The Man Behind the Trophy
Publication Date: October 2, 2012
To the select fraternity of men who have won the Heisman Trophy since its inception in 1935, the award is so much more than just a football trophy. The Heisman is a national symbol of collegiate football experience and competitiveness. Over time, it has become the single most celebrated individual award in all of American sports.
Although the Heisman Trophy is old, it does not age. If anything, its impact gets stronger every year. No other individual award captures the country’s imagination like the Heisman does. From the very first time toe meets leather to kick off a college football season, fans across the country begin debating which players will be the top Heisman Trophy candidates.
While the Heisman Trophy is the most famous individual award in sports, very little is known about John W. Heisman, the man the Downtown Athletic Club of New York chose to honor in 1936 by naming its national player of the year award for him.
In Heisman: The Man Behind the Trophy, John M. Heisman, the legendary coach’s great-nephew, and New York Times bestselling author Mark Schlabach offer college football fans across the country the first authorized and definitive biography of the man whose life has been memorialized by the Heisman Trophy.
After combing through thousands of pages of Heisman’s personal documents, writings, playbooks, and never-before-published correspondence with some of college football’s most famous coaches, the authors have chronicled Heisman’s life from a young boy growing up on the oil fields of northwest Pennsylvania to eventually becoming one of the sport’s most innovative and successful coaches.
John M. Heisman is founder of Heisman Group, Ltd., a family-owned business established to preserve the legacy and memory of John W. Heisman and the development of American football. He lives in Toledo, Ohio, with his wife.
"Journalist Mark Schlabach and John M. Heisman, great nephew of John W. Heisman, draw on numerous media accounts as the basis for Heisman’s story. The result is a nostalgic look at a bygone era and the evolution of football through the life of one of its early innovators."
“I didn’t get the chance to know Coach Heisman, but having an opportunity to win the award has allowed me to learn about him. Probably the first thing you learn about is his integrity and the way he conducted his life. I have been impressed with the men who have won this award and hope that I live up to the name Heisman as they do. It has been an honor to be a part of an award that stands for integrity and excellence!”
-—Ty Detmer, Brigham Young University Heisman winner, 1990
“My greatest honor has been to win the single greatest award in all of amateur sports—the Heisman Trophy. This trophy is named for one of the best college football coaches ever to pace the sidelines, John W. Heisman. As I am one of the few Heisman winners to become a coach, I consider it a huge privilege to represent the coaching profession and the Heisman Trophy.”
-—Coach Steve Spurrier, University of Florida Heisman winner, 1966
“I am honored to be the recipient of the 1969 Heisman Trophy, which is named after a true coaching legend. John Heisman was dedicated to the game of football and the athletes who played it with passion and integrity. He was a man of excellence, principles, and sportsmanship. This book is a tribute to his enduring legacy.”
-—Steve Owens, University of Oklahoma Heisman winner, 1969
“In this book we finally find out the history of John Heisman and why the most prestigious trophy in America is named in his honor.”
-—Archie Griffin, Ohio State University Heisman winner, 1974 and 1975
“Winning the Heisman Trophy was one of the most memorable events of my life. And to this day the December announcement of the winner captures the attention of the entire nation. Since 1935 the Heisman Trophy has been awarded to the most outstanding college football player in the country. Most people easily identify with the name Heisman because of the award but don’t know much about the history of the man it was named after. This book tells the story of the incredible life and accomplishments of the man and the coach John W. Heisman.”
-—John Cappelletti, Pennsylvani a State University Heisman winner, 1973
“When I won the Heisman Trophy in 1959, I didn’t know anything about John Heisman or the Heisman Trophy. I knew Heisman was involved with the Downtown Athletic Club of New York at one point in his career and had been an accomplished and successful college football coach. If it’s not the most important trophy in sports, it has become the most recognized trophy over time. When you’re playing football, you’re playing for the moment. To be recognized as the most outstanding player of an era was a wonderful experience. Looking back fifty years later, it was a wonderful experience to be recognized for your efforts and your team’s efforts. I can’t wait to learn more about John Heisman.”
-—Billy Cannon, Louisiana State University Heisman winner, 1959
“To be a member of the most prestigious fraternity in sports is a supreme honor. As a new name is added to the trophy each year, winning the Heisman becomes more important to each past winner. All of us are grateful to John W. Heisman; this book outlines the remarkable history of the man and the trophy that carries his name.”
-—Joe Bellino, United States Naval Academy Heisman winner, 1960
“I was born in the same year as the first award of the Heisman Memorial Trophy. Within that year, our first athletic director, John W. Heisman, passed away. In my position as athletic director at the Downtown Athletic Club, we annually met with and honored our nation’s best college football players. In 1971, I was fortunate to meet Coach Heisman’s family, William L. Heisman and his son, John, and became keenly aware of the great man’s reputation and some of his influential history. I am glad that Coach Heisman’s life story is now being told and I’m glad for the Heisman family that tells it.”
-—Rudy Risk a, Executive Director Emeritus of the Heisman Memorial Trophy and coauthor of 40 Years at the Home of the Heisman
“Leon never put a monetary value on the Heisman Trophy. He never felt comfortable trying to capitalize on receiving it. To him, that trophy represented the hard work of his teammates and his coaches. He felt there were a dozen guys on his 1949 team who were befitting of the honor. To him, the trophy stood for character,
perseverance, and integrity, and it marked him for the rest of his life. He felt an obligation and a reverence to the tradition of the Heisman. To never disgrace what it stood for. To bring honor to those who came before him and to those who would come after him. He lived his life with that heavy responsibility and he instilled those values in his children and grandchildren.”
-—Kevin Hart, on behalf of Leon Hart, University of Notre Dame Heisman winner, 1949