20 things to know about the college football pioneer
By: Legacy Staff
8 years ago
College football wouldn't be what it is today without pioneering coach John W. Heisman (1869 - 1936). Here are 20 things to know about the gridiron legend.
1. Born Oct. 23, 1869 in Cleveland, Ohio, John Heisman played college football at Brown University and the University of Pennsylvania.
2. Despite standing just 5-feet-8-inches and weighing only 158 pounds, he played tackle, center, and guard. Today the average college offensive lineman is 6-feet-4-inches and weighs more than 300 pounds.
3. The year after graduating, Heisman began coaching at Oberlin College.
4. His early coaching years saw him bouncing around to many different schools, including Buchtel College, Auburn University, and Clemson.
5. While at Auburn, he also acted in summer stock theater productions.
6. Heisman's longest stint as a coach was at Georgia Tech where he had a 77 percent winning average between 1904 and 1919.
7. At Georgia Tech, he also enjoyed a 33-game winning streak and three undefeated seasons, during which his teams outscored their opponents 1,599 to 99.
8. Heisman became the first paid college football coach in the country, receiving $2,250 a year plus 30 percent of the gate receipts.
9. A strict disciplinarian who didn’t permit his players to swear, he especially hated fumbles. Any player who fumbled in practice was punished by having to bounce a ball one hundred times against a fence.
10. Aside from the trophy that bears his name, Heisman is perhaps best known today as a pioneer of the forward pass.
11. Heisman first witnessed a forward pass in a game between North Carolina and Georgia. In a play that should have been disallowed, a punter threw a forward pass for a 70-yard touchdown (the ref had been distracted). Heisman saw the forward pass as a way to bring excitement and greater tactical flexibility to the sport.
12. Not everyone in college football agreed. It took three years of constant badgering to win enough support. The rules finally were changed in 1906.
13. Nevertheless, the forward pass went widely unused until 1913, when Knute Rockne’s Notre Dame had great success with it.
14. The center snap was another innovation designed by Heisman. Previously, centers had rolled the ball backward to the quarterback. Heisman’s team at Buchtel had an unusually tall quarterback and the coach thought it would be simplify things if the center just threw the ball back to him.
15. Heisman was also credited with inventing the onside kick — but in an article he wrote for Baseball Magazine in 1908, he gave credit for that innovation to George Woodruff.
16. Heisman was the coach when Georgia Tech beat the Cumberland College Bulldogs 222-0 (all without throwing a single forward pass). Cumberland had actually disbanded their football team prior to the start of the season, but would have been forced to pay Georgia Tech a large sum if they forfeited the game. So they threw a team of scrubs together and traveled to Atlanta to play.
17. It is believed Heisman might have had two motives for running up the score against his unprepared rivals. For one, earlier in the year the Cumberland baseball team, loaded with semi-pro players, had unsportsmanly walloped Georgia Tech 22-0. Secondly, Heisman may have been trying to point out the absurdity of ranking teams based on the number of points scored, as was done at the time.
18. The game remains the most one-sided victory in the history of college football.
19. Heisman later also coached at Penn, Washington-Jefferson, and Rice University. While at Rice, he was paid more than anyone on their faculty.
20. In addition to coaching football, Heisman coached both baseball and basketball. His overall record in baseball was 219-119-7, while his basketball teams at Georgia Tech only managed a 9-14 record.