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Heisman Trophy

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Every December, after the bright lights of college football’s regular season have dimmed, a handful of tremendous athletes take the stage at the Downtown Athletic Club in New York City to find out who will win the Heisman Trophy. Created to honor the most outstanding player over the course of the year, the trademark pose of the bronze prize is emulated all over the world by athletes at all levels – from Pop Warner to the Southeastern Conference.  The oldest award in the sport, it is named after the Club’s former director, John Heisman.

History

Before the award was first presented in 1935, sculptor Frank Eliscu was commissioned to design what has become one of the most sought-after personal awards in all of sports.  He turned to a high school friend, Ed Smith, to be the model due to his prowess on the field for New York University’s football team.  Fifty years after Jay Berwanger won the first Heisman Trophy, Smith – unaware that his likeness had been used in this manner until 1982 – was presented with special edition to commemorate his participation in its design.

A unique structure is laid out to ensure voting encompasses the full gamut of college football – hundreds of teams play across all levels and every single player is eligible, though the award has been given out solely to those who have competed at the top NCAA division.  The Heisman Trust divides the country into six regions and selects 145 members of the media from each, asking them to rank the top three players according to an “informed, competent, and impartial” evaluation.  Similarly, the surviving Heisman winners are asked for their opinions, with the recent addition of a fan vote, as well.  Candidates receive three points for each first place nomination, two for second and one for third.  The winner is then determined by a compilation of the points received.

For the most part, the Heisman has been presented without much in the way of controversy.  Though some argue there is a bias toward players from universities east of the Rocky Mountains, recipients are generally regarded as the best among several great choices in the end.  Only once has the award been returned, when 2005 winner Reggie Bush was found to have accepted illegal benefits while playing for the University of Southern California, thus making him ineligible retroactively despite having received the highest percentage of votes in any Heisman campaign.

Best Players

Doak Walker (1948)

A classic halfback from Southern Methodist University, Walker took home the trophy after a punishing campaign for the Mustangs.  A tremendous athlete, he also lettered with the basketball and baseball teams, in addition to being named an All-American on the football field from 1947-49.  As a testament to his skill, he has been immortalized by the Doak Walker Award, given annually to the best running back in the country.

Roger Staubach (1963)

The strong-armed quarterback of the Navy Midshipmen led his team to the #2 ranking at the end of the 1963 season. The last player from a service academy to win the Heisman Trophy, he finished his career with well over 4,200 yards of total offense in just three seasons.  But for a loss to Texas in the Cotton Bowl, he would have added a national championship to his list of accomplishments.  Success continued during his professional career, in which he became one of only four Heisman winners to be named Super Bowl MVP.

Archie Griffin (1974-75)

Among the first freshman class to be eligible to play varsity football at the college level, this bruising running back from Ohio State is also the only Heisman Trophy winner to claim the award twice.  Following a strong sophomore campaign that saw him finish fifth, Griffin ran for 3,145 yards and 16 touchdowns during his junior and senior seasons, including 31 consecutive games with 100 yards on the ground – a model for consistency the voters couldn’t argue with.

Charles Woodson (1997)

The history of the Heisman is filled with offensive stars who lit up scoreboards with gaudy passing stats or dozens of touchdown runs – except for one.  Woodson, who played for Michigan from 1995-97, is the only primarily defensive player to take the award home.  Known for his speed and coverage skills, he contributed to his team’s offense by returning punts, as well as occasionally catching passes as a wide receiver.

Tim Tebow (2007)

The first sophomore to claim the trophy, Tebow led his Florida Gators to the national title during this dominant season.  Though he would go on to be nominated in the following two contests, the dual-threat quarterback was unable to repeat the feat.  Known for his intensity and will to win, he recorded 32 passing and 23 rushing touchdowns – the only player to have 20 of each in the same season in NCAA Division 1A/Bowl Subdivision history.

Winners

Derrick Henry (2015)

Marcus Mariota (2014)

Jameis Winston (2013)

Johnny Manziel (2012)

Robert Griffin III (2011)

Cam Newton (2010)

Mark Ingram (2009)

Sam Bradford (2008)

Tim Tebow (2007)

Troy Smith (2006)

Reggie Bush (2005; vacated)

Matt Leinart (2004)

Jason White (2003)

Carson Palmer (2002)

Eric Crouch (2001)

Chris Weinke (2000)