Heisman Trophy

The Heisman Memorial Trophy (usually known colloquially as the Heisman Trophy or The Heisman) is awarded annually to the most outstanding player in college football. Winners epitomize great ability combined with diligence, perseverance, and hard work. It is presented by the Heisman Trophy Trust in early December before the postseason bowl games.

Heisman Trophy
SportCollege football
Awarded forOutstanding performance which best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity . Winners epitomize great ability combined with diligence, perseverance, hard work.
Presented by
First winnerJay Berwanger RB, 1935
Most recentCaleb Williams QB, 2022

The award was created by the Downtown Athletic Club in 1935 to recognize "the most valuable college football player east of the Mississippi", and was first awarded to University of Chicago halfback Jay Berwanger.[1][2] After the death in October 1936 of the club's athletic director, John Heisman, the award was named in his honor and broadened to include players west of the Mississippi.[3][4] Heisman had been active in college athletics as a football player; a head football, basketball, and baseball coach; and an athletic director.

It is the oldest of several overall awards in college football, including the Maxwell Award, Walter Camp Award, and the AP Player of the Year. The Heisman and the AP Player of the Year honor the outstanding player, while the Maxwell and the Walter Camp award recognizes the best player, and the Archie Griffin Award recognizes the most valuable player. The most recent winner of the Heisman Trophy is University of Southern California quarterback Caleb Williams.

Trophy design

The Heisman Trophy

The trophy itself, designed by sculptor Frank Eliscu, is modeled after Ed Smith, a leading player in 1934 for the now-defunct New York University football team.[5][6] The trophy is made out of cast bronze, is 13.5 inches (34.3 cm) tall, 14 inches long, 16 inches in width and weighs 45 pounds (20.4 kg).[7]

Eliscu had asked Smith, his former George Washington High School classmate, to pose for a commissioned sculpture of a football player. Smith did not realize until 1982 that the sculpture had become the Heisman Trophy. The Downtown Athletic Club presented Smith with a Heisman Trophy of his own in 1985.[8]

From its inception in 1935, the statue was cast by Dieges & Clust in New York (and later Providence, Rhode Island) until 1980, when Dieges and Clust was sold to Herff Jones.[9] For a time until at least 2008, the statues were cast by Roman Bronze Works in New York.[10]

Since 2005 the trophy has been made by MTM Recognition in Del City, Oklahoma.[11]


Originally only players east of the Mississippi were eligible, but since 1936 all football players playing in all divisions of college football nationwide are eligible for the award, though winners usually represent Division I Football Bowl Subdivision schools.[12]

There are three categories of eligible voters for the award winner:

  • Sports journalists: Heisman.com states that sports journalists are to be the determinants of the award since they are "informed, competent, and impartial."[13] There are 870 media voters: 145 voters from each of six regions.
  • Previous Heisman winners (and in cases where an underclassman wins the award and remains in school to play, a prior winner may also be a current candidate). According to Heisman.com there are currently 57 prior winners eligible to vote[13] and, thus, 57 potential votes (a prior winner is not required to vote and does not lose his voting privileges by not voting).
  • Fans: As the Premier Partner of the Heisman Trophy, Nissan has a vote and gives this to the fans. Fan voting done through a survey collected by ESPN on NissanHeismanHouse.com. This constitutes one Heisman vote.

Except for the one vote based on the fan voting, the balloting is based on positional voting, whereby each voter identifies three selections, ranking them in order. Each first-place selection is awarded three points, each second-place selection is awarded two points, and each third-place selection is awarded one point. Voters must make three selections and cannot duplicate a selection, else the ballot is invalid and none of the selections count.[13]

The accounting firm Deloitte is responsible for the tabulation of votes, which has moved almost exclusively to online voting since 2007.[13]

