[ Show ]
Support VoyForums
[ Shrink ]
VoyForums Announcement: Programming and providing support for this service has been a labor of love since 1997. We are one of the few services online who values our users' privacy, and have never sold your information. We have even fought hard to defend your privacy in legal cases; however, we've done it with almost no financial support -- paying out of pocket to continue providing the service. Due to the issues imposed on us by advertisers, we also stopped hosting most ads on the forums many years ago. We hope you appreciate our efforts.

Show your support by donating any amount. (Note: We are still technically a for-profit company, so your contribution is not tax-deductible.) PayPal Acct: Feedback:

Donate to VoyForums (PayPal):

Login ] [ Contact Forum Admin ] [ Main index ] [ Post a new message ] [ Search | Check update time | Archives: 12345678[9]10 ]
Subject: Jay Berwanger, Winner of First Heisman Trophy

dies at 88
[ Next Thread | Previous Thread | Next Message | Previous Message ]
Date Posted: June 28, 2002 2:10:32 EDT

Jay Berwanger, who in 1935 became the first winner of the Heisman Trophy as the outstanding player in college football and then became the first player ever drafted by the National Football League, died Wednesday at his home in Oak Brook, Ill. He was 88.

In an era when the University of Chicago played in the powerful Big Ten, Berwanger, at 6 feet and 195 pounds, played tailback in a single-wing offense. In the three seasons from 1933 to 1935, he ran, passed, punted, kicked off, kicked extra points, blocked, tackled, caught passes, returned kickoffs, called the plays and played 60 minutes a game.

In his 23 college games for a mediocre team, he rushed for 1,839 yards and scored 22 touchdowns. On defense, he played linebacker for the first three downs, then dropped back to return the punt. Once, he made 14 tackles against Minnesota in one half.

He was an all-American in 1934 and 1935. He was the team captain and the president of the senior class.

When Berwanger was honored as the top college player, he received the Downtown Athletic Club Trophy. The trophy was renamed in honor of John Heisman, the club's athletic director and a former player and renowned coach, after Heisman's death in 1936.

Coach Francis Schmidt of Ohio State called Berwanger the best back his team had faced since Red Grange. Christy Walsh, the football historian, called him "a defensive backfield all by himself." Red Barber, the broadcaster, called him "the greatest college player I ever saw."

Morry Rosin, a friend in college and later years, said: "Teams had suicide squads that went after Jay. To get him out of the game meant a cinch win."

Still, Berwanger missed only one game, and that because of a knee injury. When he broke his nose, he became one of the first college players to wear a face mask attached to his helmet. He had broken the nose before in high school, and as he once recalled, "I was told if I broke it again, I wouldn't have any nose left to repair."

He gave as well as received. Two years before Gerald R. Ford, who had played center at Michigan, became president, he and Berwanger talked about a previous meeting.

"When I tackled Jay one time," Ford remembered, "his heel hit my cheekbone and opened it up three inches."

Berwanger said: "When we met again, he turned his cheek and showed me a scar on the side of his face. He told me, `I got this trying to tackle you in the Chicago-Michigan game.' "

As good as Berwanger was, he never played pro football. The Philadelphia Eagles drafted him and offered him $125 to $150 a game, a good salary in those days. He declined, saying, "I thought I'd have a better future by using my education rather than my football skills."

The Eagles traded his rights to the Chicago Bears, but their owner-coach, George Halas, never made him an offer.

"He asked me what I wanted," Berwanger said years later. "I said $25,000 for two years and a no-cut contract. We shook hands, said goodbye, and he and I have been good friends ever since. They just couldn't afford to pay that kind of money. But if I was getting out of school today with the kind of publicity I had then, I'd be playing pro."

John Jacob Berwanger was born March 19, 1914, in Dubuque, Iowa, and starred in high school football there. In college, in addition to his football achievements, he was an outstanding decathlete.

He was unimpressed by his football fame. For years, he had no space at home for the Heisman Trophy, so it sat in his Aunt Gussie's home. She used it to keep the front door open, allowing cool breezes in.

With Berwanger's graduation, Chicago was unwilling to pay the price of big-time college football. It dropped football after the 1939 season, then revived it 30 years later on a small-college level.

During World War II, Berwanger was a Navy flight instructor, rising to the rank of lieutenant commander. After the war, he founded a company that made plastic and sponge-rubber strips for car doors, car trunks and farm machinery. When he sold the company in 1992, it was grossing $30 million a year.

Berwanger stayed in football as an intramural coach at Chicago and then as a Big Ten game official. In 1954, he was voted into the College Football Hall of Fame.

He is survived by three children, John Jay Berwanger of Winnetka, Ill., Cuyler Berwanger of Downers Grove, Ill., and Helen Berwanger Tierney of Onaway, Mich., from his marriage to the former Philomela Baker, who died in 1975; three stepchildren, Barbara Fuchs of Palos Heights, Ill., Joseph M. Temple of Johns Island, S.C., and Marianne Gerwig of Naperville, Ill., from his marriage to the former Jane Temple, who died in 1978; 20 grandchildren; and 13 great-grandchildren.

[ Next Thread | Previous Thread | Next Message | Previous Message ]

[ Contact Forum Admin ]

Forum timezone: GMT-5
VF Version: 3.00b, ConfDB:
Before posting please read our privacy policy.
VoyForums(tm) is a Free Service from Voyager Info-Systems.
Copyright © 1998-2019 Voyager Info-Systems. All Rights Reserved.