Football Profiles - VII
John Heisman - I
The namesake of the most prestigious award in college football was born in Cleveland OH in 1869 and grew up in northeastern Pennsylvania.
  • His first loves were baseball and acting. But young John also played on the football team at Titusville High School, although what was played was a combination of soccer and rugby. Though undersized, he played guard.
    John's father, a German immigrant, refused to watch his son play football. Mr. Heisman proclaimed that the game was "brutal ... a waste of time" that "should be prohibited."
  • An outstanding student, John gave the salutatorian address at graduation. A newspaper account of the ceremony praised his talk as "full of dramatic emphasis and fire" which earned it "well-merited applause."
    Well before Knute Rockne, Heisman would become known as a great motivator of his teams.
At age 17, Heisman left home to attend Brown University with an ultimate goal of becoming a lawyer.
  • He quickly learned that a different brand of football was played in New England from what he experienced in Titusville. The oval ball could be lateralled and kicked much easier.
  • Heisman became a 148-pound left tackle on a makeshift team of freshmen who played against boys from the town of Providence. He quickly learned to read the stance of the much bigger man across from him. This enabled him to sidestep blocks and make tackles or at least force the ball carrier into another gap.
  • However, his enthusiasm was dampened by the news that Brown had dropped its varsity football team. Heisman wrote later, "I had chosen my college badly. Brown had played such a rotten game during the several preceding seasons that the authorities had decided ... to abandon intercollegiate competition." So he slaked his football thirst by playing for a local club team.
  • He fared well academically at Brown for two years before transferring to the University of Pennsylvania. Penn had two advantages over Brown - a law school and an intercollegiate football team.
John Heisman at Penn in a pose
that would be memorialized
on a statue
The "football mad" Heisman (his words) joined the Quakers' varsity team for the 1889 season.
  • He was a substitute center that year and the following one but also played tackle in 1890. Then he started at end in 1891. At 160 pounds, he was the smallest lineman on the team.
  • Football rules were changed for the 1889 season to permit tackling down to the knees. Before that, a tackle was allowed only from the waist up to and below the head. Heisman had been a "high tackler" but changed his approach when he caused an injury to a teammate at practice. He chased down the ball carrier from behind and leaped on his back and neck. The added weight broke the runner's leg. Heisman recalled, "I grieved mightily over the accident and determined never again to make a high tackle."
  • His signature play at Penn came in the third game of the 1890 season against Penn State. Late in the game, the Nittany Lions went into punt formation. Hiking the ball to start each play wouldn't be invented for another five years. Instead the pigskin was pawed back to the QB, who picked it up, spun around, and passed it back underhanded to the punter. Calling on skills he learned as a gymnast, Heisman moved back a couple of feet, guessed the snap count, leaped over the center, and headed for the punter. Years later, he described what happened in the florid Shakespearean style he learned in drama classes.
    High in the air I leaped with both hands upraised. Did I block it with my hands? No! The durned thing found a hole between them just big enough to wiggle through, but it wouldn't get past my nose! Holy Kitty Cats of Isis! How it did smart! Another bloody nose for me and my eyes running tears as big as 'taters. But I took after that black comet [the football] as fast as I could, and, of course, along went Atherton [the punter]. Neck and neck we ran until he took a sudden dive at something I couldn't see well. He must have missed it, but dimly seeing something round and dark on the ground, I pounced on it like a duck on a June bug. The thing wiggled out from under my clutch, and a harsh voice snarled, 'What t'hell yah tryin' to do?!' It was Atherton's voice. I had mistaken his head for the ball. I wished then I had given it a swift kick! Meanwhile, Ammerman [John's teammate] had fallen on the ball for us and a touchdown.
    John was left with a battle scar that would remain with him the rest of his life.
An 1890 game against Rutgers at Madison Square Garden in New York almost ended Heisman's chance of graduating from law school.
  • The arena's lighting system was being serviced, which involved lowered the lights to the floor and working on them. As one of the units was being tested while the Quakers were practicing, the lights were turned on, "emitting noxious and acrid fumes." Heisman was nearby and his eyes were stung by the bright lights and hot fumes. Blinking back tears, he experienced blurred vision, which continued throughout the game.
  • When the team returned to campus after the 13-10 victory, he couldn't see to read. A doctor advised him not to read for six months to avoid blindness. He enlisted the aid of fellow students to review class material orally and petitioned the faculty to allow him to take all his law exams orally. The plan worked, and he received his law degree.
  • When he left Penn at age 22, still suffering from blurred vision, he wasn't sure what the future held.

His eyesight improving, Heisman accepted a position as football coach at Oberlin College, which was the largest college in Ohio - 1,492 students.

  • In addition to being the first professionally paid coach in the state, he enrolled as a postgraduate student in the arts department, which allowed him to play on his varsity team.
  • Heisman demanded that his players spend as much time focusing on the mental aspects of the game as the physical ones. He was among the first, if not the first, coaches to institute a system of audibles at the line of scrimmage and a script for his team's plays. The QB called a signal that indicated the script to follow for the next six offensive plays. The system was necessary because coaches weren't allowed to coach from the sideline. Only team captains were allowed to give instructions on the field.
  • Oberlin won all seven of its games, shutting out five of the opponents, including Ohio State (50-0).

