History and Background of the Heisman Trophy

By Dennis Phoenix
August 22, 2013 9:36 am
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Heisman Trophy Every high school football player dreams of winning the Heisman someday. For college players there is no higher honor than being named the winner.

A player doesn’t even have to win it to have champion status bestowed on him.

Just having his name come up as a potential candidate gives him instant credibility.

Every year in early December, before the postseason bowl games begin, the player considered the best in college football is presented the award.

This past year the trophy went to Johnny Manziel, quarterback for Texas A&M, garnering 73 percent of the votes. He made history while doing it for being the only freshman ever to take the trophy home.

Many great professional athletes have won the Heisman as a stepping stone to great professional football careers. But for all its esteem, many don’t know the history of this coveted trophy, how winners are chosen, or some of the stories surrounding it. Like all great trophies, the Heisman is worth taking a closer look at.

The History

The Heisman Trophy was created and first awarded in 1935 by the Downtown Athletic Club, a private social and athletic club in Lower Manhattan, New York City. That club was founded in 1926 but went defunct in 2002 as a result of the September 11 attacks, as it was forcibly closed for an extended period of time while clean up from the attacks took place.

The trophy was originally named the Downtown Athletic Trophy. The current namesake for the trophy is John Heisman, the original athletic director of the Club. After his death in 1936 the Club changed the trophy’s name to the Heisman.

The trophy was the creation of sculptor Frank Eliscu. The football player on the trophy is modeled after Ed Smith, a star player for the 1934 New York University football team. Eliscu knew Smith in high school and asked him to pose for a sculpture of a football player. Interestingly, Smith didn’t realize until 1982 that it was his likeness on the Heisman. In appreciation, the Downtown Athletic Club presented Smith with his own Heisman in 1985.

The trophy itself is made of cast bronze and weighs in at a hefty 25 pounds. It stands 13.5 inches tall.

The Selection Process

Many collegiate football fans are unaware of how the Heisman winner is picked. Although players from all levels of college football are eligible, the vast majority of winners come from Division I schools. 

Those qualified to vote for the winner are divided into three categories. The first category is comprised of sports journalists, for they are thought to be a well informed and impartial source of votes. This group is made up of 870 voters with an equal distribution of voters from six regions of the country.

The second category of voters is made up of previous Heisman Trophy winners. Currently there are 58 former winners eligible to vote.

The last vote is made up of the viewing public. In 1999, it was determined that the public would have an opportunity to vote through a survey collected on ESPN.com. All told, that brings the total number of votes to 929.

Each voter makes their top three selections ranking them in order. Their first place selection receives three points, second place two points, and third place one point. A separate accounting firm then collects and tallies the votes.

Dennis Phoenix is an avid sports fanatic and human resource specialist. He writes primarily on topics ranging from sports to employee satisfaction for Able Trophies. He spends his weekends watching sports or mountain biking.

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