Jay Berwanger
Jay Berwanger.jpg
Berwanger at the University of Chicago, early 1930s
Chicago Maroons – No. 99
Personal information
Born:(1914-03-19)March 19, 1914
Dubuque, Iowa
Died:June 26, 2002(2002-06-26) (aged 88)
Oak Brook, Illinois
Height6 ft 1 in (1.85 m)
Weight195 lb (88 kg)
Career history
High schoolDubuque (IA)
Career highlights and awards
College Football Hall of Fame (1954)

John Jacob "Jay" Berwanger (March 19, 1914 – June 26, 2002) was an American college football player and referee.[1] He was the first winner of the Downtown Athletic Club Trophy in 1935 (the following year the award was renamed the Heisman Trophy); the trophy is awarded annually to the nation's most outstanding college football player. Berwanger was a star halfback for the Chicago Maroons football team of the University of Chicago, where he was known as the "one man football team".[2] In 1936, Berwanger became the first player drafted into the National Football League (NFL) in its inaugural 1936 NFL Draft, although he did not play professionally.

College career

In a 1934 game against the Michigan Wolverines, Berwanger left his mark on Michigan center Gerald Ford in the form of a distinctive scar beneath the future U.S. President's left eye.[3] In 1935, Berwanger became the first recipient of the Downtown Athletic Club Trophy, renamed the Heisman Trophy the following year. He received 84 votes, finishing ahead of Army's Monk Meyer, Notre Dame's William Shakespeare, and Princeton's Pepper Constable.[4] He was also awarded the Chicago Tribune Silver Football as the most valuable player in the Big Ten Conference and earned unanimous All-America honors. Berwanger also competed in track and field for Chicago, setting a school decathlon record in 1936 that stood until 2007.[5] In college, he was also a brother of the Psi Upsilon fraternity.

After college

In 1936, Berwanger was the first player ever drafted into the National Football League in its inaugural 1936 NFL draft.[6] The Philadelphia Eagles selected him, but did not think they would be able to meet his reported salary demands of $1,000 per game.[7] They traded his negotiating rights to the Chicago Bears for tackle Art Buss.[8] Berwanger initially chose not to sign with the Bears in part to preserve his amateur status so that he could compete for a spot on the U.S. team for the 1936 Summer Olympics in the decathlon.[9]

After he missed the Olympics cut, Berwanger and Bears' owner George Halas were unable to reach an agreement on salary; Berwanger was requesting $15,000 and Halas' final offer was $13,500.[10] Instead, he took a job with a Chicago rubber company and also became a part-time coach at the University of Chicago.[11] Berwanger later expressed regret that he did not accept Halas' offer.[10]

Later life and honors

After graduating, Berwanger worked briefly as a sportswriter and later became a manufacturer of plastic car parts. He was very modest about the Heisman Trophy; unsure what to do with the trophy, he left it with his aunt Gussie, who used it as a doorstop.[3] The trophy was later bequeathed to the University of Chicago Athletic Hall of Fame, where it is on display. There is also a replica of the Heisman on display in the trophy case in the Nora Gymnasium at Dubuque Senior High School. He is a member of both the Iowa Sports Hall of Fame and Chicagoland Sports Hall of Fame.

Berwanger died after a lengthy battle with lung cancer at his home in Oak Brook, Illinois, on June 26, 2002, at the age of 88.[12] Berwanger was of German descent.[13]


  1. ^ "Chicago Tribune - Historical Newspapers".
  2. ^ "Jay Berwanger, Chicago Halfback, Voted Outstanding Athlete in the Big Ten". The New London Day. December 6, 1935. p. 21. Retrieved May 10, 2011.
  3. ^ a b "Chicago legend passes on; Berwanger dies at age 88". University of Chicago Chronicle. July 11, 2002. Retrieved December 10, 2016.
  4. ^ "Heisman Trophy – Jay Berwanger – Heisman Winners". heismantrophy.com. Retrieved December 10, 2016.
  5. ^ "University of Chicago Men's Track & Field Honor Rolls". Athletics.uchicago.edu. Archived from the original on 2012-05-29. Retrieved 2012-04-22.
  6. ^ "The first NFL draft takes place in Philadelphia in 1936". Chicago Tribune. February 10, 1936. p. 16. Retrieved April 26, 2018.
  7. ^ "Chicago Bears Granted Option on Jay Berwanger". Milwaukee Journal. February 10, 1936. p. D4. Retrieved May 9, 2011.
  8. ^ "Outstanding Pro Linemen Coming Here With Eagles". Reading Eagle. October 29, 1936. p. 24. Retrieved May 9, 2011.
  9. ^ "Berwanger is Seeking Berth on Olympic Track Team". The Youngstown Daily Vindicator. Associated Press. December 11, 1935. p. 12. Retrieved May 10, 2011.
  10. ^ a b Kirksey, George (December 11, 1940). "Halas Dominates Pro Football League". Berkeley Daily Gazette. United Press International. p. 23. Retrieved May 10, 2011.
  11. ^ "Jay Berwanger to Coach at Chicago". The Daily News. June 29, 1936. p. 6. Retrieved May 10, 2011.
  12. ^ "Berwanger, first winner of Heisman Trophy, dies". Lewiston Morning Tribune. June 28, 2002. p. 2B. Retrieved May 10, 2011.
  13. ^ "Heisman Trophy – Jay Berwanger – Heisman Winners". heismantrophy.com. Retrieved January 5, 2021.