A little Heisman history from Loel Schrader

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe I heard Chris Fowler of ESPN refer to Jay Berwanger as the ``first winner of the Heisman Trophy'' during Heisman ceremonies tonight.

Wrong. The trophy wasn't named after acclaimed college coach John Heisman until a year later and you wonder why. After all, Heisman, while coaching at Georgia Tech in 1916, demonstrated his sportsmanship by running up a 220-0 score against Cumberland, reportedly because he thought Cumberland ran up a baseball score against Tech a year earlier. The football score is the most lopsided margin in college football history.

To say Berwanger was underwhelmed by news of his selection would be an understatement. I talked to him about 25 years ago while putting together a story on trophy winners, and this is how he said he responded to a call from the Downtown Athletic Club informing him of his selection.

``I'd never heard of the trophy,'' Berwanger recalled. ``I was at my fraternity house when I got the call and I had no idea what the guy was talking about. But he told me the club would be flying me to New York to receive the award, and that made me really excited. Remember, this was 1935 and I had never been on an airplane.''

Berwanger also said winning the trophy didn't do much for him in his negotiations with the Chicago Bears, who had obtained negotiating rights from Philadelphia, which had drafted the Chicago running back.

``I ran into George Halas (Bears owner) at a banquet one night and he asked me how much money I wanted to sign. I told him, and got a funny look from him. I never heard from the Bears again.''

But, said Berwanger, the Bears snub didn't bother him. ``I was writing a weekly column for a Chicago newspaper and giving speeches all around. I was making more money that way than I ever would have playing professional football.

Berwanger started a company that manufactured plastic auto parts and became wealthy. He died at 88 in 2002.

Want some more Heisman stories? OK, here goes.

When Frank Leahy was coaching at Notre Dame, he had a great player named Johnny Lattner, good on both sides of the ball. Notre Dame publicist Charlie Callahan thought Lattner would be Heisman worthy and proposed a trophy campaign for the kid from Chicago. No, Leahy told Callahan, he'd handle the campaign himself. Lattner won the Heisman in 1953.

Years later and retired in Miami, Callahan recounted the campaign -- between convulsions of laughter. ``I'll tell you what he did. Everytime a sportswriter would come to the Notre Dame campus, Leahy would bring up Lattner and say, `The lad is just wonderful to his mother.' Over and over and over, he said it. And, sure enough, Johnny won the Heisman.''

Don't want to bore you, but one more.

Bear Bryant was coaching at Texas A&M in 1956 and his publicist was Jones Ramsey, one of the world's funniest and talented guys. Bryant wanted Ramsey to push John David Crow for the Heisman, but after about three games, Ramsey thought they faced a crisis.

``I don't think John David was averaging more than about 40 yards a game,'' Ramsey would recall years later. ``On a Monday morning, I told the coach I didn't think our campaign was going anywhere. The Bear rubbed his chin, thought for awhile, then said, `Start an FRO category and see what you can do with that.' I asked him what FRO stood for and he said, `Folks run over. Keep track of how many people John David runs over every game and make that your selling point.' Well, we did -- and John David Crow won the '56 Heisman Trophy. I don't think he had more than 550 or 600 yards rushing for the entire season, but he had a Heisman.''

Incidentally, Jones Ramsey moved on to the University of Texas, where he directed a successful Heisman campaign for Earl Campbell. Guess what? He had a YAC category (yards after contact). But Earl didn't need it.

Have fun, folks. You can't win 'em all -- unless you're just wonderful to your mother.


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