Heisman's legacy explored on eve of ceremony

Dec 4, 2012

WAMC's Ian Pickus speaks with legendary football coach John Heisman’s grand nephew, John M. Heisman, the keeper of the family’s flame and the author of a new biography called Heisman: The Man Behind the Trophy, which is published by Simon and Schuster.

When the Heisman Trophy is awarded December 8 to the nation’s best college football player, the sports world will look back fondly on the past recipients and their stellar careers, and then begin looking forward to the bowl season with anticipation.

But it’s safe to say most sports fans, despite their interest in the Heisman horse race, haven’t given much thought to the award’s namesake.

After growing up in a German family in Pennsylvania, John Heisman played football in the early days of the sport at Brown and Penn, and then embarked on a varied and influential coaching career. Over the better part of three decades, Heisman coached football at colleges like Oberlin, Clemson, Auburn, Penn, Rice, and Georgia Tech, where he also coached basketball and baseball. 

A classical actor off the field, Heisman’s influences on the game of football are still seen today, more than 120 years after he first became a head coach. And since 1936, the trophy given annually to college’s best player bears his name, ensuring that the Heisman legacy continues.