Iowa History Daily: December 9 - Jay Berwanger & the 1st Heisman
Iowa History Daily: On December 9, 1935, Dubuque Senior standout Jay Berwanger received the first ever Heisman Trophy as an all-around stand out at the University of Chicago. An incredible talent, Berwanger shined on the gridiron to earn one of college football’s most prestigious honors.
Berwanger attended Marshall Elementary, Jefferson Junior High, and Dubuque Seniro while starring in wrestling, track, and football. The all-state halfback garnered recruitment from the University of Iowa, Michigan University, and the University of Minnesota, but opted to attend the University of Chicago on a basic tuition scholarship of $300 per year.
During his time at University of Chicago, Berwanger did it all. A play-caller, passer, punter, blocker, tackler, kicker, and kick returner, Berwanger’s unbelievable athletic ability shined. Known as ‘the One-man Team,” Berwanger won the Chicago’s Tribunes Silver Football for Big Ten Most Valuable Player in 1935, the same year he won the award which would be renamed the Heisman Trophy the following year. He also shined off the gridiron, as well, serving as senior class president, Psi Upsilon fraternity president, and captain of the track team. Berwanger even once tackled future United States President Gerald Ford during a game against Michigan in 1934.
Following college, the Philadelphia Eagles selected Berwanger with the first overall pick in the inaugural 1936 NFL draft. Dubious of their ability to pay Berwanger’s reported salary demand of $1,000 per game, the Eagles sent his draft rights to the Chicago Bears. Berwanger did not immediately sign, instead opting to maintain his amateur status in the hopes of earning a spot in the 1936 Olympics in decathlon. After he failed to make the Olympics, legendary Bears’ owner George Halas offered him $13,500. Berwanger demanded $15,000, and when Halas refused the star tail-back effectively retired from football before his career started and took a job with a rubber company in Chicago. #IowaOTD #IowaHistoryDaily #IowaHistoryCalendar