The Heisman Memorial Trophy Award, or simply the Heisman Trophy for short, is considered the most prestigious award given to a college football player. It was named after college football player and coach John Heisman. The athlete who receives the Heisman can consider the achievement the single greatest reward for an outstanding college football career.
So why, up until just recently, has the Heisman Trophy been marked as the kiss of death (both figuratively and literally)?
Consider this: the very first Heisman winner was Chicago University halfback Jay Berwanger. Berwanger was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles, but declined to sign for the team and never played a down of professional football.
The very first black participant of the Heisman was Ernie Davis in 1961. The Syracuse halfback also never played professional football, because he died of Leukemia in 1963.
Check out these names: Andre Ware (1989), Ty Detmer (1990), Desmond Howard (1991), Gino Torretta (1992), Charlie Ward (1993), Rashaan Salaam (1994), Danny Wuerffel (1996), Ricky Williams (1998), Ron Dayne (1999), Chris Weinke (2000), Eric Crouch (2001) and Jason White (2003).
All Heisman winners – all busts in the NFL.
Ward never even played in the NFL because friends, coaches and his agent told him that he would have better success in the NBA. He just retired after the 2004-’05 NBA season from what most would call a decent career, so maybe the advice was pretty good.
Of course not all players are subjected to the Heisman “jinx”, however. O.J. Simpson (1968), Jim Plunkett (1970), Tony Dorsett (1976), Marcus Allen (1981), Hershel Walker (1982), Bo Jackson (1985), Tim Brown (1986), Barry Sanders (1988), Eddie George (1995) and Charles Woodson (1997) have all enjoyed very productive careers in the NFL.
Recently, the award has been given to a few athletes that have already had a margin of success and show a bright future in the NFL. Carson Palmer (2002), Matt Leinart (2004) and Reggie Bush (2005) all look like future NFL stars, with Palmer’s name already being listed in that category.
The most recent Heisman winner was Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith, who had a fantastic senior season, but was crushed in the BCS National Championship by Florida. Smith is likely a first day selection in April’s NFL Draft, but time will tell if he can live up to his Heisman collegiate career.
While no athlete will ever turn down the prestigious award, there are more than enough examples of athletes that should sigh a breath of relief that they were considered just a “Heisman hopeful”. Yet, the award will always be recognized as the pinnacle of an outstanding collegiate football career.
Interesting facts about the Heisman Trophy
- Notre Dame and USC house the most Heisman Trophy winners in college football at seven apiece. However, the Irish only have one winner in the last 40 years (Tim Brown in 1987) while all of the winners for the Trojans have been awarded in the past 40 years. USC has three winners in four years (Carson Palmer, Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush), which is an amazing feat in college football.
- Only one player has won the Heisman Trophy twice, and that was Ohio State running back Archie Griffin. Griffin won the award back to back in 1974 and 1975.
- Charles Woodson (1997) is the only defensive back to ever win the award.
- The trophy is made of cast bronze and was modeled after 1934 New York University star athlete Ed Smith.
- The first junior to win the award was Doc Blanchard for Army in 1945.
- In 2004, for the first time in the history of the Heisman, two athletes faced off against each other in the same game. Oklahoma QB Jason White (2003) squared off against USC QB Matt Leinart (2004) in the Orange Bowl for a National Championship. Also for the first time in the history of the trophy, four Heisman finalists participated in the very same Orange Bowl game (White, Leinart, Reggie Bush and Adrian Peterson).
- In 2004, Helix High School became the first school to have two alumni (Alex Smith and Reggie Bush) as simultaneous top five finalists.
- The halfback/running back position has won the trophy 41 times while the next closest position is quarterback at 22.
Profiles of Past Winners
We’ve created profiles of some of the past Heisman winners
Reggie Bush, RB, USC
Web Guide to information on the Heisman Trophy
Find out about the history of the Heisman Trophy and its winners at Heisman.com.
Check out all the past Heisman Trophy Winners at NationalChamps.net.
Relive Past Heisman Trophy Stories
Ohio State’s Smith wins 2006 Heisman in a landslide
In the second most lopsided victory in Heisman Trophy history, Ohio State’s Troy Smith takes home the ’06 award.
USC’s Bush wins Heisman by monumental margin
USC’s electric running back Reggie Bush wins the ’05 Heisman Trophy.
Matt Leinart of the University of California selected as the 2004 Heisman winner
Matt Leinart, the man who took over under center after Carson Palmer at USC, became the sixth Trojan to win the Heisman.
White beats out Fitzgerald for Heisman Trophy
A year after serious knee injuries almost cost him his football career, Oklahoma quarterback Jason White wins the ’03 Heisman over standout wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald from Pittsburgh.
Palmer crushes competition for Heisman Trophy
Carson Palmer of USC won the ’02 Heisman in less-than dramatic fashion, blowing past Iowa quarterback Brad Banks by 233 points.
Ironically, Nebraska quarterback Eric Crouch nipped Florida’s Rex Grossman for the ’01 Heisman Trophy. It’s ironic because Grossman just competed in the ’06 Super Bowl while Crouch was a failed converted safety that isn’t even in the NFL anymore.
“Old Man River” Chris Weinke of Florida State won the ’00 Heisman...at 28 years old.
Why Heisman doesn’t mean NFL fame
Supporting evidence that the Heisman Trophy doesn’t necessarily bring NFL success.
The Great Heisman Injustice
The Heisman Pundit.com discusses whether or not Michigan defensive back Charles Woodson really deserved the Heisman Trophy over Tennessee quarterback Peyton Manning in ’97.
2007 Top Heisman Favorites
Here is an early look at the 2007 Heisman Trophy candidates.