For nearly a half-century, some of college football's greatest players didn't have the opportunity to vie for what has become the sport's most prestigious piece of hardware: the Heisman Trophy.
Of course, the trophy didn't take shape until several years after
This article examines who may have won such an award had it been presented in the sport's developmental years. Records and statistics are not well documented from the period, and so comparisons are difficult to make. To offer structure, the Walter Camp first-team All-Americans from the first quarter of the Century, as well as various teams constructed in the years between 1925 and 1934, serve as a list of finalists from which the retrospective Heisman winners were selected.*
Camp was one of the game's most respected scouts of his time, and his eye for football talent was trusted more than that of any other. It should be noted, however, that Camp was at least partly responsible for the general consensus of the time that the best teams and players resided in the Midwest and along the East Coast -- the same regional bias that has brought criticism to the Heisman throughout its existence. For example, arguments could be made for early-era players from the Southwest and Southern Conferences -- the forerunners to the Big XII and the SEC, respectively -- but history suggests that had the Heisman balloting been conducted in those years many of those players would have been overlooked.
The Heisman Trophy is also not without its faults. The award has too often recognized offensive players only, and rarely has its voters shown respect for the contributions made by linemen. Although many years were dominated by linemen who mastered a different style of football, for the sake of consistency the selection process relied on roughly the same unwritten criteria that has been used for almost three quarters of a century: talent, versatility, team success, big-game performance, leadership and sentimental favoritism (and it wouldn't be fun if there weren't a few surprise selections thrown into the mix).
Based on how history suggests voters may have cast their ballots, here are the Heisman winners for the years 1900 through 1934: