Who Was This Heisman Guy and Why Does He Get a Trophy?
Saturday night, three athletes waited nervously to see who would be named the 2012 Heisman winner, an award given annually to the season's most outstanding college football player. Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o and Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein were all up for the coveted award.
In a bit of a surprise, it was Manziel (aka "Johnny Football") who walked away with the hardware at the presentation in New York City. The first freshman to win the Heisman, Manziel earned 474 of 928 first-place votes, and bested Te'o who was the nation's most decorated athlete this season and the player many thought would be the first purely defensive player to win the award.
But beyond all the hype and celebration, you might be wondering who exactly was this Heisman guy behind the bronze statue.
John Heisman may be associated with the trophy now, but he started out as a rather average American player and coach in the early days of football. After playing for Brown and then Penn as a collegiate athlete from 1887 to 1891, Heisman became a coach at a series of schools including Oberlin, Buchtel, Auburn, Clemson, Penn, Washington & Jefferson, Rice, and, most notably, Georgia Tech, where he coached for 16 years.
Heisman Trophy: Credit Image: © Scott Terna/Cal Sport Media/ZUMAPRESS.com
Heisman is credited with a number of pioneering innovations in the sport of football, including some now routine stuff like snapping the ball. Originally, centers placed the ball on the ground and rolled it back to their quarterbacks. When Heisman was coaching at Buchtel (which became the University of Akron), he had a quarterback that was 6'4" tall and he needed to come up with a more efficient way to get the ball in his QB's hands. Heisman also innovated the use of pulling guards for running plays and the infamous hidden-ball trick.
Heisman is also known for some notorious pranks. While coaching at Clemson in 1902, his team traveled to Atlanta for a game against Georgia Tech and began partying upon arrrival . When Georgia Tech heard that the Clemson squad had spent the night before the game carousing, they prepared to coast to an easy win but Clemson routed them 44-5. Turns out the “team” that everyone had seen partying wasn’t the Clemson squad at all. Heisman had sent his junior varsity players to Atlanta to serve as drunken decoys, then quietly slipped his varsity team in on a morning train right before the game.
After leaving his last head-coaching job at Rice in 1927, Heisman became the athletic director at New York’s Downtown Athletic Club. In 1935 the club began awarding the Downtown Athletic Club Trophy to the nation’s top college football star. Heisman died of pneumonia the following fall before the second trophy could be awarded, and the club voted to rename the prize the Heisman Memorial Trophy Award.
The famous “Heisman pose” (depicted in the statue) is actually based on Ed Smith, a former NYU running back who modeled for his buddy,sculptor Frank Eliscu in 1934. Interestingly, Smith went for years without knowing that he’d modeled for the famous trophy. He remained oblivious to his spot in football history for 48 years until a documentary filmmaker called Smith to interview him about the Heisman in 1982.
There's some great history behind the Heisman trophy, but Saturday night belonged to Manziel. For years, seniors dominated the award. In the 1980s, juniors started becoming common winners. Tim Tebow became the first sophomore to win it in 2007 but it took 78 years for a newbie to take home the big bronze statue.
‘‘It’s such an honor to represent Texas A&M, and my teammates here tonight. I wish they could be on the stage with me,’’ he said with a wide smile, concluding his speech like any good Aggie: ‘‘Gig’ em.’’
What's even more amazing is that Manziel, who just turned 20, didn’t even win the starting spot until two weeks before the season. However once he had the job, Manziel broke 2010 Heisman winner Cam Newton’s Southeastern Conference record with 4,600 total yards, led the Aggies to a 10-2 in their first season in the SEC and orchestrated an upset at then-No. 1 Alabama in November that stamped him as legit.
To celebrate the Heisman win, Manziel will be immortalized on a billboard in Times Square for at least the next 24 hours. The ad, bought by Texas A&M, reads:
"They call him Johnny Heisman. The 12th Man stands a little taller today as we congratulate Aggie quarterback Johnny Manziel, winner of the 2012 Heisman Trophy."
Congrats Johnny Football. Being only a freshman, we can't wait to see what is next.