John W. Heisman
Ohio City's Gridiron Pioneer
On October 23, 1869, one of football's most iconic figures was born in Ohio City. Today he is best known as the namesake of the most prestigious award in college football, the Heisman Memorial Trophy. The trophy is awarded annually to the nation's most outstanding college football player. While Heisman was a decorated college football player at the University of Pennsylvania, his true legacy lies in the progressive contributions he made to the sport of football during his coaching days. Heisman's did not merely improve the game of football and make it more exciting, he ensured its survival.
Although born in the Cleveland neighborhood of Ohio City, Heisman grew up in western Pennsylvania. He played college football at Brown University before transferring to the University of Pennsylvania, where he played football until he received a law degree. In 1892, he began his coaching career at Oberlin College, leading the team to a perfect season with victories over storied programs such as Michigan and Ohio State, which he beat twice. He went on to coach at Buchtel College (later the University of Akron), Auburn, Georgia Tech, Pennsylvania, Washington, and Rice for a combined 36 years.
During his coaching career, Heisman revolutionized the sport of football. While coaching at Buchtel, Heisman conceived the center snap and the snap count. The center used to roll the ball on the ground to the quarterback to start an offensive play. However, Buchtel's quarterback at the time was too tall, and took too long to pick the ball up off the ground. The combination of snapping the ball, and the snap count granted the offense more time against the rush of defenders.
Heisman is also credited as the "Father of the Forward Pass" because he was the first coach to use it in a game. During his time, football was much more dangerous because of the pounding that a player would endure while carrying the ball. Many casualties and crippling injuries occurred from players swarming around the runner with brute physicality. The forward pass spread players out to utilize more of the football field, adding a significant amount of finesse to the physical game. Heisman's timing could not have been better. At the turn of the 20th century, many schools began to disband their teams for safety reasons, but Heisman's developments curbed the sport's decline and revived it.