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 John Heisman was asked to serve as the athletic director for New York's Downtown Athletic Club. In its first year the selection committee recognized Chicago halfback Jay Berwanger as "the most outstanding college football player in the country." A short time after Heisman's death, in 1936, the award was renamed in his honor.
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:
1900 -- T. Truxton Hare, PennFew early 20th Century players were as revered as Hare, who played every minute of every game. A starter at left guard on a 12-1 squad, Hare impressed Heisman voters in 1900 by doing everything a player is capable of doing. At season's end Hare was named to his fourth Walter Camp All-American team -- one of only a few players to accomplish that feat.
1901 -- Charles Daly, ArmyFreshly graduated from Harvard, where he earned respect as one of the country's best backs, Daly was appointed to West Point in 1901. In his first season with the Cadets he had a marvelous year, and in the end-of-season clash with Navy the quarterback was a one-man show, scoring all 11 of his team's points in the victory. Army's only loss that season came to Daly's former team.
1902 -- Paul Bunker, ArmyIn a year in which a number of Yale players split the vote, Bunker helped Army to become the first program to claim back-to-back winners. The tackle-turned-halfback dominated Navy from both sides of the ball, scoring twice in a 22-8 victory
1903 -- William Heston, MichiganUnfairly overlooked by voters (and Camp) in 1901, Heston made sure they paid attention in 1903. His 15 touchdowns contributed to Fielding Yost's "point-a-minute" cause, and the nation's finest back was the undisputed leader for a team that went 11-0-1.
1904 -- HestonIn agame against Kalamazoo, Heston gained 400 yards, and in a game against Chicago he carried the ball an astounding 38 times. While 1904 may not have been Heston's best year, he was nonetheless worthy of a second Heisman. His four-year totals at Michigan -- during which the Wolverines were 43-0-1 -- were simply too much to ignore.
1905 -- Walter Eckersall, ChicagoThe man who helped to end Michigan's 56-game streak without a loss -- that's what was on the minds of voters when they picked Eckersall. The quarterback and valued leg of Amos Alonzo Stagg's 10-0 Chicago squad, Eckersall was idolized by future college football legend Knute Rockne.
1906 --EckersallEckersall capped a magical career at Chicago with a senior season in which he was equally valuable as a kicker, passer and rusher, thanks to Stagg's brilliant football mind. When The Associated Press named its all-time team in 1950, Eckersall was part of a backfield quartet that included Jim Thorpe, Red Grange and Ernie Nevers.
1907 -- Tad Jones, YaleJones quarterbacked a second consecutive 9-0-1 season for the Elis, helping the team to victories over Princeton and rival Harvard. Yale was simply dominant in 1907, outscoring its opponents 207-10.
1908 -- Bill Hollenback, PennAs Penn's senior captain, Hollenback helped his team win a national championship with 11 victories in 12 games. (Penn played to a 6-6 tie against Jim Thorpe's Carlisle Indians). A tall back for his time, the 6-2 Hollenback once played a game with a fractured leg and a pair of dislocated shoulders
1909 -- Ted Coy, YaleFollowing in the tradition of the fine Yale squads from the era, Coy and his teammates went 10-0, outscoring their opponents 209-0. After missing the first four games of the season due to an appendectomy, Coy returned to lead Yale past Army, Princeton and Harvard.
1910 -- Bill Sprackling, Brown Sprackling had a fine season, but one game won him the Heisman. Brown had not won a game over Yale until Spackling helped guide his club past the Elis in 1910. Sprackling had more than 200 yards of offense, kicked three field goals and accumulated more than 200 total return yards in the 21-0 drubbing.
1911 -- Jim Thorpe, CarlisleUpon returning to Carlisle after a two-year hiatus, Thorpe quickly regained his top form. Voters were impressed by how well he ran the ball, punted, returned kicks and played defense. Thorpe gained 899 yards that season, but it was the 18-15 win over Harvard that earned him the Heisman.
1912 -- ThorpeHow's this for an encore: Only months after blazing past the rest of the field at the Stockholm Olympic Games, Thorpe gained 1,869 rushing yards in his final season at Carlisle. One four-game stretch included 200-yard days against Army, Springfield and Brown, and a 362-yard effort against Pennsylvania. Thorpe scored 198 points that season.
1913 -- Charles Brickley, Harvard The Ivy League dominated the first several decades of college football, and in 1913 Brickley dominated the conference. He accounted for the only points in the win over Princeton, and in the season finale against Yale his five field goals allowed Harvard to complete a 9-0 season.
1914 -- John O'Hearn, CornellUnder the guidance of its captain, Cornell became the feel-good football story of the year. The first All-America at Cornell since Pop Warner's final year as coach at the school (1906), O'Hearn helped the squad to win its final seven games of the year, including a come-from-behind win over Michigan in Ann Arbor.
1915 -- Ed Mahan, Harvard The three-time All-America scored all nine points in a win over Virginia and he punched in four scores to help Harvard top rival Yale. But the South was justified in crying foul; Oklahoma fullback Forest Geyer helped his undefeated Sooners team lead the country with 370 points.
1916 -- Chic Harley, Ohio State Voters couldn't help but be intrigued by Ohio State's do-it-all wonder, who in his first year in Columbus elevated the program to new heights. The Buckeyes outscored opponents 258-29 , thanks largely to the newcomer who hailed from the neighborhoods nearby. In the season finale against Northwestern, Harley returned a punt 67 yards for a touchdown, then scored from 20 yards out to cap Ohio State's first perfect season.
1917 -- Elmer Oliphant, ArmyThe runner-up to Harley in 1916, Oliphant edged out Ohio State's top back this time. As a senior, Oliphant set a Cadets record with 125 points. In his final two seasons Oliphant was the key ingredient in Army's 16-1 record.
