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 John William Heisman

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John William Heisman

  • Birth 25 Oct 1869 Cleveland, Cuyahoga County, Ohio, USA
  • Death 3 Oct 1936 New York, New York County (Manhattan), New York, USA
  • Burial Rhinelander, Oneida County, Wisconsin, USA
  • Memorial ID 468

Pioneer Coach, Author. He was an innovator and developer of early football resulting in the finished product we know today. Early great football coaches such as Knute Rockne and George Halas, each had a hand, adding features which has enhanced the sport. John Heisman, especially, excelled at changes and introduction of new ways to make the game more fun and interesting. To his credit...developed one of the first shifts (Heisman shift) where both guards stepped back and led an end run; conceived the center snap, replacing the former procedure where the ball was merely rolled to the quarterback; originated the first hidden-ball play, which was slightly unorthodox as the quarterback hid the ball under his jersey; introduced the "hike" vocal signal for initiating a play; led the fight to reduce the game from halves to quarters and was in the forefront of the move to legalize the forward pass; for good measure he invented the scoreboard listing scores, downs and yardage allowing fans to better follow the game. His coaching career ultimately spanned more than three decades. He was born John William Heisman in Cleveland, the son of John and Sarah Heisman, his father a German immigrant. The family moved to Titusville, Pennsylvania, where he grew up while his father worked in the booming oil fields. John was an excellent student and athletically active. He enrolled at Brown University then transferred to the University of Pennsylvania, playing varsity football, coming away with a law degree. He would never practice law, as upon graduation, took his first coaching job at little Oberlin College in Ohio leading to an unprecedented number of coaching positions until his retirement. He coached at Auburn, Clemson, University of Pennsylvania, Washington and Jefferson, Rice and a most impressive stint at Georgia Tech compiling a 33 straight win record. He left Georgia Tech to return as head coach at his alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania, another return to Washington & Jefferson and decided to move west finding a position with Texas and Rice Institute, his last, retiring at age 62. Retirement indeed! He began to write for magazines...American Liberty, Colliers Magazine and became the football editor for the professional publication Sporting Goods Journal which led him to be named the first Athletic Director of the Downtown Athletic Club of New York City. He founded and organized the Touchdown Club of New York, then the National Football Coaches Association. John developed bronchial pneumonia which took his life at his home on 28 E. Seventieth Street in New York at the age of 66. Three days after his death, his body was taken by train to Rhinelander, Wisconsin. Until then, his only connection to the small city was an occasional trip with his wife Edith to visit her sister. Her wish was to be buried here resulting in his interment so they could one day be together. Legacy...During his tenure as director at the Downtown Athletic Club, he organized and set up the process for determining the best collegiate football player in the country. The first award was given in 1935, called the "Downtown Athletic Club Award" with the recipient being Jay Berwanger. Before the second award could be presented in 1936, John was gone. The award was renamed and since that time has been called "Heisman Memorial Trophy." Larry Kelly from Yale, was the first recipient of the newly named trophy. He was the author of the book "Principles of Football," published in 1922 and reprinted in 2000. Since his death the popular reception of the memorial trophy named in his honor has obscured his identity. His burial place in Rhinelander is barely known even to its residents and not a single winner of the Heisman Trophy has ever visited his grave.

Bio by: Donald Greyfield

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  • Maintained by: Find A Grave
  • Added: 1 Jan 2001
  • Find A Grave Memorial 468
  • Find A Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for John William Heisman (25 Oct 1869–3 Oct 1936), Find A Grave Memorial no. 468, citing Forest Home Cemetery, Rhinelander, Oneida County, Wisconsin, USA ; Maintained by Find A Grave .