John Heis­man: Col­lege foot­ball’s first great coach

The Fresno Bee (Sunday) - - On Tv -

Col­lege foot­ball’s high­est honor is be­stowed upon another de­serv­ing young ath­lete when the 2018 Heis­man Tro­phy Pre­sen­ta­tion airs Satur­day, Dec. 8, on ESPN. There’s plenty of talk about this year’s top can­di­dates, es­pe­cially Alabama quar­ter­back Tua Tago­v­ailoa. But what is known of the man who gives the tro­phy its name­sake?

The Heis­man Tro­phy is named af­ter John Heis­man, who spent nearly his en­tire life in­volved in foot­ball. He was con­sid­ered a charis­matic fig­ure with a deep voice and ap­peared to be headed for a ca­reer on the act­ing stage. Although he did en­joy some side work as an ac­tor, coach­ing col­lege ath­let­ics be­came his pro­fes­sion and his even­tual legacy. His act­ing skills were even­tu­ally shown in his dra­matic team speeches.

Over a ca­reer that spanned 35 years, Heis­man not only coached foot­ball, but also base­ball and bas­ket­ball. Auburn, Clem­son, Ge­or­gia Tech and Rice were among his em­ploy­ers. His leg­endary sta­tus grew, as did his sport, af­ter the turn of the 20th Cen­tury. How­ever, foot­ball had be­come vi­o­lently dan­ger­ous, to the point where Pres­i­dent Teddy Roo­sevelt de­manded it be made safer. The re­sult was Heis­man’s de­vel­op­ment of the for­ward pass and later, the jump-shift, both of which evolved to be key el­e­ments of the game of foot­ball as we know it to­day.

Heis­man’s fi­nal job was di­rec­tor of the Down­town Ath­letic Club in New York City, which in 1935 be­gan of­fer­ing an award to col­lege foot­ball’s most valu­able player. Af­ter his death in 1936, the tro­phy was re­named the Heis­man Me­mo­rial Tro­phy. We’ll have a new win­ner Satur­day night.

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