The college football season is almost over. All that’s really left is the Army-Navy game, a zillion bowls and the awards for the year’s outstanding players.
College football awards are great because they are usually named after an interesting player or coach. Most kids don’t know much about the names on the trophies. So let’s take a look at some sports history.
Heisman Trophy (outstanding player): The most famous college football award is named after John Heisman, who, after graduating from college and law school, coached football at more than a half-dozen colleges from 1892 to 1927.
After he retired, Heisman organized the system for voting for the outstanding college football player of the year. The Downtown Athletic Club in New York City awarded the first trophy in 1935. It was named the Heisman Trophy in 1936, shortly after Heisman died.
Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award (outstanding senior quarterback): Unitas was a touchdown-tossing legend for the old Baltimore Colts (who later moved to Indianapolis) from 1956 to 1972. He was named the National Football League’s most valuable player (MVP) three times. It’s strange that Unitas has a college award named after him, because he did not have a great college career at Louisville. His teams lost more games than they won. This year’s winner of the award, Stanford University quarterback Andrew Luck, will receive his trophy Friday.
John Mackey Award (outstanding tight end): Mackey, too, starred with the old Colts. He was a lightning-fast tight end who could break away for long gains. In two seasons (1963 and 1965) he averaged more than 20 yards a catch. After his playing days, Mackey became the first president of the NFL Players Association, which negotiates with team owners to help ensure that players get a fair share of the money and fair working conditions.
Chuck Bednarik Award (outstanding defensive player): Bednarik was a three-time All-American at my old college, the University of Pennsylvania, in the 1940s, when Penn was a football powerhouse. Bednarik played both center and linebacker for the Philadelphia Eagles. Even though he often played all 60 minutes in a game, Bednarik missed only three games during his 14-year pro career.
Biletnikoff Award (outstanding wide receiver): Fred Biletnikoff was a glue-fingered wide receiver from Florida State and later a six-time All-Pro for the Oakland Raiders, for whom he played from 1965 to 1978. When I say glue-fingered, I mean it. Biletnikoff would put a sticky substance called stickum on his hands to make it easier to catch the ball. Players in the NFL are no longer allowed to use stickum.
Lou Groza Award (outstanding placekicker): You don’t see players like Groza anymore. He was an offensive lineman who also kicked field goals and extra points for the Cleveland Browns during his 21-year career. Another thing that made Groza unusual by today’s standards: He kicked the ball straight on, not soccer-style.