Jay Berwanger was an American football halfback born in Dubuque, Iowa. He was the first winner of the Downtown Athletic Club Trophy in 1935 (the following year the award was renamed the Heisman Trophy); the trophy is awarded annually to the nation's most outstanding college football player. Berwanger had been a star at the University of Chicago, where he was known as the "one man football team".
Renowned for his versatility, Berwanger played nearly every position on offense and defense. During the 1935 campaign, he rushed for 577 yards, passed for 405, returned kickoffs for 359, scored six touchdowns, and added five PATs for 41 points.
In a 1934 game against the University of Michigan, Berwanger left his mark on Michigan center Gerald Ford in the form of a distinctive scar beneath the future President's left eye.
In November 1935, the University of Chicago's Jay Berwanger received a telegram from Manhattanís Downtown Athletic Club, informing him that he had won a trophy for being the ďmost valuable football player east of the Mississippi.Ē The prize, then known as the Downtown Athletic Club Trophy, was renamed the Heisman Trophy the following year.
Following the 1935 season, the Chicago Tribune awarded Berwanger the Silver Football as the Most Valuable Player in the Big Ten. In a poll of the 107 opposing team players he faced during his senior year, 104 said the six-foot, 195-pound Berwanger was the best halfback they had ever seen.
In 1936, Berwanger became the first player to be drafted by the National Football League (NFL) in its inaugural draft. The Philadelphia Eagles selected him but did not think they would be able to meet his reported salary demands of $1,000 per game. They traded his negotiating rights to the Chicago Bears for tackle Art Buss. Berwanger initially chose not to sign with the Bears in part to preserve his amateur status so that he could compete for a spot on the U.S. team for the 1936 Summer Olympics in the decathlon.
After he missed the Olympics cut, Berwanger and Bears' owner George Halas were unable to reach an agreement on salary; Berwanger was requesting $15,000 and Halas' final offer was $13,500. Instead, he took a job with a Chicago rubber company and also became a part-time coach at his alma mater. Berwanger later expressed regret that he did not accept Halas' offer.
After graduating, Berwanger worked briefly as a sportswriter and later became a manufacturer of plastic car parts. He was very modest about the Heisman and used the trophy as a doorstop in his library. The trophy was later bequeathed to the University of Chicago Athletic Hall of Fame. There is also a replica of the Heisman on display in the trophy case in the Nora Gymnasium at Dubuque Senior High School. He is a member of the Chicagoland Sports Hall of Fame.
Jay Berwanger | Larry Kelley | Clint Frank | Davey O'brien | Nick Kinnick
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