April 10, 2012
This week, as the John Heisman bust is installed at Jordan-Hare Stadium, we take a moment to remember the man for whom the most celebrated award in college football history is named. In the 76 years of awarding the Heisman Memorial Trophy, Auburn is the only University coached or attended by John Heisman to have a winner.
While known for his innovations to the game of football, Heisman was an eccentric man, and stories of him have entertained sports historians for decades.
John William Heisman (or more accurately Johann Wilhelm) was born in 1869 in Cleveland, Ohio, grew up in Titusville, Penn., and eventually attended both Brown University and Penn, playing football for both institutions. He began coaching in 1892 at Oberlin and in 1895, he became the fifth head football coach at Auburn University, where he stayed for five years (1895-99) compiling a 12-4-2 record.
Instead of pursuing a career in law, Heisman chose coaching after suffering damage to his eyes from the lighting system at Madison Square Garden during a Penn indoor football game.
An innovator, he developed one of the first shifts, had both guards pull to lead an end run, and had his center toss the ball back, instead of rolling or kicking it. He was a proponent of the legalization of the forward pass in 1906 and he suggested that the game be divided into quarters instead of halves.
During his career, Heisman coached not only football, but basketball and baseball as well.
Heisman became the athletics director of the former Downtown Athletic Club in Manhattan, New York. In 1935 the club began awarding a Downtown Athletic Club trophy for the best football player east of the Mississippi River. On December 10, 1936, just two months after Heisman's death on October 3, the trophy was renamed the Heisman Memorial Trophy.
He was the first paid football coach in the country making $2,250, plus 30 percent of gate receipts. He sent out nightly for ice cream for the family poodle. He hated profanity and made his team take cold showers after practicing, leaving hot water for gameday.
Below are many other documented antics of Heisman:
THE TRICK PLAYS
At the Alabama Polytechnic Institute - later known as Auburn-Heisman first used the hidden ball trick against Vanderbilt. He told his quarterback to slip the ball under his jersey and bend down to tie his shoelace while everyone else scattered. The quarterback scored easily.
THE JUNIOR VARSITY FAKE-OUT
In 1902, Heisman and Clemson outwitted their Georgia Tech opponents. The day before the game, Clemson hopped off the train in Atlanta, checked into a hotel and proceeded to party until dawn. Tech fans, who saw all this and couldn't wait to bet on the game, didn't see another train of Clemson players-the varsity, not the decoy -arrive Saturday morning. The varsity, well-rested after a quiet night in Lula, Ga., trounced Tech 44-5. 
RUNNING UP THE SCORE
While most notably known for his namesake award, Heisman posted a record which should stand through football history, thanks to that 222-0 game in 1916. At the time, national champions were being selected based on total points scored and allowed. Heisman thought this ridiculous and set out to prove it. He seemed to pick a specific opponent to prove the point. Cumberland's baseball team allegedly had beaten Heisman's Georgia Tech baseball team the year before, 22-0. Cumberland's football team was barely more than a pickup squad. Legend has it that the group stopped at Vanderbilt to try to recruit players on the way to Atlanta. Instead, three players defected to Vandy.
DIDN'T WANT THE HEISMAN AWARD
Heisman thought the proposal of an individual award for college football "absurd." "How could one player be singled out as better than his peers? How could an offensive specialist be looked upon as more valuable than a defensive man? How could a halfback be more essential than a lineman who made it possible for the back to gain yardage?" But when the group overwhelmingly went for it, Heisman went along, and the first award was given out in 1935. Heisman died the next year. Two months later, the award was renamed in his honor.
THE ASPIRING THESPIAN
Heisman was also a Shakespearean actor off the field and was known for his use of polysyllabic language in coaching. This is exemplified in his speeches, one of which is given here. He was known to repeat this annually, at the start of each season, in order to encourage his team.
"What is this? It is a prolate spheroid, an elongated sphere in which the outer leather casing is drawn tightly over a somewhat smaller rubber tubing. Better to have died as a small boy than to fumble this football." 
ALMOST NOT THE HEISMAN TROPHY
Wilkinson also related how this could have been the von Bogart trophy all these years, how Heisman's father was a German immigrant and son of a man named Baron von Bogart. The Baron disapproved when his son married a peasant girl from Alsace-Lorraine and disinherited him. In turn, the son took his wife's name, "Heisman," and moved to America. 
 "Creating the Big Game: John W. Heisman" by Wiley Lee Umphlett
 Heisman biography by Jack Wilkinson, Atlanta Journal Constitution
 Tech Traditions, Georgia Tech Alumni Association
 Samuel T. Pees, http://www.petroleumhistory.org/OilHistory/pages/Heisman/john_heisman.html
 "Heisman John William". Heisman's Bio. Answers.com. http://www.answers.com/topic/heisman-john-william. Retrieved 2007-09-23