    1892 Oberlin football team. Heisman is at the far left of the second row.
The season ended with a trip to Ann Arbor to take on Michigan. The Wolverines had defeated Amos Alonzo Stagg's Chicago Maroons 18-10 the week before.
  • On a playing field covered by several inches of snow, the visitors had to overcome the hometown referee. Heisman recalled, "Three times he called our halves back after long runs and stated that, in snapping, [the center's] had been offside." Nevertheless, the Yeomen forged an 18-10 lead.
  • Michigan drove to the Oberlin 20 behind runs by massive T William Pearson. Heisman recalled what happened next.
    This huge tackle took the ball and plowed 15y toward the goal. It took us all, like a pack of timber wolves, to bring him down. He struck the ground at the 5y line and rolled onto his back while his jersey pulled up exposing his abdomen. Quicker than a flash our end, Merriam, scooped up a double handful of "fleecy' [snow] and plopped it down on his bare tummy. Suffering wildcats! What a roar he let out, while simultaneously he dropped the ball and swung at Merriam's head. Instantly Carl Williams recovered the ball for us. The umpire saw the big tackle swing but not his provocation, so put him out of the game. Merriam's "cold-hearted" trick perhaps saved us the game.
  • Oberlin's players were under strict orders to return to campus that night lest they miss Sabbath services the next morning. So the captains had agreed to shorten the second half to end the game by 4:50 PM so the visitors could return to their hotel to shower and catch a train back home.
  • With less than two minutes left before the deadline and Oberlin trailing 22-18, the Yeomen took over on downs on their own 5.
  • HB Charles Savage dodged through the line and sprinted 90y to the Michigan 5. Two plays later, Oberlin scored a TD - worth four points in those days - to tie the game. With only a few seconds left, Oberlin kicked the two-point conversion to win the game 24-22.
  • At that point, a dispute broke out that has never been settled. The Oberlin timekeeper said the game was over because the clock read 4:50. But Michigan argued that four minutes were left.
  • As Oberlin's players left the field, the Wolverines lined up and ran a play. With no defense on the field, the ball carrier ran into the end zone. To this day, Michigan maintains it won the game 26-24 whereas Oberlin's records show the Yeomen victorious 24-22 to complete an undefeated season.

Continued below ...

Reference: Heisman: The Man behind the Trophy, John M. Heisman with Mark Schlabach (2012)
John Heisman - II
After just one year at Oberlin, Heisman moved to another Ohio college, Buchtel, for a year.
  • He became football and baseball coach.
  • The significant achievement of the football season was one of Heisman's many innovations. The custom at the time was for the center to begin a play by rolling or kicking the ball backwards. But this didn't work well because Buchtel's QB was unusually tall and frequently fumbled the ball as it came back to him. So Heisman had the center throw the ball up to the QB. Eventually, this technique evolved into the snap.
Heisman returned to Oberlin for the 1894 season.
  • Oberlin compiled a 4-3-1 record. Two of the losses were to Michigan and Penn State.
  • The 9-6 loss to Penn State had a controversial ending. In the last minutes, Oberlin, leading 6-4, punted from deep in its own territory. A Penn State player made a fair catch. According to the rules, that entitled PSU to a free kick. But instead of a return punt, the Lions set up for a place kick. The ball sailed over the crossbar of Oberlin's goal. Penn State claimed five points, the amount the rules awarded for a field goal. Oberlin claimed the kick was illegal and therefore worth nothing. The three officials, two from Oberlin, ruled the goal illegal, giving Oberlin the victory. However, the officials agreed to send a telegram to Walter Camp, the rules guru of college football. His return telegram said that the kick was legitimate. So Penn State won 9-6.
A tragic event in his personal life caused Heisman to leave Ohio.
  • His fiancee was diagnosed with tuberculosis which in those days was usually terminal. He wanted to marry her quickly, but she released him from his pledge to her.
  • Broken hearted, he invested most of his life's savings in a tomato farm in East Texas.
  • He might have been a promising football coach, but he was a failure as a farmer.
Fortunately, a college in need of a football coach found him.
  • The Agricultural and Mechanical College of Alabama at Auburn AL began playing football in 1892.
  • The Tigers finished 2-2 their first season, then 3-0-2 in the second year. However, they fell to 1-3 in 1894.
  • After four coaches in three seasons, Auburn yearned for stability. The football manager (essentially the athletic director in today's terms) caught Heisman at the right time. So John eagerly accepted his offer.

The South was years behind the northeast and midwest in football prowess in 1895.

  • So Heisman had to patiently explain his fundamentals and formations. However, he appreciated the enthusiasm of his young players, a few of whom had never seen a football game.
  • One of the plays the new coach installed was an "end-around" play that Amos Alonzo Stagg's Chicago team had pulled on Heisman's Oberlin squad. Stagg pulled his ends back from the line of scrimmage a yard or two and then run them around the other end like HBs.
  • He also used long lateral passes to get the ball to backs beyond the defensive ends. (Forward passing was over a decade away in college football.)

    1895 Auburn football team
    Heisman stands in the middle with his hands in his pockets
Despite approving Heisman's hiring, the Auburn administration had not fully embraced football.
  • The Tigers were allowed to play at most four games each season.
  • Wanting to keep their students away from the temptations of large cities, the board of trustees also approved a resolution that prohibited the football team from playing games at neutral sites.

The '95 Tigers played only three games.

  • They began with a trip to Nashville where they lost to Vanderbilt 9-6 in "mud ankle-deep." During the game, Heisman implemented his "hidden ball" trick for the first time. The Tigers shifted from the normal offensive formation to a "revolving wedge" around QB Reynolds Tichenor, who stuffed the ball under his jersey and dropped to one knee, pretending to nurse a sprained ankle. Then he suddenly burst out of the wedge and ran 35y to a TD.
  • Two weeks later, the Tigers blasted Alabama 48-0 in Tuscaloosa.
  • But the Tide were not Auburn's biggest rivals. That distinction belonged to Georgia.

In the third meeting of the South's oldest rivalry, the Tigers defeated the Bulldogs 16-6 before "thousands" of spectators on Thanksgiving Day at Piedmont Park in Atlanta.

  • Georgia was coached by another man who, like Heisman, would become a legend - Glenn "Pop" Warner. Also like Heisman, Warner had come to the south from the east where he played at Cornell.
  • Likewise, Warner was an innovator, introducing the numbering of plays, spiral punts, huddles, and the double-wing formation.
  • Heisman won the first round of the new rivalry 16-6.

1895 Auburn-Georgia game at Piedmont Park, Atlanta

Continued below ...