Notable achievements

  • Larry Kelley and Clint Frank of Yale were the first teammates to win the Heisman Trophy, in 1936 and 1937.
  • Nile Kinnick of Iowa is the only Heisman Trophy winner (1939) to have a college stadium named after him: in 1972, the University of Iowa renamed its football complex Kinnick Stadium. The high school stadium in Faribault, Minnesota is named after 1941 winner Bruce Smith of Minnesota. Kinnick is also the only winner to die in military service of the United States; he went down piloting an F4F Wildcat from the deck of USS Lexington (CV-16). His death in 1943 made him the first Heisman Trophy winner to die.
  • Doc Blanchard was the first junior to win the Heisman Trophy when he led Army to the national title in 1945.
  • In 1946, Army played Notre Dame in the Game of the Century. The game is notable in that it had four players who won or would go on to win the Heisman Trophy: Army’s Doc Blanchard (1945 winner), Glenn Davis (1946 winner), Notre Dame’s Johnny Lujack (1947 winner), and Leon Hart (1949 winner).
  • Paul Hornung was the only player to win the Heisman Trophy as a player for a losing team: he took the award at Notre Dame in 1956, when the Irish finished 2–8.
  • Ernie Davis was the first African American player to win the Heisman Trophy. He attended Syracuse University, and was drafted first overall in 1962, but never played a game in the NFL: he was diagnosed with leukemia, and died in 1963.
  • Terry Baker was the only player to win the Heisman Trophy and play in the Final Four in the NCAA basketball tournament in the same school year (1962–63).
  • Archie Griffin of Ohio State is the only player to receive the award twice, winning it as a junior in 1974 and a senior in 1975.[14]
  • Steve Spurrier, the 1966 recipient as a Florida Gator, became the first Heisman Trophy winner to coach a winner in 1996 (Danny Wuerffel, also of the University of Florida).[15]
  • Andre Ware was the first Black quarterback to win the Heisman.
  • Charles Woodson of the University of Michigan is the only primarily defensive player to win the award, beating out favorite Peyton Manning, quarterback for the University of Tennessee, in 1997. He was a standout cornerback, but also occasionally played as a wide receiver and punt returner.
  • In 2007, Tim Tebow became the first sophomore to win the Heisman. He also became the first major college quarterback to rush for 20 touchdowns and pass for 20 touchdowns in a season.
  • In 2012, Johnny Manziel became the first redshirt freshman to win the award.[16]
  • In 2016, Lamar Jackson became the youngest player to win the Heisman, at 19 years, 338 days old.
  • In 2017, Baker Mayfield became the first former walk-on player to win the Heisman.
  • In 2018, Kyler Murray helped give the University of Oklahoma back-to-back Heisman winners, as Mayfield also played at Oklahoma. Murray and Mayfield were the first quarterbacks from the same school to win the Heisman in back-to-back years.
  • 2019 Heisman Trophy winner, senior quarterback Joe Burrow of LSU, broke numerous voting records. In the more than eight decades of the award’s history, Burrow received the highest percentage of first-place votes ever, with 90.7% of the ballots listing Burrow as the winner. In addition, Burrow’s win was the largest margin of victory ever, beating second place finalist Jalen Hurts from Oklahoma by 1,846 points. Burrow finished with 841 first-place votes, while runner-up Hurts finished with 20 first-place votes. Burrow also received the highest-ever percentage of possible points with 93.8%, and the highest-ever percentage of ballots with 95.5%.[17]

As of 2022, USC has the most Heisman trophies won with eight; Ohio State, Oklahoma, and Notre Dame each have seven; Ohio State has had six different players win the award.

The player who received the most votes (by percentage) was Joe Burrow of LSU in 2019, with 93.8% of possible points.[17] Burrow also won by the largest margin of votes, with 1,846 votes over second place.[17] USC running back O. J. Simpson received the most total first place votes, in 1968, with 855, but at a time when there were more total voters.[18] The closest margin of votes was in 2009 between winner Mark Ingram II of Alabama and Toby Gerhart of Stanford.[19]

Eleven Heisman Trophy winners are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame,[20][21] and four winners have also been named Most Valuable Player in a Super Bowl. Some winners have gone on to play in other professional sports, including Bo Jackson in baseball and Charlie Ward in basketball.

Pete Dawkins and Dick Kazmaier are the only winners not to pursue a professional sports career: Dawkins had a career with the United States Army, where he achieved the rank of Brigadier General, while Kazmaier attended Harvard Business School, founded a consulting company specializing in sports marketing, and chaired the President's Council on Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition during 1988–89.

University success

In addition to personal statistics, team achievements play a heavy role in the voting – a typical Heisman winner represents a team that had an outstanding season and was most likely in contention for the national championship or a major conference championship at some point in that season.

The closest that a player outside the modern Division I FBS came to winning the Heisman is third place; in both cases, the players involved played for schools in what was at the time Division I-AA, now Division I FCS. The first was Gordie Lockbaum from Holy Cross in 1987, followed by Steve McNair, from Alcorn State in 1993. Armanti Edwards, from Appalachian State University, was also briefly mentioned as a candidate for the award following Appalachian's upset of No. 5-ranked Michigan in 2007.

