have never won the award. Forty-one and twenty-nine times respectively have Running backs and Quarterbacks  won the Heisman.

Comparing running backs to quarterbacks is as senseless as comparing Apples to Oranges

Nevertheless, because there is not a lobby for either linemen or for linebackers or for any other players, things are going to stay just as they are.  Running backs and Quarterbacks is “just fine” and has been “just fine” ever since 1935.  However, the built in bias – even against Quarterbacks – cannot be gainsaid.  The Trophy’s design appears to be of a Running back.  Maybe not ‘though, the ball carrier may actually be a Quarterback, or for that matter, a petite lineman running with a recovered fumble.  In any case the ballcarrier’s stiff-arm is right smack in the face of everyone who sets his eyes on him!

The only evident reason for ignoring this slight is due to how the game has evolved over time.  In the early years, players played both ways.  With smaller squads back then, often injuries would call on teammates to play any one of several positions. Those were the days of the “60-minute Men.”  Those days and those men have long since gone.  Today, as with the rest of our forever-evolving society, football players are specialists.  Blockers block and tacklers tackle, but blockers can’t tackle well and tacklers can’t block well.  Ironically, worst of all are usually the Running backs and Quarterbacks: the former are egregiously bad blockers and the latter are even more egregious as tacklers.

Moreover, Why fix something that isn’t broken?  Evidently, it isn’t broken in the money-grubbing view of the members of the Trust.  It’s doin’ “just fine” – could scarcely be doin’ better.  Money is being made, hand over fist.  The weeks and weeks of hoopla leading up to the mid-December’s gala award ceremony is bringing in tons of the green stuff.  Not only do the Trust’s coffers swell,  but also their associates’.  Primarily, four TV networks are charged with the task of keeping the hype going, and they do so unrelentingly, season long. These networks are - to no one’s surprise - ESPN, CBS Sports, ABC Sports, and NBC Sports.

It wasn’t long before the Trust’s annual bonanza was noticed by other enterprising sources.  In 1937, the Maxwell Award was founded.  It was founded for the very same reasons - to make some money and to honor the most outstanding college football player, namely a Running back or a Quarterback.  With the computer era having just begun, new markets developed, so in 1967 the Walter Camp Award was inaugurated. Likewise, this award was for the nation’s most outstanding college football player, i.e. a Running Back or a Quarterback.  In 1998, with the computer era burgeoning evermore, the Johnnie-come-lately Associated Press Player of the Year Award was inaugurated – again, it went to a Running Back or Quarterback.

Four awards for the same singular distinction, although surfeiting fan’s interest somewhat, have helped to mitigate the politics to a degree, but only to a small degree.  By comparison to the Heisman award, the other three awards have scarcely gone noticed.

More interesting than hearing about Apples and Oranges should be learning about the genesis of the Heisman award.  Originally it was named after the Downtown Athletic Club in New York City, where John W. Heisman served as its first director. 

John Heisman was a player playing many positions at Brown as an undergraduate and at Penn as a law student. During a span of three decades, he coached seven football teams, ranging from Oberlin’s in his home state Ohio, to the University of Pennsylvania’s, to Washington and Jefferson’s, to Clemson’s, Georgia Tech’s, Auburn’s, and Rice’s - many of his teams having gone undefeated.  His greatest accomplishment occurred in 1906 when, after several years of trying, he finally prevailed upon Walter Camp and Camp’s fellow commissioners to change the rules of football to allow the forward pass.  In his last five years of life, after retiring from coaching, he wrote articles about his football passion for American Liberty, Colliers, and the Sporting Goods Journal,  the last for which, in addition, he worked as editor.  When  he died in 1936 of pneumonia, the Downtown Athletic Club voted unanimously to rename the award in honor of this great man.

Another great man, had picked up the pigskin and forwarded it, so to speak.  This man, like Heisman, was one of the coaching greats; like Heisman he knew the importance of promotion and how to use a pen to catapult his team into history immemorial.  Even with the joint duties of athletic director and coach, he wrote a weekly column for years peeking the public’s interest in the game.  However, this man was never considered as the heir apparent of Heisman’s, for he died in 1931, four years before the Downtown Athletic Club first opened its doors.  This man was Knute Rockne.   

Although Knute had passed on, three of his protégés carried the torch for love of the game and love of their alma mater.  In slightly differing degrees, they were instrumental in founding the Downtown Athletic Club and maintaining sway on how the soon-to-be most coveted award would be handled from that time onward.  All three men were head-football coaches of prestigious Catholic colleges, all three were members of the Rochne’s famed backfield, The Four Horsemen of Notre Dame.   Elmer Layden was one, he coached at his alma mater.  Harry Stuhldreher was another, he coached at Villanova.  Jim Crowley was the other, he coached the Fordham Rams in the Bronx.  In fact, it was one of Crowley’s players who posed for the sculptor of the bronze ballcarrier.  Frank Eliscu is the sculptor’s name. 

Fordham University is where another player would rise to glory and later take up his predecessors’ gauntlet.  Crowley was this young man’s head coach and Frank Leahy (later to succeed Layden at Notre Dame) was this player’s line coach.  The young man was Vince Lombardi.  He rose to greatness as a member of the team’s renowned line, dubbed The Seven Blocks of Granite


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By TD McGann
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Previous Comments (3)

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3 years ago
a history that needed retelling in clearly written fashion.
3 years ago

I only now found your flattering comment. Please keep commenting. Thanks.
3 years ago
This is a good blog. I should write more like this, huh!

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