Reference: Heisman: The Man behind the Trophy, John M. Heisman with Mark Schlabach (2012)
John Heisman - III
Heisman coached two more seasons at Auburn.
  • The Tigers finished 2-1 in 1898 and 3-1-1 in 1899. Both seasons ended in controversy.
  • 1898: Auburn led 18-13 Georgia on Thanksgiving in Atlanta. Georgia (not yet known as the Bulldogs) scored a touchdown with about eight minutes left to play. The four points made it 18-17. But Georgia missed the extra point. The UGa players argued that Auburn was offside on the extra point, but the officials disagreed. So the Georgia captain led his players off the field in protest, an action that was condemned even by many of their supporters.
  • 1899: Playing Georgia in Atlanta again, Auburn led 11-6 with thirty seconds to play. With darkness having set in and excited fans surging onto the field, the referee called the game which, under the rules of the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association (SIAA) meant that the final score was 0-0. (It apparently never occurred to the SIAA administrators that the rule gave the losing team's fans an obvious way to void a game.)
Heisman left Auburn after the 1899 season.
  • Walter Riggs had brought Heisman to Auburn but left in 1896 for Clemson, where he organized a football team. When he was named head of the engineering department and then school president, he helped lure Heisman to Clemson for the 1900 season.
  • In his first season, Heisman's Clemson Tigers compiled a perfect 6-0 record to win the SIAA championship, outscoring opponents 222-10. Included was a 51-0 walloping of rival South Carolina. The 39-5 licking of Georgia included "fake passes, several variations of the old criss-cross, fake bucks and fake kicks, followed in such rapid succession that red and black's ends lost their heads and were easily fooled."

After a 3-1-1 record in '01, Clemson opened the '02 season with three wins.

  • The third one against Georgia Tech involved another Heisman deception but not on the field. The day before the game, a train full of Clemson cadets arrived in Atlanta. Tech boosters took them out on the town, inviting them to wild parties until the wee hours of the morning. Thinking there was no way the youngsters would be able to play a good game, the Techsters were confident of victory. Imagine their surprise when Clemson trounced the Blacksmiths (as they were known then) 44-5. Only then did they realize that Heisman had sent the scrubs, managers, and some student ahead with the equipment bags before taking a later train with his varsity players.
  • Heisman's success at Clemson was remarkable because the Tigers didn't have much time to practice. because of their academic and military commitments. Practice didn't start until 5:30 p.m. To have longer practices in the dark, Heisman painted the footballs white.
  • The annual game against South Carolina drew an immense crowd of 3,000. The Gamecocks won 12-6. But skirmishes between students of the two schools before and after the game led to USC suspending the rivalry until 1909.
  • Clemson closed the season with three wins, all shutouts over Georgia (36-0), Auburn (16-0), and Tennessee (11-0) to win their second SIAA title. The final game was played in a snowstorm and included the longest punt Heisman ever saw. With "a veritable typhoon blowing straight down the field" (to quote John), the Tennessee punter stood under the goal post on his end of the field and boomed a kick that shot over the head of the Clemson safety man who had set up 50y behind the line of scrimmage. The ball rolled until it died at the 1' line for a 109y punt!

L-R: Heisman Bust at Auburn, John Heisman at Clemson, Vet Sitton
One of the victories Clemson achieved during the 1903 season led to what one of the vanquished schools hiring Heisman to coach their team.
  • Heisman felt his '03 squad might be his strongest team. They certainly showed that on the field, defeating Georgia, Georgia Tech, and North Carolina State by a combined 126-0.
  • Between the Georgia and Tech games, the Atlanta Constitution praised the Clemson coach: "Heisman had good materials at hand and used it to the best advantage. He taught his men to work with their heads, their hands and every part of their bodies and he instilled into them the spirit which always wins games."
  • The Tech boosters read that Vet Sitton, the Tigers' star halfback, was injured and wouldn't play in the game. Wary after being tricked the previous year, their confidence was boosted when Heisman confirmed that Sitton would not play in the game. What they didn't know was that Vet's backup, Gil Ellison, was almost equally as good on offense and defense. Clemson didn't miss a beat, clobbering the Blacksmiths 73-0.
  • The Tigers lost to North Carolina 11-6 and tied Cumberland 11-11 to finish 4-1-1.
The Georgia Tech boosters decided, "If you can't lick 'em, join 'em" or rather "get their coach to join us."
  • The problem was that Heisman had other suitors. Auburn, Georgia, along with his current school, Clemson, all wanted him to coach their teams in 1904.
  • Tech's students held a meeting in November 1903 during which many of the 500 students agreed to pledge at least $5 to help in hiring John. The school's faculty also pledged money to supplement the $2,000 the students contributed.
  • Tech boosters cornered Heisman while his team's train to Montgomery was delayed in Atlanta for three hours. He agreed to accept their offer on condition that they not announce the news until after the game with Cumberland the next day.
  • Even though his players didn't know about his impending departure, Clemson had to rally to come from a 11-0 to tie the game, thereby losing the SIAA championship to Kentucky.
  • Georgia Tech agreed to pay Heisman a salary of $2,250 per year, plus 30 percent of the net gate receipts from its varsity football and baseball games. His contract bound him to the school through 1907.

After being a vagabond during his 11-year coaching career, John would stay at Georgia Tech through 1919, far longer than he had coached at any other school.

  • That period would see significant changes in the rules of football, including the inauguration of the forward pass that he had championed for years.
  • His tenure would also see the US go to war, with the concomitant impact on football and all other sports.

Continued below ...

