Who Struck the Original Heisman Pose & Who Made it Famous?
AP Photo/Julie Jacobson, File

The Heisman Trophy is the most coveted award in all of college sports. Heck, maybe even all of sports. As players throughout college football history will tell you, it’s one of the hardest achievements for an NCAA athlete to reach.

The most recent players to take home the iconic piece of memorabilia are former LSU Tigers star Joe Burrow and Alabama wide receiver DeVonta Smith, who both won national titles. Johnny Manziel lit up defenses at Texas A&M and blew away finalists to became the first freshman to hoist it. Former USC running back Reggie Bush was the first and only player forced to give his up.

It’s even been sold numerous times. O.J. Simpson fetched $255,000 for his 1968 trophy. Former Notre Dame and NFL Hall of Fame wide receiver Tim Brown sold his 1987 Heisman Trophy for a whopping $435,763 at an auction. That’s how valuable the 45-pound statue made of cast bronze is.

New York City’s Downtown Athletic Club awarded the first ever version of the trophy, then known as the DAC Trophy, to Chicago’s Jay Berwanger in 1935. A lot has changed since then. It wasn’t until the 1990s, however, that one of the more recognizable poses became famous: the Heisman pose.

Who is the Heisman Trophy Named After?

AP Photo/Jason Szenes

The Heisman Trophy, given annually to the NCAA’s most outstanding player, is named after John Heisman. Heisman was a coach for more than 30 years at schools such as Auburn, Clemson and Georgia Tech and was instrumental in implementing a legal forward pass into the game in the late 1800s. He also invented the hidden ball trick play we all know and love.

Heisman famously coached the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets to a 222-0 win over Cumberland College in 1916. He then won a national championship the following season.

The Heisman Trophy was named in his honor in 1936 shortly after he died. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame as a coach in 1954.


What is the Heisman Pose?

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The Heisman pose is a simple gesture in which a player extends the arm out in a stiff arm motion, lifts one knee up and holds the ball close to their body.

From the college football field to the high school ranks to the neighborhood lot, young football players likely learn about the Heisman pose at a very young age.

History of the Heisman Trophy Pose

AP Photo/Julie Jacobson, File

The story of how the Heisman pose came to be is one that dates back to the 1930s.

Ed Smith, who was a running back at New York University at the time, was asked to pose for the statue in 1935 by a friend, sculptor Frank Eliscu. Smith had no idea the pose he made would eventually became world-famous, according to The Morgantown News.

Smith didn’t even know he became the NCAA’s most recognizable trophy until some 50 years later, when a filmmaker called him up to interview him in 1982. Three years later in 1985, he received his own copy of the Heisman Trophy. By then, Smith was in his 70s.


Who Made the Heisman Pose Famous?

University of Michigan Wolverines wide receiver Desmond Howard is credited with making the Heisman pose famous.

In 1991, the Heisman Trophy winner and Michigan star scored a touchdown on a punt return against the Ohio State Buckeyes in a Big Ten classic matchup inside Michigan Stadium. When he reached the end zone he flashed the “Heisman pose.” It became a cultural phenomenon after that.

Oddly enough, Howard was sued by the original photographer for using the picture of his Heisman pose. Brian Masck, who worked for the Muskegon Chronicle and snapped the famous photo, came to a settlement with Howard in 2014 that would allow both men to make money off the shot.


Masck stated in the lawsuit that he sold the photo to Sports Illustrated for a one-time use but had circulated and been used without his permission.

Since Howard’s pose that day, many college football players and winners of the trophy have struck the iconic pose. Auburn’s Cam Newton and Florida State’s Jameis Winston have done so. Lamar Jackson broke it out when he accepted his award in 2016. The tradition isn’t limited to Heisman winners. Even Barack Obama has extended his arm in front of him and hiked his knee up.

The Heisman pose has been around forever, but it wasn’t Desmond Howard who first stiff-armed the college football. It was Ed Smith.

This post was originally published on August 20, 2020.

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Patrick covered the Florida Gators during the forgettable Will Muschamp and Jim McElwain eras before spending two seasons writing for Major League Baseball. He's an SEC homer and a baseball junkie who spends his days defending the Miami Marlins. When he's not glued to a TV, you can find him ...Read more
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