The Heisman Trophy

The Heisman Memorial Trophy Award is presented each year to the Outstanding College Football Player of the United States by the Downtown Athletic Club of New York City, Inc. This Club, more familiarly known as "The DAC", is one of the largest and best known Athletic Clubs in the United States. It occupies an entire 35-story building (completed in 1930), a landmark in downtown New York enjoying a commanding view of the North River and lower harbor. Facilities include 137 hotel rooms, seven banquet rooms, one dining room, state of the art fitness center, gymnasium, an Olympic pool, squash, handball, racquetball, basketball and volleyball courts. There are 2,000 members of the DAC who, by courtesy cards, are also welcome at other Athletic Clubs in major cities, both coast-to-coast and internationally.

Thus, it was quite appropriate that, in 1935, the Downtown Athletic Club further evidenced its devotion to sports by creating an annual award to the Outstanding College Football Player in the United States. It was decided to make the first award presentation at the close of the 1935 football season. Before that, however, a great deal of preparatory work had to be done.

First, the trophy itself - what should be its style, size and design? The traditional cup or bowl seemed too commonplace, lacked distinction and was in no way emblematic of the athletic talent to be honored and immortalized. The Club Trophy Committee decided after deliberation that the trophy should be the replica, in bronze, of a muscular footballer driving for yardage. To create this trophy, a well-known sculptor and National Academy prize Winner, Frank Eliscu, was engaged. He set to work at once selecting Ed Smith, a leading player on the 1934 New York University football team, as his model. In due course, Eliscu prepared a rough clay model. It was approved by the DAC Committee and sent uptown to Jim Crowley (one of the legendary Four Horsemen of Notre Dame), the Head Football Coach at Fordham, for his inspection. He showed the replica to his players who took various positions on the field to illustrate and verify the sidestep, the forward drive and the strong arm thrust of the right arm. Sculptor Eliscu closely observed these action sequences and modified his clay prototype to correspond. The result was a truly lifelike simulation of player action. It was then converted into a plaster cast, a step preliminary to ultimate production in bronze.

Named For Heisman
Before the time came to select the top collegiate gridiron star for the next year (1936), however, the DAC Trophy was accorded a special dedication and a new name. In 1930, John W. Heisman became the first Athletic Director of the Downtown Athletic Club. He was singularly qualified for this position by virtue of a outstanding athletic career. He played varsity football at Brown and Penn and then moved on to a success and stature in coaching comparable with such immortals as Alonzo Stagg, Pop Warner, Bob Zuppke, Percy Haughton, Clark Shaughnessy, Hurry-Up Yost and Knute Rockne. His coaching career spanned 36 years from 1892 through 1927 and included tours of duty at Auburn, Oberlin, Clemson, Georgia Tech, Akron, Penn, Washington and Jefferson, and Rice

Not only was John Heisman a gifted and winning football coach, but he was an outstanding student and historian of the game, and credited with major innovations.

After seven years as Director of Athletics at the Downtown Athletic Club, John W. Heisman on 3 October 1936 succumbed to bronchial pneumonia. As a fitting tribute to the memory of this distinguished American athlete and inventive football genius, the DAC Trophy was renamed the Heisman Memorial Trophy and awarded in 1936, and each subsequent year, to the outstanding gridiron star. In 1968, the Heisman Trophy Committee voted to award two trophies each year - to the winner and to the college or university he represents.
It was obviously an excellent idea for the DAC to sponsor an annual trophy presented to a super athlete of national stature, but who should select him? Coaches? No, because they might be prejudiced toward their own teams and might reflect, in the evaluations and voting, traditional or regional bias. Sportswriters on radio and (later) television seemed the most logical choice to make up a nationwide panel of informed and competent judges.

Heisman Balloting - How it works
Accordingly, the DAC established the following rules and balloting procedures by which Heisman winners have been selected, year after year. This method of determination has worked well although changes have been made over the years. The following paragraphs explain how the voting was done in the past:

"The Heisman Memorial Trophy Committee is national in scope, acts on all policies governing the voting and the awarding of the trophy, and supervises the balloting. It is composed of Club members, Sectional Representatives from the press, radio and television media, and a representative from each of the 50 states.

"The Committee has five Sectional Representatives. Don Criqui, now of NBC Sports, New York City, represents the East; Dave Campbell of the Waco Tribune-Herald represents the Southwest; Fred Russell of the Nashville Banner, the South; Maury White of the Des Moines Register and Tribune, the Midwest; and Tom Harmon, Tom Harmon's "Football Today" Los Angeles, California, the Far West.

"The State Representative keeps the file up to date on all eligible electors in his state. In 1976, there were 1,048 sportswriters, sportscasters and telecasters registered, who qualified for ballots. The ballots are mailed about mid-November.

"Each elector must vote for three players. His first choice receives three points; second, two points; and third, one. The player receiving the greatest number of points is the winner. This point system was originated by the Heisman Committee and eliminates sectional favoritism. THE DOWNTOWN ATHLETIC CLUB HAS NO VOICE IN SELECTING THE WINNER."

In 1977, it was decided to alter the ballot completely and change the structure of the Committee. "The East" section was divided into two section, namely, "Northeast" and "Mid-Atlantic", and a new Sectional Representative was appointed for the Mid-Atlantic, Pat Livingston of Pittsburgh; also, the fifty State Representatives were superseded in their duties by the six Sectional Representatives. Each of the six Sectional Representatives appointed 175 electors in his area, for a total of 1,050 voters nationwide.

In 1980, in an effort to maximize the annual Heisman Ballot Vote, State Representatives were reappointed to work in conjunction with the Sectional Representatives in the appointment of Electors and to assist in making certain that all Electors get their ballots in on time and properly executed.

In 1986, the accounting firm who performed the tallying of the ballots was changed from Pannell Kerr Forster to Deloitte & Touche.

In 1988, in view of the number of Electors who did not vote, voted too late, or returned ineligible ballots, the Heisman Committee elected to reduce the number of Electors from 175 to 145 in each of the six sections,. resulting in a total of 870 Electors (media); also to put the past Heisman winners, 51 in number at present, into a separate voting category, making a total of 921 Electors instead of the former total of 1,050 (media and Heisman winners). After much deliberation and study, the Heisman Committee felt that this change in the voting process was necessary in order to strengthen the body of Electors and, in the process, achieve the highest possible vote. In 1988 a new Sectional Representative was appointed for the Midwest, namely, Bob Hammel of the Herald-Telephone, now the Herald-Times, in Bloomington, Indiana to replace Maury White, who retired in January 1988. In 1996, Chuck Benedict of the Glendale News Press, Glendale, California became the Far West Sectional Representative replacing the beloved Steve Bailey who passed away. In 1991, James L. "Jimmie" McDowell replaced Fred Russell as the South Sectional Representative. Fred served in this position since 1953.

The Awarding Ceremonies Past and Present
From 1935 through 1976, early each December, the winning college player (as determined by the balloting outlined above) was brought to New York City along with his coach and dignitaries from his university. There, at a special convocation of past and current football luminaries, and with press, radio and television coverage, he was saluted as the Heisman winner of the year.

A week or so later, the winner was feted at a large formal dinner in New York to which all past Heisman Awardees were invited. At this gala banquet, replete with renowned personalities in sports, entertainment, government, politics, et cetera, the actual award was made to the year's Heisman winner with appropriate remarks by the winner and usually his coach.

Until 1973, this dinner was held at the Downtown Athletic Club. Popularity fully outran facilities in 1973, however, and in that year the Award Dinner was first held in the Grand Ballroom of the New York Hilton. It was held there in each of the succeeding years until 1986. Even this Grand Ballroom, however, did not begin to accommodate or provide for the myriad of fans who regard the Heisman as the most prestigious and significant award in the whole spectrum of amateur athletics. The Heisman is truly the most coveted individual collegiate award in America, and a Heisman winner becomes an instant hero to 84 million football devotees.

This unique trophy had been, though 1976, a local New York affair and only modestly publicized. In response to hundreds of letters and much urging from DAC members, however, the Officers and Governors of the Downtown Athletic Club, together with its Trophy Committee, decided that this Heisman Award was indeed an event of interest to great numbers of people outside the Club, and that the ceremony and the citation of the Heisman Winner deserved a far wider audience. That is why, in 1977, the President of the DAC and its Heisman Committee decided to present the award as part of an hour-long, prime time television spectacular. The program, designed to enhance the prestige of the Downtown Athletic Club and the Heisman Trophy as well as bring and exciting new sports special to television viewers, was broadcast live on December 8, 1977. In a departure from the previous years, the victor was announced at the dinner along with those other six outstanding players meriting the special DAC Awards.

Reflecting the changes in the realities of college football and recognizing the vital importance of linemen and defensive units, six new DAC Awards were presented in 1977, in addition to the Heisman Trophy. These winners received a distinctive, modern crystal sculpture 9 inches high, created especially for the DAC by Tiffany.

In 1978 we returned to the traditional format for announcing and presenting the Heisman winner. The balloting for the Heisman Trophy and DAC Awards was tallied by Pannell Kerr Forster. The DAC was notified of the results on November 28, and the media were informed of the balloting results at a Press Conference that day, where they talked with the victor; the Heisman Dinner and Presentation was held on December 7.

Providing an element of suspense for the formal Heisman Dinner, though, were the six outstanding players to be recipients of the special DAC Awards. These victors, the press and public were told, wouldn't be known until December 7.

The Heisman Memorial Award, its captor in 1978 - along with the winners of the DAC Awards and past Heisman winners - retained the limelight for themselves in 1978. In 1979, the Heisman Committee decided to discontinue the six special DAC Awards and only give out the Heisman Memorial Trophy.

In 1986, the Heisman Committee decided to make a change in the hotel site for the Heisman Award Dinner and Ceremonies to the New York Marriot Marquis in the Broadway Ballroom.