Reference: Heisman: The Man behind the Trophy, John M. Heisman with Mark Schlabach (2012)
John Heisman - IV
When John Heisman, "the most successful coach in the south" (Atlanta Constitution), arrived at Georgia Tech as head coach in 1904, he did what he had done at every other school where he coached - he immediately improved the football program, which had enjoyed only two winning seasons in its 11 years of existence.
  • Using prison inmates, he converted an open space on campus for a practice field that would become the site of Tech's home games in 1905 - the precursor of Grant Field.
  • He insisted that all undergraduates learn to sing their alma mater and fight song. He told them that it was the duty of the student body to attend football games to cheer for their team.
  • As for his players, he forbade them for showering with hot water during the week because it was debilitating. He revamped the diet of is team, removing coffee, hot bread, pastries, and apples. He told the cooks to serve meat that was nearly raw and unseasoned.
  • He wanted his players to get at least eight hours of sleep every night and forbade them to smoke, chew tobacco, drink liquor, stay out late at night, gamble, bet on games, and eat candy.
  • And last but not least, Heisman demanded that his charges attend class regularly and fulfill all their academic requirements.
Heisman immediately produced a winning team in '04.
  • Despite having only thirty players, Tech went 8-1-1 in '04. The loss came to one of John's former teams, Auburn, and the tie was with another of his past schools, Clemson.
  • Most importantly, the Yellow Jackets defeated their archrival Georgia for the first time since 1893 - 23-6 at Piedmont Park in Atlanta. In fact, it was the first time Tech had scored on the Bulldogs in seven games.
    Heisman wrote in his autobiography about an unusual play in the '04 Georgia game: "It was last down and their ball, but they were so close to their own goal line that 'King' Sullivan had to get back nine yards behind the posts to punt. Holding signal drill on that Piedmont Field the day before I had noticed how close the high fence was to the east goal posts and pondered: 'What would happen if the ball were to fly over that fence during a game?' I even warned my men what might happen. It happened. 'King' spanked the ball hard and true and up it flew squarely against one post and bounded right back over the fence. Instantly, my men ran to the fence and leaped for rhe top. The Georgians, at first a bit dazed, now came running also, grabbing the legs of the Tech men and pulling them down from the fence. In turn, they started to climb and were pulled down. Along the fence there took place exactly ten fence climbing duels. My eleventh man, 'Red' Wilson, ran for a high stump in one corner of the field. Man alive! You can't imagine the excitement or the incitements. It was a mad house. At long last, 'Red' and the refereee got over first, and 'Red' found the ball. The referee announced: 'Touchdown for Tech.'"
In 1905, President Theodore Roosevelt - an avowed football fan - summoned coaches and athletic directions from Harvard, Yale, and Princeton to the White House.
  • The purpose of the meeting was to discuss how to improve football "by reducing the element of brutality in play" after a survey found that at least 45 football players died from 1900 to October 1905 from internal injuries, broken necks, concussions, or broken backs.
  • As a result of that meeting, the college football Rules Committee made significant rules changes for the 1906 season. The forward pass was legalized, the dangerous flying wedge formation was abolished, a neutral zone was created between the offense and defense at the line of scrimmage, the first down distance was doubled to 10y, which had to be gained in three downs. The length of the game was reduced from 70 minutes to two halves of 30 minutes each.
  • Heisman had been lobbying for the forward pass since 1903. He later said that his proposal was dismissed by the Rules Committee because "it would make the game too much like basketball." He had written a column for the Constitution in which he criticized the Rules Committee for its inaction and the sport's archaic style of mass play. He had offered two proposals: require the offense to gain at least eight years in three plays and legalize the forward pass.

1905 newspaper cartoon showing the Grim Reaper (Death) sitting on a goal post.
L-R: 1904 Georgia Tech team; 1916 Georgia Tech team
Tech had a winning record every season of Heisman's 16 years at head coach.
  • His 1905 squad went 6-0-1.
  • From the last two games of 1914 through the fifth of the '18, the Yellow Jackets were undefeated in 30 straight games, although there were two ties.
  • The 1917 team finished 9-0, shutting out seven opponents.
  • The Jackets' record was due in some measure to the fact that they rarely played road games since most schools were willing to come to Atlanta - a railroad nexus - for a good paycheck. Tech played only 16 road games during Heisman's tenure. The longest treks were to New Orleans to play LSU in 1915 and to Pittsburgh in 1918 and '19.
During the 1907 season, Heisman was involved in a scandal that centered around the use of players who were not college students.
  • After Tech defeated Georgia 10-6, a young sportswriter named Grantland Rice wrote in the Nashville Tennessean, "Of all the bare-faced and flagrant violations of collegiate sport, the stunt perpetrated by the University of Georgia in her game against Tech sets a new limit. The evidence has been turned over to us from several sources, absolutely reliable, that [Georgia] Coach Whitney used at least four ringers and probably more in the Atlanta conflict."
  • The Constitution reported that "the whole scheme was engineered and planned by a lot of gamblers, who hoped to reach a rich harvest off an unsuspecting Atlanta public by springing on Tech a team a great deal stronger than the one which has been representing Georgia in the games previously played."
  • The Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association suspended Georgia's entire football team. Coach Whitney was fired and banned from ever coaching in the SIAA again.
  • The Bulldogs responded with countercharges that Heisman was guilty of arranging cash payments for certain players and inducing another player with illegal benefits in that era when there were no athletic scholarships. The Association held a hearing that lasted for 16 hours and resulted in Tech being cleared of any wrongdoing.

October 7, 1916: Georgia Tech vs Cumberland
The game that is most remembered from Heisman's Georgia Tech stint revealed the dark side of his character.
  • Cumberland College was a one-year law school in Lebanon TN. The Bulldogs had played intercollegiate football since 1894. The 1903 team upset the likes of Vanderbilt, Alabama, LSU, and Tulane and tied Clemson 11-11 in Heisman's final game as Tigers coach. The Bulldogs were awarded the 1903 southern championship.
  • But by 1916, interest in football at Cumberland had waned, and a new president cut funding for the football team.
  • Cumberland scheduled a game against the Bulldogs that year in order to gain revenge for Cumberland defeating his Tech baseball team 22-0 that spring. He was convinced that the opponent had used ringers.
  • John offered Cumberland $500 to come to Atlanta for a football game. When the small college tried to back out of the game a few months later, Heisman threatened to impose a $3,000 penalty for breaking the contract.
  • So manager George Allen scoured the Cumberland campus for volunteers to form a team. They played at least four games that fall, including a 100-0 loss to Sewanee. 15 players arrived in Atlanta for the October 7, 1916, contest.
  • What transpired that Saturday set college football records that still stand today.
    Points scored by one team and margin of victory: Georgia Tech 222 Cumberland 0
    Offensive yards: 978
    Points in a quarter: 63
    Touchdowns: 32
    PATs: 30
    Interestingly, Tech recorded no first downs because they never needed more than two plays on offense to score a touchdown.
  • One of the reasons the score mounted so high was that many times when Tech scored, Cumberland exercised the option afforded them by the rules to kickoff rather than receive the kick.
  • And all this carnage occurred despite the fact that Heisman agreed to shorten the second half by 15 minutes to save the Bulldogs further embarrassment.
    The story is told that, late in the game, Heisman noticed a Cumberland player sitting on the end of the Tech bench.
    "Son, you're on the wrong bench. Yours is across the field."
    "No, sir, Mr. Heisman," replied the youngster. "This is the right bench. If I go over there, they'll put me back in the game!"
    Smiling, Heisman tossed the boy a blanket and let him stay.
  • After the season, Heisman explained why he had run up the score. He was trying to make a point to the sportswriters, who had the habit "of totaling up ... the number of points each team had amassed in its various games, and comparing them one to another. (This) was a useless thing, for it means nothing whatever in the way of determining which is the better of an evenly grouped set of college teams. ... So, finding that folks are determined to take the crazy thing into consideration, we at Tech determined this year, at the start of the season, to show folks that it was no very difficult thing to run up a score in one easy game, from which it might perhaps be seen that it could be done in other easy games as well."