Besides Griffin winning consecutive Heismans at Ohio State, five other programs had two different players win the Heisman Trophy in consecutive years: Yale (1936–37), Army (1945–46), Southern California (USC) (2004–05, though Reggie Bush voluntarily forfeited his 2005 award in September 2010 and sent the trophy back to the Heisman Trust[22]), Oklahoma (2017-18), and Alabama (2020-21).

Only three high schools have produced multiple Heisman trophy winners. The first was Woodrow Wilson High School in Dallas, Texas (Davey O'Brien in 1938 and Tim Brown in 1987) (Woodrow remains the only public high school to be so recognized). Thereafter, two private high schools also achieved this distinction: Fork Union Military Academy in Fork Union, Virginia (Vinny Testaverde as a Postgraduate in 1982, and Eddie George in 1996) and Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, California (John Huarte in 1964, Matt Leinart in 2004, and Bryce Young in 2021).

Of the colleges where trophy namesake John Heisman coached, only Auburn University has produced Heisman winners, with Pat Sullivan in 1971, Bo Jackson in 1985, and Cam Newton in 2010.

Class and age

For most of its history, most winners of the Heisman have been seniors.[23]

Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel became the first freshman to win the Heisman in 2012. The following year, at 19 years, 342 days old, Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston became the youngest Heisman Trophy winner at that time as a freshman. Both, however, were in their second year of college, having been redshirted during their first year of attendance, meaning that no true freshman has yet won the award. No sophomore won the Heisman in its first 72 years, at which point there were three consecutive sophomore winners — Tim Tebow in 2007, followed by Sam Bradford and Mark Ingram II — with Lamar Jackson, who also surpassed Winston's record as the youngest Heisman winner, becoming the fourth in 2016. Of the four sophomores to have won the award, only Bradford had been redshirted; the others all won during their second year of college attendance. Only a few juniors have won the award, starting with the eleventh winner in 1945, Doc Blanchard.

Five players have finished in the top three of the Heisman voting as freshmen or sophomores before later winning the award: Angelo Bertelli, Glenn Davis, Doc Blanchard, Doak Walker, and Herschel Walker. Eight players have finished in the top three as freshmen or sophomores but never won a Heisman: Clint Castleberry, Marshall Faulk, Michael Vick, Rex Grossman, Larry Fitzgerald, Adrian Peterson, Deshaun Watson, and Christian McCaffrey. Four players have specifically finished second in consecutive years: Glenn Davis (second in 1944 and 1945, winner in 1946), Charlie Justice (second 1948 and 1949), Darren McFadden (second 2006 and 2007), and Andrew Luck (second 2010 and 2011).

The oldest and youngest Heisman winners ever both played for Atlantic Coast Conference schools. The oldest, Chris Weinke, was 28 years old when he won in 2000; he spent six years in minor league baseball before enrolling at Florida State. The youngest winner is 2016 recipient Lamar Jackson of Louisville at the age of 19 years, 338 days, four days younger than Jameis Winston was when he won in 2013.


The Heisman has usually been awarded either to a running back or a quarterback; very few players have won the trophy playing a position other than those two aforementioned. Three wide receivers have been named winner: Tim Brown (1987), Desmond Howard (1991), and DeVonta Smith (2020). Two tight ends have also won the trophy, Larry Kelley (1936) and Leon Hart (1949). Charles Woodson is the only primarily defensive player to win the award, doing so as a defensive back, while also serving as kick returner and occasional wide receiver for Michigan in 1997.

The highest finish ever for any individual who played exclusively on defense is second, by defensive end Hugh Green of Pittsburgh in 1980, linebacker Manti Te'o of Notre Dame in 2012, and by defensive end Aidan Hutchinson of Michigan in 2021. Although the Heisman is named in honor of an interior lineman, no interior lineman on either side of the ball has ever won the award. Legendary linebacker Dick Butkus placed sixth in 1963 and third in 1964 and could qualify as an interior lineman, as he played center on offense during his era when two-way players were still common. Offensive guard Tom Brown of Minnesota and the offensive tackle John Hicks of Ohio State placed second in 1960 and 1973, respectively. Rich Glover, a defensive lineman from Nebraska, finished 3rd in the 1972 vote—which was won by his Cornhusker teammate Johnny Rodgers. Washington's DT Steve Emtman finished 4th in voting in 1991. Ndamukong Suh of Nebraska finished fourth in 2009 as a defensive tackle. Also, Kurt Burris, a center for the Oklahoma team, was a runner-up for the award in 1954 and Orlando Pace finished fourth in 1996 as an offensive tackle for Ohio State.