1918 -- Frank Steketee, MichiganThe versatile Michigan freshman scored all 15 points in the Wolverines' win over Syracuse. Steketee was one of the finest punters of his era, and was the only Michigan player to earn All-America honors during the shortened 1918 season.
1919 -- HarleyForget about the yards he gained or all that Harley could do on the field -- in 1919 he gave Ohio State fans what they craved more than anything else: the program's first win over Michigan. In the 13-3 triumph Harley nabbed four interceptions and scored on a long run. In 23 career games as a Buckeye, Harley scored 23 touchdowns.
1920 -- George Gipp, Notre Dame In the first year of the sport's most transformative decade, Gipp turned in one of the finest seasons by a college player. Gipp passed for 709 yards and gained 100 or more yards rushing in five games. In a 27-17 win over Army he had 273 yards of offense and 157 yards on returns.
1921 -- Brick Muller, Cal Arguably the finest weapon to play for Andy Smith's stacked Wonder Teams, Muller contributed his fair share to the Bears' 312 points during his junior season. Cal beat Washington and USC with ease and squashed rival Stanford 42-7. The only blemish on Muller's 28-game collegiate career was a 0-0 tie to Washington & Jefferson in the 1922 Rose Bowl.
1922 -- Gordon Locke, IowaNo longer playing in the shadow of Aubrey Devine (the previous year's Heisman runner-up), Locke helped the undefeated Hawkeyes hand Yale its first loss to a school from the West. In five conference games, including close wins over Illinois and Ohio State, the senior fullback scored 12 touchdowns.
1923 -- Red Grange, IllinoisIn a year in which no one player produced a convincing argument for the Heisman, the Illinois sophomore who helped guide his club to an 8-0 mark and a national championship gets the award. Grange gained 723 yards that season, and in his collegiate debut against Nebraska he scored three times.
1924 -- GrangeAfter scoring four touchdowns in 12 minutes against Michigan and returning later to score twice more, Grange left no doubt who the nation's finest athlete was.
1925 -- Ernie Nevers, StanfordArguably the most competitive year in the history of the Heisman, the "Big Dog" denied Grange the privilege of being the award's only three-time winner, while also edging Mort Kaer of USC and Andy Oberlander of undefeated Dartmouth. Voters couldn't help but recall Nevers' heroic effort in the loss to the Four Horseman in the Rose Bowl to cap the 1924 season, or his all-out performance in the Indians' upset win over rival Cal in his final collegiate game.
1926 -- Mort Kaer, USCThis was a true head-scratchers. It became apparent that Michigan teammates Benny Friedman and Bennie Oosterbaan split each other's vote. Kaer won it based on an impressive junior campaign. Kaer gained more than 800 yards rushing for a Trojans team whose only losses (both by the score, 13-12) came to a pair of terrific teams, Notre Dame and Stanford.
1927 -- Bennie Oosterbaan, MichiganOosterbaan was the choice of many as the greatest college football end of his era. In 1927 he no longer had the arm of Bennie Friedman or the guidance of Fielding Yost, yet Oosterbaan helped his Michigan squad earn a 6-2 mark as he took home a third consecutive All-America nod. He also threw a pair of touchdown passes in the shutout win over rival Ohio State.
1928 -- Red Cagle, ArmyOne of the game's first gifted passers and one of its most accomplished rushers, Cagle had already been a star at Southwestern Louisiana Institute before joining Army in 1926. His contribution toward Army's 8-2 record two years later, including his role in wins over Yale and Nebraska, was enough to earn him the trophy.
1929 -- Gene McEver, TennesseeThe winner should have been Minnesota's Bronco Nagurski, whose team was just three points from an undefeated season. But Nagurski was somewhat under-appreciated during his time. McEver helped put Tennessee football on the map by scoring 130 points in the Volunteers' 9-0-1 season. Nine of his touchdowns came from 25-plus yards, and in the finale against South Carolina the halfback found the end zone five times.
1930 -- Frank Carideo, Notre DameAs the starting quarterback for the Irish in 1929 and '30, Carideo made few mistakes, which is why Rockne's final two teams didn't lose a game. Not only was Carideo a fine field general, but his placement as a punter was superb; against Northwestern, he downed four punts on the one-yard line.
1931 -- Jerry Dalrymple, TulaneThe only player whose name appeared on the first team of every All-American ballot that season, Dalrymple was an unstoppable force for an 11-win Tulane team that shut out nine opponents.
1932 -- Harry Newman, MichiganMuch like Carideo, Newman masterfully managed the best team of the year. The final four games of Michigan's national championship season were decided by an average of fewer than eight points, and it was often Newman who was instrumental in pushing each of those games in Michigan's favor.
1933 -- Beattie Feathers, TennesseeIn a bit of an upset, Feathers narrowly won over Cotton Warburton of top-ranked USC. Feathers grabbed the nation's attention early on with a pair of long touchdown runs in Tennessee's season-opening win over Virginia Tech. During his three years in Knoxville the Vols were 25-3-1. For that reason, the newly formed Southeastern Conference named Feathers its Player of the Year.
1934 -- Don Hutson, AlabamaIn leading the Crimson Tide to a 10-0 mark and a national championship, Hutson was honored with the school's first Heisman. Hutson scored the deciding touchdown in a pivotal 13-6 win over Tennessee; three weeks later, in the homecoming game against Clemson, he caught six balls and scored twice.
* Private research was used to select the winners in 1909 and 1917, two years Camp did not release All-American teams. Statistics from a number of sources, including Tex Noel's 2007 book, "Stars of an Earlier Autumn" were also used to help select winners for each year, and some of those statistics have been included in this article.