To be continued ...

Reference: Heisman: The Man behind the Trophy, John M. Heisman with Mark Schlabach (2012)
Profile: Art Donovan
Arthur "The Bulldog" Donovan Jr. was one of two Pro Football Hall of Fame defensive linemen on the Baltimore Colts' 1958 and 1959 National Football League championship teams.
He weighed a whopping 17 pounds when he was born June 5, 1924, in a tough neighborhood in the Bronx, New York. His father, Arthur Donovan Sr., was the most famous referee in all of boxing during the 1930s and 1940s. His father's father, "Professor" Mike Donovan, was the world middleweight boxing champion in the 1870s. Both Mike and Arthur Sr. are enshrined in the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
He played football at Mount Saint Michael Academy in the Bronx despite suffering from osteomyelitis at a young age, a malady, as he admitted later, that he hid "from every coach and team doctor I've played for since." Young Arthur received a football scholarship to Notre Dame. But after one semester in South Bend when freshmen were not eligible for varsity play, he joined the Marine Corps in April 1943. He served in the Pacific during World War II and participated in some of the fiercest battles in that theater, including the famous Battle of Iwo Jima. He earned the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal and the Philippine Liberation Medal. Years later, he became the first pro football player inducted into the U.S. Marine Corps Sports Hall of Fame.
After the war, Donovan tried to enter hometown Fordham University, his first college choice all along. When that didn't happen, he decided to continue his college football career at another Jesuit school, Boston College. The arrival of the 6' 250-pound "son of the famous fight referee of New York" for spring practice in 1946 was duly noted in the Boston press. One of his teammates on the line was Ernie Stautner, who would also be elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Another member of the well-stocked line was Art Spinney, a future Colts teammate of Donovan. Since the NCAA had made freshmen eligible during the war, Art lettered four times at tackle or guard and helped the Eagles compile a 20-13-3 record. Donovan's #70 jersey was retired by his alma mater.

L-R: Art Donovan, Ernie Stautner, Art Spinney
The New York Giants picked Donovan in the 22nd round of the 1947 NFL Draft but, even though the Giants were his hometown team, he chose to stay in school. After his senior year, Baltimore chose him with their extra pick in the third round of the 1950 NFL draft. The Colts were one of three teams of the All-America Football Conference that were absorbed by the NFL for the 1950 season.
The 26-year-old rookie played in all twelve games at right defensive tackle for the Colts, who emerged victorious just once and became the only NFL team to surrender more than 50 points in four games. At the end of the year, the Colts owner, Abraham Watner, in financial distress, sold the team to the league, which folded the franchise and dumped all the players into the 1951 draft.
The Cleveland Browns drafted Donovan in the fourth round. But he started the preseason camp on the injured list. To get down to the 38-player limit for the regular season, the Browns sent Art and another player to the New York Yankees, who played in his home borough in the stadium where Art Sr. had refereed many championship bouts. The Browns got a 1952 draft choice in return. Art again played in all 12 games during the '51 season. The Yanks did slightly better than the '50 Colts, winning one game but also tying one.
In a recurrence of what happened to Art's first NFL team, the Yankees' financially-strapped owner Ted Collins sold the team back to the league. The NFL decided to grant a franchise to a Dallas-based group and assigned the entire Yanks roster to the new team. So Donovan moved again.
It didn't seem possible that his third NFL season could end worse than either of the other two, but it did. The winless Texans didn't even make it to the end of the season before the owners, unable to make payroll, threw in the towel. The team played its final two "home" games in Akron OH, where they upset the Chicago Bears to make it three seasons in a row that Donovan's club won but a single game. Art suffered a cracked bone in his ankle and a damaged knee in the sixth game that ended his season.
The next incarnation of Art's franchise would provide the stability he needed to fashion a Hall of Fame career. Wooed by NFL Commissioner Bert Bell, Carroll Rosenbloom agreed to form a group of investors to purchase the Dallas franchise and move it to Baltimore. The cost? $13,000.
The new Colts started 3-9 under Keith Molesworth - a poor record but for Donovan as many wins as he experienced in his first three NFL seasons combined. He started a streak of five straight seasons making the Pro Bowl. The next year, Weeb Ewbank came from the Cleveland Browns to take over the club and started building the foundation for a championship team five years later. 1954 began another five-year streak for Donovan of making at least one All-NFL team each year.
Finally able to sink some roots, the Bronxite married a local girl and spent the rest of his life in Baltimore. One of the most popular Colts, Art started a liquor store that he owned for 21 years.
When the Colts advanced to the championship game in 1958, how fitting that it was played in Yankee Stadium in Donovan's old stomping grounds in the Bronx. He helped the Baltimore defense hold the Giants to only 88 yards rushing on 31 attempts, a paltry 2.8 yards per carry.
The following season, the Colts and Giants met again for the championship. Baltimore's 31-16 triumph was not nearly as exciting as the previous year's classic.
Art characterized the great defense of the championship years like this: "We were in the same formation, a four-three, ninety-nine percent of the time. We never blitzed. They figured we should put pressure on the passer without the blitz, and we didn't want to blitz because we figured we were all doin' our job."
Donovan played through the 1961 season, missing only two games in his nine years with the Colts. The franchise retired his number 70 in 1962. Five years later, he became the first Baltimore Colt to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Hall of Fame center Jim Ringo of the Green Bay Packers said this about Donovan: "Some of the greatest football ever played by a defensive tackle was played by Art Donovan. He was one of the greatest people I played against all my life."
After retiring from football, Art fashioned a career as a self-deprecating comic story-teller, football's version of baseball's Bob Uecker (except that Uecker was not a Hall of Fame player). Donovan's teammates already knew that side of him. Dick Syzmanski: "Wherever Artie goes, people always crowd around him, and he makes them laugh. Isn't that a gift?" Art appeared on "The Tonight Show" with Johnny Carson multiple times and did ten stints on "Late Night with David Letterman." Letterman issued this statement on the occasion of Art's death: "We always looked forward to Art coming on the show because he would not only tell a great story, he just made you happy he was there. He was always humble and self-effacing, a guy from a different era of professional football who could make anyone laugh. We will miss him." Art also gained fame by appearing in TV commercials, including the Miller "Tastes great! Less filling!" series and one during Super Bowl XLI with Oprah Winfrey and Jay Leno.

