Sept. 6, 2003
By Pete LaFleur
Note: This is the first in a series of six stories, highlighting Notre Dame football. It is reprinted from the Notre Dame – Washington State football game program.
Football weekends at Notre Dame often include a visit to the Joyce Center’s Sports Heritage Hall, where fans of all ages can relive the glory of the University’s athletic teams. One area of the displays – that which showcases the seven Heisman Trophy winners, and their distinctive bronze trophies – easily draws the most attention from the thousands who file through the Joyce Center during football season.
The 40-foot-wide panorama display that houses various items of Notre Dame football memorabilia was unveiled in January of 2001 and it fittingly gives center stage to the program’s unmatched total of Heisman Trophy winners. The trophies previously were scattered throughout the chronological progression in the rest of the Heritage Hall (which was constructed in 1988), with the high number of Notre Dame Heismans often lost on the casual visitor who toured the Hall during the old configuration.
The trophies now are displayed in a pyramid formation, with plenty of space, and planning, for an eighth statue to be added to the mix. The symmetrical arrangement of bronze figurines is framed by the backdrop of the composite paintings of each Heisman winner, with those paintings earlier serving as the covers of the game program covers during the 1988 national championship season.
The components and structure of the display are important in that the viewer is first struck by the distinctiveness of the “stiff-arming” statues, followed by the natural urge to count them. Only then does a typical visitor look closer at the nameplates and peer back at the cover art.
The seven Heisman winners unquestionably are legends – among the elite in the program’s storied history – but their legacy takes on greater value when they are evaluated as a group. Such is the nature of Notre Dame football, and of the University as a whole. It is a place where those in the know will stress that the words “Notre Dame family” are intended to be more than just a catchphrase, a place where history and tradition are to be embraced rather than viewed as a hindrance to future glory.
“Nowhere but Notre Dame” can apply to many aspects of the University’s heritage. The legend of seven Heisman Trophy winners is just one small part of that larger essence.
Tim Brown’s special night at the 1987 Heisman ceremony included a photo opportunity with Notre Dame’s six previous recipients – Angelo Bertelli (’43), Johnny Lujack (’47), Leon Hart (’49), Johnny Lattner (’53), Paul Hornung (’56) and John Huarte (’64). It was a moment that will be hard to duplicate: the gathering of seven living Heisman Trophy winners from the same school.
Ohio State is second all-time with six Heisman statues in its trophy case but that total includes two-time recipient Archie Griffin and the deceased Les Horvath and Vic Janowicz (leaving three living Heisman recipients from OSU). USC is next on the list with five recipients, no other school has four and just a handful (Oklahoma, Michigan, Army and Nebraska) have produced three Heisman winners.
Notre Dame’s ties to Heisman Trophy excellence nearly started in the first year of the award, when versatile threat Bill Shakespeare – one of the heroes of the “Game of the Century” comeback versus Ohio State – finished third in the 1935 Heisman voting (behind Chicago’s Jay Berwanger and Army’s Monk Meyer).
In fact, at least one Notre Dame player has finished among the top 10 in the Heisman balloting 35 times in the 68-year history of the award. Bertelli was the 1941 runner-up as a sophomore (behind Minnesota’s Bruce Smith) while an Irish quarterback from three decades later, Joe Theismann, was the runner-up to Stanford’s Jim Plunkett.
Notre Dame traditionally has not embarked on the extensive Heisman publicity campaigns that have accompanied the growing visibility of the award. With a deep-rooted national following and widespread media exposure, the Irish have resisted gimmicks such as the “Ty Detmer for Heisman” ties that were mailed by BYU to Heisman voters or the massive billboards and internet campaigns currently being waged throughout college football.
The closest Notre Dame has come to “Heisman hype” may have been during Theismann’s career, when former sports information director Roger Valdiserri (who is in town for today’s game) suggested that the Irish signalcaller alter the pronunciation of his name to rhyme with Heisman.
Ironically, the namesake of the trophy, John W. Heisman ( a longtime college football coach and the first director of the Downtown Athletic Club), came upon his name after some tinkering by his grandfather. Born with the last name of von Bogart, Heisman’s grandfather defied his father (a German baron) by marrying a peasant girl.
As described in Dave Newhouse’s book “After the Glory – Heismen,” the disobedient von Bogart son assumed his wife’s last name (Heismann) and the couple fled to the United States before making their fortune in the oil-barrel business. By the time Heismann’s grandson enrolled in Brown University near the turn of the century, his name had been altered to John W. Heisman (dropping the second “n”) – a costly loss of a letter that may have subtly hurt the chances of the pronunciation-changing Theismann some 70 years later.
Recent years have seen several Notre Dame players make a run at the Heisman. Quarterback Tony Rice engineered the 1988 national championship season and then finished fourth in the ’89 Heisman balloting (Houston’s Andre Ware won the award) while electrifying wideout and kick returner Raghib “Rocket” Ismail was 10th in ’89 and then the runner-up in 1990 (behind BYU’s Detmer).
Shakespeare’s high finish in the first Heisman balloting stands as one of five times that a Notre Dame player has finished third, with the others including Lujack in ’46 (Army’s Glenn Davis took home the award), running back Nick Eddy from the 1966 national championship team (Florida QB Steve Spurrier was the winner), quarterback Terry Hanratty two years later in ’68 (USC’s O.J. Simpson ran away with the prize) and then tight end Ken MacAfee in 1977, when Texas tailback Earl Campbell rumbled to Heisman glory.
Multiple Notre Dame players have finished among the top-10 Heisman votegetters six times, most notably in 1943 (Bertelli 1st, Creighton Miller 4th, Jim White 9th) and ’49 (Hart 1st, Bob Williams 5th and Emil Sitko 8th). The passing combo of Huarte and Jack Snow (5th) had a strong showing in 1964, as did Eddy and Hanratty (6th) in ’66, MacAfee and defensive lineman Ross Browner (5th, one of the highest finishes ever for a defensive player) in ’77, and Rice and Ismail in ’89.