When you think Wisconsin and Heisman trophy, many will immediately think, Ron Dayne. However, Wisconsin has had two Heisman trophy winners. Alan Ameche also won the Heisman and did it 45 years earlier than Ron Dayne. Ameche is also one of two fullbacks to win the award. Numerous Wisconsin running backs have been in the conversation for the Heisman but few have cracked the top four. Nevertheless, John Heisman, whom the Heisman trophy is named after, will lay in Wisconsin for the rest of eternity.
Who is John Heisman?
John Heisman was born in 1869 by parents who at the time, spelled their last name Heissmann. He grew up in Pennsylvania where eventually graduated high school from Titusville. Upon graduation, John attended Brown University where he played offensive line. He would eventually return home and play football at Penn State.
Heisman’s Coaching Career
Heisman coached at numerous universities during his lengthy career. One of his first major coaching gigs was at Auburn from 1895-1899. While the head coach at Auburn, Heisman had the idea for the quarterback to say the word “hike” to start a play. Additionally, he developed the idea of a reverse.
The next fall, John took his talents to Clemson where he would coach from 1900-1903. His coaching salary in year one was $1,800. John was the only coach Clemson had ever hired with any coaching experience. A far cry from today when Clemson would have it’s pick from any coach in the country. Heisman created a powerhouse at Clemson winning three SIAA titles in four years.
At his longest coaching tenure of his career, Heisman coached Georgia Tech. John coached at Georgia Tech for 16 seasons. The term “Jack of all trades, master of none” applies to many people but not John Heisman. While coaching football at Georgia Tech, he also coached basketball and baseball.
Pioneer of Rules Changes
In 1905, the Chicago Tribune reported that 18 football players lost their life and 159 were seriously injured. It took President Theodore Roosevelt intervening for the rules committee to adopt the “forward pass”. Additionally, Heisman convinced the rules committee in 1910 to move the game to 4 quarters instead of 2 halves, again for safety.
Eternal Resting Place
John was married twice, his second marriage being to Edith Maora Cole. A native of Rhinelander, WI Cole wanted to be buried there upon her death but John died 27 years before her and was laid to rest in Forest Home Cemetery in Rhinelander. Just before John died, he was in the planning stages of writing a book about the history of football, through his eyes.
That’s not the only place a version of Heisman is located in Rhinelander. A statue of John stands just inside the Rhinelander-Oneida County airport.
The Heisman Trophy is the most recognizable and prestigious award in all of college football. Players have been dreaming of winning the award and doing the Heisman “pose” since they were young. Everyone knows the trophy but the man behind its namesake is lesser known, especially among casual fans. Wisconsin can forever brag that the biggest name in college football will never leave our state. On Wisconsin!
For More Wisconsin Sports Content
Follow me on Twitter at @wifecallsmecarl and follow @WiSportsHeroics as well for more great Wisconsin sports content! To keep up to date on the latest in Wisconsin Sports, click here! Also, check out our merch store for some amazing WSH merchandise!