Art Donovan and David Letterman
Donovan's most famous lines dealt with one of his main themes – his weight. "I was a light eater. When it got light, I started eating." And another: "Some people call it junk food. I call it gourmet food." On getting into shape: "The only weight I ever lifted weighed 24 ounces. It was a Schlitz. I always replaced my fluids."
Donovan died of a respiratory ailment August 5, 2013, at age 89 surrounded by his family.
Profile: Don Joyce
Don Joyce
Don Joyce played right defensive end oppo­site Gino Marchetti on one of the finest de­fensive lines in National Football League his­tory, that of the 1958-59 world champion Baltimore Colts.
Joyce was born in Steubenville OH October 8, 1929. Weighing 190 pounds going into his senior year, Don switched from end to quar­terback for the Steubenville Wells Big Red the second half of the season and handled the punting chores.
When Henry Frnka moved from Tulsa to Tu­lane of the Southeastern Conference as head coach in 1946, he threw out a recruiting net over a wide area that included the Midwest. One of the fish he caught was Don Joyce, who joined the Green Wave freshman class in 1947. Listed at 6' 190 pounds, Don made the traveling squad, but a leg injury knocked him out of action for a month. He played right end on the "B" team and did some punting. In the spring, Joyce threw the discus on the track team that also included another future NFL lineman, Jerome Helluin.
Joyce moved to tackle for the 1948 season. "Don has gained some weight over the spring and summer and he is a rugged fellow, and I believe that he just fits in better as a tackle," explained Frnka. Tulane enjoyed a 9-1 season but did not make a bowl game.
By his junior year, Joyce had bulked up to 230 pounds. Moved back to end, he was singled out for praise after the rough and tumble Vanderbilt game. "Joyce, who made life miserable for (quarterback) Jamie Wade, took a beating that two or three men shouldn't take." The Green Wave were on their way to the undisputed SEC title and a Sugar Bowl bid until they were upset by LSU in the annual finale 21-0 to end the season 7-2-1 and conference co-champs with the Tigers. That spring, Don finished fourth in the shot put and second in the discus at the Southeastern Conference Track Meet.
The highlight of Don's senior season came in the Notre Dame game at Tulane Stadium. "Tulane tackle Don Joyce, who ... pestered the Irish all afternoon, dropped (quarter­back Bob) Williams in the end zone for the two-pointer." When you shine against Notre Dame, you receive national attention. Joyce made the United Press All-American watch list the week after the game as well as the list of candidates for the Associated Press's All-Southern team and All-SEC teams. He also received several nominations for national Lineman of the Week.
Joyce was part of a senior class that helped Tulane compile one of the best three-year records in school history: 22-5-2. He was inducted into the Tulane Athletic Hall of Fame in 1979. With Tulane not in a bowl again, Don played in the annual Blue-Gray game in Montgomery AL.
The Chicago Cardinals chose Joyce in Round Two of the 1951 NFL draft (pick #18). Listed at 253 pounds, he played three full seasons with the Cards at right defensive tackle. Just before the start of the 1954 season, he was traded to the Baltimore Colts for guard Bill Lange and an undisclosed draft choice. He became the "other end" to Gino Marchetti with Art Donovan and Tom Finnin the tackles on Weeb Ewbank's first Baltimore eleven. The Colts improved from three wins his first year, to five the second and third seasons, then finished 7-5 in 1957 when Gene Lipscomb replaced Finnan next to Joyce.
According to his son, the most Don ever earned in pro football was $12,000 a year. So in 1956, he began supplementing his income for his family of three children by wrestling in the off-season. He worked primarily in the Baltimore area for promoter Vince McMa­hon Sr. Joyce's NFL contract would not allow him to work as a "heel" (bad guy). So he wrestled exclusively as a "face" (good guy), sometimes with "Big Daddy" Lipscomb.
Joyce made his only Pro Bowl in 1958 when the Colts won their first NFL championship. Wide receiver Raymond Berry spoke highly of Don when interviewed by reporters following his former teammate's death February 26, 2012. "He was such a popular player, very well known. He was a big part of our defense. In our championship years, the offensive players were aware that there was so much talk about our offense, but we knew the defense was always going to get us the ball. If we didn't get any first downs or scores, we knew the defense would get the ball back to us. Our defense was the backbone of our team. That's what we all knew. Don was one of our toughest guys. ... His size and strength was an unusual combination. ... He had a reputation for being the type that you could not block him or move him, you had to maneuver around him. You were not going to be running over him."
