Last year at this time I gave honor to the man who lent his image to the sculpture that is the Heisman Trophy, Mr. Ed Smith. Today I'd like to share a little background on the first Heisman winner, who won the 1935 Downtown Athletic Club trophy that would be renamed the Heisman a year later.
His name was Jay Berwanger. Born in Iowa, played college football at the University of Chicago where he was known as a "one man football team." The bruising running back would leave a scar under the left eye of Michigan center Gerald Ford, who'd go on to become the 38th President of the United States. The President was known for bragging about receiving the scar while making a tough tackle on Berwanger.
Berwanger's other first was to be the first player selected in the first NFL Draft ever held in 1936. Selected by the Philadelphia Eagles, his negotiating rights traded to George Halas and the Chicago Bears, Berwanger chose not to sign and went on to compete for a spot on the 1936 U.S. Olympic team in the decathalon. He wouldn't make the Olympics, nor would he go back to accept the offer from the Papa Bear.
Jay would marry, enter world war II and become a U.S. Navy flight instructor, attaining the rank of lieutenant commander. After the war he established a company producing plastic and rubber parts for the automotive industry. Jay Berwanger became a financial success and returned to his alma mater as one of its biggest supporters.
Today I'd like to honor and thank Jay Berwanger as a pioneer of the game we've all grown to love and cheer for come Sunday. To the original J Football of college sports, "We Salute You."