Is Anybody There?

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit,' says Yahweh Sabaoth" Zach 4:6 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Dio di Signore, nella Sua volontà è nostra pace!" . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." Ben Franklin 1759

Saturday, December 11, 2010

DBQ & the 1st Heisman Trophy

Tonite @ 8 pm EST the 76th Heisman Trophy winner will be announced. The ist trophy was awarded 75 years ago in 1935. At the time it was called the Downtown Athletic Club Trophy after the New York City organization that began the award. In 1936 John Heisman, athletic director of the DAC, died & the trophy was renamend after him.
The 1st winner (& the only DAC Trophy winner) was Jay Berwanger, halfback for the University of Chicago. Chicago was a part of the big 10 back then. In 1935 The Chicago Tribune awarded him the Silver Football for Most Valuable Player in the Big Ten. He called plays, ran, passed, punted, blocked, tackled, kicked off, kicked extra points, & returned punts & kickoffs. He also accumulated a list of nicknames: "Genius of the Gridiron," "the One-man Team," "the Flying Dutchman"* & "the Man in the Iron Mask" because of the special face guard he wore to protect his twice-broken nose.

But what is not so well known is that John Jacob "Jay" Berwanger was from DBQ. Or that he was also given a duplicate of the 1st award which now resides at Dubuque Senior High School. It is on display in the trophy case in the Nora Gymnasium. & yes, I have seen it.
Another little known fact is that he is the only Heisman recipient who was ever tackled by a future president of the United States. During a 1934 game against Michigan he was tackled by Gerald Ford. Talking about it later Ford said "When I tackled Jay in the second quarter, I ended up with a bloody cut and I still have the scar to prove it. Jay was most deserving of his Heisman Trophy. He could do it all. He was an outstanding runner as well a passer, he could kick, punt, and make field goals–and in those days the ball was round so it was much harder to throw. He and I had met several times in the years since that game and I remember him fondly as one of the greatest athletes I’ve known."
Berwanger is also known for another 1st. He was the first player chosen for the National Football League during its first-ever draft in 1936. He was signed by the Philadelphia Eagles. Then Coach George Halas of the Chicago Bears acquired the signing rights. Berwanger asked for $25,000 over two years. Halas decided that was too much money, so Berwanger ended up never playing as a pro.
At Senior he also excelled at wrestling & track. He was also named an all-state halfback. Besides playing football at Chicago he also competed in track & field. In 1936 he set a school decathlon record. It stood for over 70 years until it was broken by Zach Rodgers in 2007.
Other winners also have Iowa ties. 1939 winner, Nile Kinnick was from Iowa, played for Iowa & has the stadium there named for him. 1947 winner Johnny Lujak lives in Bettendorf, IA, has a car dealership in Davenport named after him & is the oldest living Heisman winner. 1954 winner Lino Dante "Alan" Ameche is a cousin to Don Ameche who attended Loras College. Don Ameche was married to DBQer Honore Prendergast & is buried in St. Philomena's Cemetery in Asbury/DBQ.
The announcement of Berwanger's win was on 9 December 1935. Tonite's winner will be the 76th. & while many winners went on to fame, & occasionally infamy, Berwanger will always stand out in my mind is not only the 1st, but probably the best college football player to ever win the trophy.
* Berwanger was of German ancestry. Like me, his German ancestry was probably Pennsylvania Dutch. That name came from the German word "Deutsch" used by the immigrants to describe themselves. My dad was nicknamed "Dutch" for that reason, hence the "Flying Dutchman" nickname probably had more to do with his German ancestry than anything else.


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