Off the field, Berry remembered Don as "more of an introvert. He was a team player. The guys on the team just loved Don Joyce. He was one of the most popular guys we had. He was the type of person teammates gravitated toward."
Joyce used the head slap in his battles with opposing tackles. During a 1958 game, Don broke the cheekbone of Roosevelt Brown, sending the New York Giants' All-Pro tackle to the hospital.
Don Joyce Jr. related an incident that illustrates his father's toughness. "In 1954, the Los Angeles Rams had a $100 bounty on my dad for anyone who could knock him out of the game. My dad warned the player, Les Richter, that he'd rip his head off. It hap­pened again, and my dad ripped the guy's helmet off and beat him with it. A hundred dollars was a lot of money back in those days."
Joyce earned a reputation as the biggest eater on the Colts – quite an accomplishment on an NFL team filled with giants like Gino Marchetti, Big Daddy Lipscomb, and Art Donovan. Teammates also remembered Don's odd preparation for each Sunday's game. "He ingested uppers, pills he got from long-haul truckers, that be bragged enabled him to stay up all night drinking beer, and that turned him into a demon the field. Joyce would stop eating and drinking completely every Wednesday night, and starve himself for the team's weekly weigh-in on Friday ... He would treat himself to a feast immedi­ately afterward."
Marchetti told a humorous story about Joyce's eating habits. "I asked my mother to send me some spaghetti sauce. She made homemade spaghetti sauce and spaghetti. Donovan was there and Joyce had just joined us. ... So we sat there and we drank wine and ate the spaghetti. Joyce musta ate three pounds. ... And then he reaches in, pulls out this little pill and puts it in his coffee. I said, ‘What's that for?' He said, ‘I gotta watch my weight.'"
After the 1960 season, Baltimore made Joyce one of eight Colts who would be available for the expansion draft. He was the most prominent of the three teammates taken by the Minnesota Vikings. Don played in all 14 games for the Vikings during the 1961 season.
Released by the Vikings, Joyce signed with the Denver Broncos of the American Foot­ball League and played in six games in 1962 before retiring. He returned to Minneapolis and coached football for five years at De La Salle High School.
Don spent most of the rest of his life scouting for NFL teams. He began with the Vikings, then became a regional scout for BLESTO (Bears Lions Eagles Steelers Talent Organization). Bill Tobin, who worked in the front office of several NFL teams, including the Indianapolis Colts, praised Joyce's skill. "He had a great personality and a great talent for finding players as a scout. I came into the league in 1971, and Don already was scouting with Minnesota. I first got acquainted with him when he was a BLESTO regional scout and I was with Chicago in 1975. He later became the national scout for BLESTO and did a great job. He picked out the best of the best. He had a knack for scouting. He didn't overwhelm you with his opinion, but you sure knew where he stood. When I got to Indianapolis in 1994, he was with the Colts. It was very comforting that he was in the organization. It was a big thrill to him that he played for the Colts, then was able to work with the Colts. It was comforting to have him in the draft room on draft day. He could identify players, and he was a great person. ... You hear stories about him as a player, how determined and how vicious he was. As an individual off the field, he was very warm, very gracious, made great appearances on college campuses when he was scouting."
Don and his wife survived a harrowing experience during a 1983 trip from Minnesota to Mobile for the Senior Bowl. A gunman broke into their motel room in Sikeston, Missouri. After taking their money, the robber forced Mrs. Joyce to tie up her husband. Then he gagged Don and forced him into the bathroom. While the gunman was preparing to rape his wife, Joyce worked his hands free and charged the man, who weighed about 275 pounds. During a struggle for the gun, Don was shot in the chest. Someone in a nearby room called the police, but the gunman fled before they arrived. The former NFL lineman credited the thickness of his body for saving his life.
Profile: Gino Marchetti
This is the last of the three biographies I wrote for the book The 1958 Baltimore Colts: Profiles of the NFL's First Sudden Death Champions. The book was a project of the Professional Football Researchers Association.