Downtown Athletic Club
(New York City, New York)
New York Marriott Marquis
(New York City, New York)
2001; 2017
The Yale Club of New York City
(New York City, New York)
Hilton New York
(New York City, New York)
Palladium Times Square
(New York City, New York)
2005–2016; 2018–2019
ESPN headquarters/remote
(Bristol, Connecticut)
Jazz at Lincoln Center
(New York City, New York)

Due to the neighborhood housing the Downtown Athletic Club's facilities becoming blockaded after the attacks on 9/11, the 2001 award ceremony was moved to the New York Marriott Marquis in Times Square. After the DAC filed for bankruptcy in 2002, the Yale Club hosted the presentation at its facility in 2002 and 2003. The ceremony moved to the Hilton New York for 2004, and was presented annually at Palladium Times Square (then Nokia Theatre Times Square) from 2005 until its closure in 2019 (except in 2017, when the presentation was moved back to the Marquis because of a scheduling conflict).[24][25]

The 2008 Heisman press conference was held at the Sports Museum of America at 26 Broadway near the old Downtown Club building. There was an entire gallery with the museum-attraction dedicated to the Trophy, including the making of the Trophy, the history of the DAC, and information on John Heisman and all the Trophy's winners. There was also a dedicated area celebrating the most recent winner, and the opportunity for visitors to cast their vote for next winner (with the top vote-winner receiving 1 official vote on their behalf).[26] The Sports Museum of America closed permanently in February 2009.[27]

After Palladium Times Square (then PlayStation Theater) closed in December 2019, the Heisman Trust began searching for a new location to conduct the trophy presentation. The 2020 ceremony would ultimately be held at the studios of ESPN in Bristol, Connecticut due to the COVID-19 pandemic; the ceremony was a virtual event with all participants appearing via remote interviews.[28] The 2021 ceremony returned to an in-person event, with the presentation held at The Appel Room at Jazz at Lincoln Center.[29]


The award was first presented in 1935 by the Downtown Athletic Club (DAC) in New York City, a privately owned recreation facility located on the lower west side near the later World Trade Center site. It was first known simply as the DAC Trophy. The first winner, Jay Berwanger, was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles but declined to sign for them. He never played professional football for any team. In 1936, John Heisman died and the trophy was renamed in his honor.[30] Larry Kelley, the second winner of the award, was the first man to win it as the "Heisman Trophy".[31]

The first African American player to win the Heisman was Syracuse's Ernie Davis, who never played a snap in the NFL. He was diagnosed with leukemia shortly after winning the award and died in 1963. In 1966, former Florida Gators quarterback Steve Spurrier gave his Heisman trophy to the university president, Dr. J. Wayne Reitz, so that the award could be shared by Florida students and faculty.[5] The gesture caused Florida's student government to raise funds to purchase a replacement trophy for Spurrier.[5] Since then, the Downtown Athletic Club has issued two trophies to winners, one to the individual and a replica to his college.[5]

Several Heisman trophies have been sold over the years; although there is a ban on the sale of all trophies awarded since 1999, trophies awarded in previous years can be sold.[32] O. J. Simpson's 1968 trophy was sold in February 1999 for $230,000 as part of the settlement of the civil trial in the O. J. Simpson murder case.[5] Yale end Larry Kelley sold his 1936 Heisman in December 1999 for $328,110 to settle his estate and to provide a bequest for his family.[5] Charles White's 1979 trophy first sold for $184,000 and then for nearly $300,000 in December 2006 to help pay back federal income taxes.[5] The current record price for a Heisman belongs to the trophy won by Minnesota halfback Bruce Smith in 1941 at $395,240.[5] Paul Hornung sold his Heisman for $250,000 to endow student scholarships for University of Notre Dame students from his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky.[5] Eliscu's original plaster cast sold at Sotheby's for $228,000 in December 2005.[5]

Television coverage

The presentation of the Heisman trophy was not broadcast on television until 1977.[33] Before 1977, the presentation of the award was not televised as a stand-alone special, but rather as a quick in-game feature. The ceremony usually aired on ABC as a feature at halftime of the last major national telecast (generally a rivalry game) of the college football season. ABC essentially showed highlights since the award was handed out as part of an annual weeknight dinner at the DAC. At the time, the event had usually been scheduled for the week following the Army–Navy Game. The most watched Heisman ceremony ever was in 2009 when Mark Ingram won over Toby Gerhart and Colt McCoy.[34]

On December 8, 1977, CBS (who paid $200,000 for the rights) aired a one-hour (at 10:00 p.m. Eastern Time) special to celebrate the presentation of the Heisman trophy to Earl Campbell of the University of Texas. Elliott Gould and O. J. Simpson were the co-hosts, with Connie Stevens and Leslie Uggams providing musical entertainment and Robert Klein providing some comic relief.

