For nearly a half-century, some of college football's greatest players didn't have the opportunity to vie for what has become the sport's most prestigious piece of hardware: the Heisman Trophy.
Of course, the trophy didn't take shape until several years after John Heisman was asked to serve as the athletic director for New York's Downtown Athletic Club. In its first year the selection committee recognized Chicago halfback Jay Berwanger as "the most outstanding college football player in the country." A short time after Heisman's death, in 1936, the award was renamed in his honor.
This article examines who may have won such an award had it been presented in the sport's developmental years. Records and statistics are not well documented from the period, and so comparisons are difficult to make. To offer structure, the Walter Camp first-team All-Americans from the first quarter of the Century, as well as various teams constructed in the years between 1925 and 1934, serve as a list of finalists from which the retrospective Heisman winners were selected.*
Camp was one of the game's most respected scouts of his time, and his eye for football talent was trusted more than that of any other. It should be noted, however, that Camp was at least partly responsible for the general consensus of the time that the best teams and players resided in the Midwest and along the East Coast -- the same regional bias that has brought criticism to the Heisman throughout its existence. For example, arguments could be made for early-era players from the Southwest and Southern Conferences -- the forerunners to the Big XII and the SEC, respectively -- but history suggests that had the Heisman balloting been conducted in those years many of those players would have been overlooked.
The Heisman Trophy is also not without its faults. The award has too often recognized offensive players only, and rarely has its voters shown respect for the contributions made by linemen. Although many years were dominated by linemen who mastered a different style of football, for the sake of consistency the selection process relied on roughly the same unwritten criteria that has been used for almost three quarters of a century: talent, versatility, team success, big-game performance, leadership and sentimental favoritism (and it wouldn't be fun if there weren't a few surprise selections thrown into the mix).
Based on how history suggests voters may have cast their ballots, here are the Heisman winners for the years 1900 through 1934:
1900 -- T. Truxton Hare, Penn
Few early 20th Century players were as revered as Hare, who played every minute of every game. A starter at left guard on a 12-1 squad, Hare impressed Heisman voters in 1900 by doing everything a player is capable of doing. At season's end Hare was named to his fourth Walter Camp All-American team -- one of only a few players to accomplish that feat.
1901 -- Charles Daly, Army
Freshly graduated from Harvard, where he earned respect as one of the country's best backs, Daly was appointed to West Point in 1901. In his first season with the Cadets he had a marvelous year, and in the end-of-season clash with Navy the quarterback was a one-man show, scoring all 11 of his team's points in the victory. Army's only loss that season came to Daly's former team.
1902 -- Paul Bunker, Army
In a year in which a number of Yale players split the vote, Bunker helped Army to become the first program to claim back-to-back winners. The tackle-turned-halfback dominated Navy from both sides of the ball, scoring twice in a 22-8 victory
1903 -- William Heston, Michigan
Unfairly overlooked by voters (and Camp) in 1901, Heston made sure they paid attention in 1903. His 15 touchdowns contributed to Fielding Yost's "point-a-minute" cause, and the nation's finest back was the undisputed leader for a team that went 11-0-1.
1904 -- Heston
In a game against Kalamazoo, Heston gained 400 yards, and in a game against Chicago he carried the ball an astounding 38 times. While 1904 may not have been Heston's best year, he was nonetheless worthy of a second Heisman. His four-year totals at Michigan -- during which the Wolverines were 43-0-1 -- were simply too much to ignore.
1905 -- Walter Eckersall, Chicago
The man who helped to end Michigan's 56-game streak without a loss -- that's what was on the minds of voters when they picked Eckersall. The quarterback and valued leg of Amos Alonzo Stagg's 10-0 Chicago squad, Eckersall was idolized by future college football legend Knute Rockne.
1906 -- Eckersall
Eckersall capped a magical career at Chicago with a senior season in which he was equally valuable as a kicker, passer and rusher, thanks to Stagg's brilliant football mind. When The Associated Press named its all-time team in 1950, Eckersall was part of a backfield quartet that included Jim Thorpe, Red Grange and Ernie Nevers.
1907 -- Tad Jones, Yale
Jones quarterbacked a second consecutive 9-0-1 season for the Elis, helping the team to victories over Princeton and rival Harvard. Yale was simply dominant in 1907, outscoring its opponents 207-10.
1908 -- Bill Hollenback, Penn
As Penn's senior captain, Hollenback helped his team win a national championship with 11 victories in 12 games. (Penn played to a 6-6 tie against Jim Thorpe's Carlisle Indians). A tall back for his time, the 6-2 Hollenback once played a game with a fractured leg and a pair of dislocated shoulders
1909 -- Ted Coy, Yale
Following in the tradition of the fine Yale squads from the era, Coy and his teammates went 10-0, outscoring their opponents 209-0. After missing the first four games of the season due to an appendectomy, Coy returned to lead Yale past Army, Princeton and Harvard.
1910 -- Bill Sprackling, Brown
Sprackling had a fine season, but one game won him the Heisman. Brown had not won a game over Yale until Spackling helped guide his club past the Elis in 1910. Sprackling had more than 200 yards of offense, kicked three field goals and accumulated more than 200 total return yards in the 21-0 drubbing.
1911 -- Jim Thorpe, Carlisle
Upon returning to Carlisle after a two-year hiatus, Thorpe quickly regained his top form. Voters were impressed by how well he ran the ball, punted, returned kicks and played defense. Thorpe gained 899 yards that season, but it was the 18-15 win over Harvard that earned him the Heisman.
1912 -- Thorpe
How's this for an encore: Only months after blazing past the rest of the field at the Stockholm Olympic Games, Thorpe gained 1,869 rushing yards in his final season at Carlisle. One four-game stretch included 200-yard days against Army, Springfield and Brown, and a 362-yard effort against Pennsylvania. Thorpe scored 198 points that season.
1913 -- Charles Brickley, Harvard
The Ivy League dominated the first several decades of college football, and in 1913 Brickley dominated the conference. He accounted for the only points in the win over Princeton, and in the season finale against Yale his five field goals allowed Harvard to complete a 9-0 season.