Gino Marchetti
Defensive end Gino Marchetti is one of six players on the 1958 Baltimore Colts who have earned election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He was also a member of one of the greatest college football teams that few have heard of. But before participating in football at the college level, Gino served his country with distinction.
Born the son of Italian immigrants in Smith­ers WV January 2, 1927, Marchetti enlist­ed in the U.S. Army after graduating from high school in Antioch CA, where he earn­ed the Most Valuable Player award as a senior. He served in the army as a machine gunner in the Battle of the Bulge shortly after turning 18. The war experience changed Gino as it did so many other ser­vicemen. "I was what you call, maybe, a little wild. ... I had gotten into a little trou­ble with one of the teachers. So they were going to throw me out of school. I had a choice: If I got thrown out of school, I'd have had to go home and face my father, or I could join the service ... Over there really changed me. When I heard the shells that first time, I thought about all the things in life that I did wrong to my mother. ... I made a vow that if I ever got home that my life would change, which it did. I became more responsible, a better family member than I had been."
Returning to California after the war, Gino wanted to continue playing football. "When I got out of the service in 1946, I still had an urge to play football, but I could not go to college to play football. I really was not good enough. Me and my buddies from Antioch High got together and formed a semi-pro team. We started playing local teams around the Bay area and Antioch, just to play. It was a lot of fun and good experience."
The following year, he attended Modesto (CA) Junior College. His play on the gridiron earned him eventual induction into the MJC Hall of Fame. An immediate reward was a football scholarship to the University of San Francisco. He started at left tackle for Joe Kuharich's undefeated 1951 team on which he was one of eight who played pro football and one of five who made at least one Pro Bowl. Among Gino's teammates were fellow Pro Football Hall of Famers Ollie Matson and Bob St. Clair. Marchetti won all-coast and all-Catholic honors in his senior season.
The '51 Dons, ranked #14 in the Associated Press poll as the calendar turned to November, were listed among a dozen teams under consideration for the Orange Bowl. But Florida law, like that of almost all other Southern states, prohibited integrated athletic contests. The Dons would be invited only if the team's two African-American players did not play. Marchetti and St. Clair chaired a meeting at which the players voted unanimously to reject any bowl bid that required them to leave their black players, Matson and Burt Toler, at home. After that, the four Southern bowls, Gator, Orange, Sugar, and Cotton, crossed the Dons off their lists. Without the money the bowl game would have provided, the University of San Francisco administration decided to end the football program. (The Orange Bowl claims that no invitation was ever sent to the University of San Francisco.)
Marchetti figured that was the end of his football career. "I was not that big, really. I was 6'4" or 6'5", but I only weighed 215. What I had going for me was I had the desire, that's for damn sure. I was also fast and strong for a guy that weighed 215."
The Dallas Texans, formerly the New York Yanks, picked Gino in the 2nd round of the 1952 NFL Draft and used him at left defensive end. Marchetti: "I was so excited about going to play professional football. However, I went to the most disorganized camp in the world. ... We didn't practice for six or seven weeks. When [head coach] Jimmy Phelan called practice, we really didn't practice. We would play volleyball – with a football – over the goal posts. Two-hand touch. We did a lot of running and fooling around, but I never saw a professional film. I am thinking, 'Is this really professional football?' ... I had just gotten married and I was thinking about giving it up, because that is not what I expected." After a dismal 1-11 season, the Dallas owner returned the franchise to the league, which transferred its assets, including all the players, to Carroll Rosenbloom, who moved the team to Baltimore.
After a frustrating season at offensive left tackle for Coach Keith Molesworth in the Colts' first year, Marchetti blossomed when new Coach Weeb Ewbank moved him to defensive end in 1954. Finally in his best position, Gino made the Pro Bowl every season from that year through 1964. He also made first team All-Pro from 1957 through 1962 and again in 1964. He admitted that he gained an edge on the blocker in front of him by anticipating the snap and beating it by a split second. "I guess about ninety or eighty-five percent of the time I played offside. I got into the neutral zone ..." When asked why officials didn't penalize him, he replied: "'I got warned a lot.' But they never threw a flag? 'No, because I'd get warned and I'd say, "Thanks a lot." Or after a play, I'd say, "How'd I look that time?" I tried to be nice. But I got as much as I could get. ... I wasn't way over ... but I was right on the border, just over the border.'"
Gino became the captain of the defense and an undisputed leader of the entire team. Teammates admired Gino not only for his rugged play in the football trenches but also for his military service in battlefield trenches. He gladly stayed after practice to help young linemen on both sides of the ball.
Marchetti played a central role in the most controversial play of the 1958 Championship Game. Leading 17-14 in the fourth quarter and trying to ice the game, the Giants faced 3rd-and-4 at their 40. Frank Gifford took a handoff and started to his right behind two pulling guards. Marchetti tackled Frank near the 44 just before Big Daddy Lipscomb came barreling in. Everyone in the pile got up except Gino, who stayed prone with what turned out to be a broken right ankle. Marchetti recalled: "I was able to slip my blocker and get out into the flow. Gifford ran right, and I tackled him. To make sure Frank didn't go any further, Big Daddy hit the whole pile. He just wasn't going to let anybody or anything get to the 44-yard line. Daddy, not Gifford, was the one who broke my ankle."
With the injured Colt lying right where the play ended, referee Ron Gibbs picked up the ball and held it until Marchetti was carted off. When Gibbs put the ball back down, he put it near his back foot instead of his front foot, according to Gifford and some of his teammates. When the measurement showed the ball a foot short, New York punted. Johnny Unitas then led the most famous drive in football history to tie the game.
Marchetti told his stretcher bearers to put him down just outside the sideline so he could watch the rest of the game. "After all those years when we were so bad, I wanted at least to see the finish." When the game went into overtime, the police made Marchetti move into the locker room. "They didn't want to, but they had to. 'It could end any second now,' they said. 'If the stands empty, you'll be trampled.'" The head trainer agreed with the move. Gino was on the verge of going into shock with the pain and the cold. Gino recalled the quiet of the locker room. "We were underground, and the crowd noise was muffled. There was no radio. It was terrible." When asked how much his leg hurt, he replied, "I'd have cried if I wasn't Gino Marchetti." Finally, Gino heard cleat sounds on the ramp to the door. "It burst open," recalled Gino. "And there was Buzz Nutter with the football, saying, 'We're world champions.'" Then Buzz gave the ball to his captain.
Gino continued his fine play the next season at age 32 when the Colts again beat the Giants to defend their title. He stood strong against the run and rushed the passer as well as anyone. If opponents double-teamed him, they opened the door for his fellow defensive linemen to get to the quarterback. Sid Gillman, coach of the Los Angeles Rams, called Marchetti "the greatest player in football. It's a waste of time to run around this guy's end. It's a lost play. You don't bother to try it.'" Forrest Gregg, himself a Hall of Fame tackle, told an interviewer: "Gino Marchetti was the best all-around football player I played against."
Marchetti explained his technique like this. "I was very, very, very quick. I loved to get my hands on a ballplayer. An offensive lineman has to set up. If I could get to him before he gets his strength, then I had an advantage. That's why I always loved bigger guys than smaller guys because bigger guys couldn't set up as quick. Or during a game they'd get lazy lifting all that weight. So my whole act was getting my hands on somebody. When I got my hands on him, he was mine."
Even when the schedule expanded to 14 games in 1961, Marchetti continued his streak of consecutive games that started in 1956 and ran through the 1964 season, when he retired at age 37.
With the encouragement and financial backing of Rosenbloom, Gino started a fast food restaurant business in the Baltimore area in 1959 with teammate Alan Ameche and other partners. Successful beyond his wildest expectations, the Gino's Restaurant chain expanded throughout the Northeast and needed his full attention.
However, he returned during the 1966 season at the behest of Rosenbloom after a rash of injuries hit the defensive line. Gino played in only four games and functioned more as an assistant coach. He retired again at the end of that season and never looked back. Marchetti entered the Pro Football Hall of Fame six years later.
In 1982, Marchetti and his partners sold their chain of over 400 restaurants to Marriott Corporation for $48.6 million. He later worked for the owner of many Wendy's Restaurants.
Today, Gino lives in a suburb of Philadelphia with his second wife, Joan.




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