Since then, a number of companies have provided television coverage of the event:

Controversies and politics

Regional bias controversy

A number of critics have expressed concern about the unwritten rules regarding player position and age, as noted above.

Over the years, there has been substantial criticism of a regional bias, suggesting that the Heisman balloting process has ignored West Coast players.[35] At present, the Pac-12 Conference (formerly Pac-10 and Pac-8) represents 12 of the 65 teams (roughly 18.5%) in the Power Five conferences. The Heisman can be, and has been, presented to players from other conferences, but a random sample over a long period of time might suggest that Pac-10/12 players might win somewhere close to 18% of the Heisman awards.[36] In the 20 seasons between 1981 (Marcus Allen) and 2002 (Carson Palmer), not a single Pacific-10 Conference or other West Coast player won the Heisman Trophy. Four Southern California (USC) players have won the trophy in the early years of the 21st century and three won it subsequent to Palmer. Although Terry Baker, quarterback from Oregon State, won the trophy in 1962, and Gary Beban from UCLA won in 1967, no non-USC player from the West Coast had won between Stanford's Jim Plunkett in 1970 and Oregon's Marcus Mariota in 2014. Other than Mariota's win, the closest since Plunkett's win have been Chuck Muncie, John Elway, Toby Gerhart, Andrew Luck, Christian McCaffrey, and Bryce Love. Muncie was a running back for the California Golden Bears who finished second in the Heisman balloting in 1975. The other five were Stanford players who finished second in the Heisman balloting in 1982, and each year from 2009 to 2011, 2015, and 2017.

The West Coast bias discussion usually centers on the idea that East Coast voters see few West Coast games, because of television coverage contracts, time zone differences, or cultural interest. At Heisman-projection website StiffArmTrophy.com, commentator Kari Chisholm claims that the Heisman balloting process itself is inherently biased:

For Heisman voting purposes, the nation is divided into six regions—each of which get 145 votes. Put another way, each region gets exactly 16.67 percent of the votes. However, each region does not constitute an even one-sixth of the population. Three regions (Far West, Midwest, and Mid-Atlantic) have larger populations than 16.67% of the national population; and three have less (Northeast, South, and Southwest). In fact, the Far West has the greatest population at 21.2% of the country and the Northeast has the least at 11.9%.[37]

Nullification of 2005 award

In 2010 University of Southern California athletic director Pat Haden announced the university would return its replica of the 2005 Heisman Trophy due to NCAA sanctions requiring the university to dissociate itself from Reggie Bush. The NCAA found that Bush had received gifts from an agent while at USC. On September 14, 2010, Bush voluntarily forfeited his title as a Heisman winner. The next day, the Heisman Trust announced the 2005 award would remain vacated and removed all mention of the 2005 award from its official website.[38] Bush eventually returned the trophy itself to the Heisman Trust in 2012.[39]

Critical responses from the national media were strident and varied. CBSSports.com producer J. Darin Darst opined that Bush "should never have been pressured to return the award." Kalani Simpson of Fox Sports wrote, "Nice try Heisman Trust...It's a slick move to try to wipe the slate clean." Former Football Writers Association of America president Dennis Dodd, on the other hand, decided to fictitiously award Bush's vacated 2005 award to Vince Young, the original runner-up that year. He wrote, "Since the Heisman folks won't re-vote, we did. Vince Young is the new winner of the 2005 Heisman." A Los Angeles Times piece argued that Bush's Heisman was "tainted" but lamented that the decision came five years after Bush was awarded the trophy and, therefore, four years after the expiration of Bush's term as current holder of the Heisman title.[40][41][42][43]

Elections involving notable controversy

  • 1967
    • Despite his team's beating the Bruins during the hours before the ceremony, USC's O.J. Simpson lost the 1967 trophy to UCLA quarterback Gary Beban; Simpson did win the trophy the next year.[44]
  • 2010
    • Auburn quarterback Cam Newton won the 2010 Heisman Trophy amidst an NCAA eligibility inquiry.[45]
  • 2013
    • Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston won the 2013 Heisman Trophy amidst a sexual assault investigation.[46]


See also

  • Heisman curse


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