The man behind the trophy—John William Heisman (1869–1936)—had surpassing talents and a character as spotless as burnished bronze.
So says this biography by his great-grandnephew and ESPN columnist Schlabach (Called to Coach: Reflections on Life, Faith, and Football, 2010). The authors begin in 1935 with the presentation of the first award for football prowess at New York’s Downtown Athletic Club, an award Heisman, who worked for the club, initially opposed, then designed and wholeheartedly supported. That first year was the only year it would not bear Heisman’s name; when he died in 1935, the club appended his name, and we all know about the hoopla associated with it nowadays. The authors take us back to Heisman’s German ancestors (who spelled the name Heissmann) and shows us their emigration and their move to Pennsylvania, where the family became involved in the booming oil business as coopers. Growing up in Titusville, young Heisman learned “personal responsibility; hard, persevering work; and honest dealings.” The authors sketch Heisman’s education (he went to the University of Pennsylvania), his passion for football (he was the dynamite-in-small-packages type) and his decision to coach, a decision that would take him to numerous schools, virtually all of which became winners under his innovative tutelage. The authors offer too much history of every school where he worked, and we hear about plenty of games and players and Heisman’s superior thespian and writing skills (he had a “mastery of the English language”).
An uncritical text so inflated with celebration that it nearly floats out of readers' hands.