John W. Heisman '91
Year Inducted: 1972
John W. Heisman ’91 was an inventive genius who ranked with Amos Alonzo Stagg, Pop Warner, and Walter Camp as contributors to the game of football. His greatest contribution came in 1906 when he was finally able to persuade the Rules Committee to legalize the use of the forward pass. Heisman is also credited with inventing the center snap, pulling guards to run interference on end sweeps, vocal signals (such as “hike”) for putting the ball in play, and the Heisman Shift. After playing briefly as a 158-pound tackle at Brown and then Penn, Heisman began his 36-year coaching career, turning out an undefeated team at Oberlin College in 1892. He then coached at Akron, Auburn, and Clemson (20-3) before going to Georgia Tech in 1904 and remaining through 1919. Under the sometimes crusty Heisman, the Yellow Jackets became a national power, winning five consecutive Southern Conference championships starting in 1914. Tech went 30 games without a defeat during this stretch, and his 1917 team scored 491 points to 17 for the opposition. A militant person, demanding in discipline, Heisman spoke precisely, in exaggerated stage English, and he could wring the last drop from a sentence. His voice was deep, his diction perfect, his tone biting. On the first day of practice each fall, Heisman would gather his squad around him, display a football, and ask, “What’s this?” He’d then answer his own question – “a prolate spheroid – an elongated sphere – in which the other leather is drawn tightly over a somewhat smaller rubber tubing.” He’d then pause, and add ominously, “Better to had died a small boy that to fumble this football.” After retiring in 1927 at age 60, Heisman was twice president of the American Football Coaches’ Association and was one of the organizers and first president of the New York Touchdown Club. The Heisman Trophy, given annually to the outstanding college player in the country, is named in his honor.