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What is the Heisman Trophy?

By Leo J
Updated May 23, 2024
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The Heisman Memorial Trophy is an award given each year to the outstanding college football player of the United States. Usually called the Heisman Trophy or simply the Heisman, this award is voted on primarily by a nationwide panel of sports journalists and former Heisman winners. The Heisman Trophy was created by New York's Downtown Athletic Club (DAC) in 1935, when it was known as the DAC Trophy. The award was renamed in 1936 after the death of the DAC's athletics director, renowned former coach and player John W. Heisman. It is awarded each December by the Heisman Trophy Trust.

Bronze Statuette

The trophy itself is a 25-pound (11.3-kg) bronze statuette of a football player in an action pose. The player is in an athletic position, his right leg lunging forward, a football tucked firmly into the crook of his left arm and his right hand extended forward in a "stiff-arm" position. Frank Eliscu, a sculptor, chose New York University football star Ed Smith as the model for the statuette, but the player on the trophy is intended to be anonymous.

Voting Process

Under the voting process used in the late 20th century and early 21st century, more than 800 ballots are cast for the Heisman Trophy each year. This includes ballots cast by more than 100 journalists from each of six regions of the U.S. and by living former Heisman winners. In some years, one ballot is cast on behalf of fans who have voted in a nationwide poll. The ballots must be submitted by a specific date in early December, usually a few days before the trophy is presented to the winner.

Voters fill out the ballot by naming their top three choices, in order. The voting is tabulated using a points system. A player receives three points for being named as a first choice, two for being a second choice and one for being a third choice. The winner is the player with the most total points.


From 1935 until 2000, the Heisman Trophy was presented at the Downtown Athletic Club. After the 11 September 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center, which was just a few blocks away, the DAC closed and never reopened. The ceremony has been held at various New York venues since then.

The top few candidates, as determined by the early ballots cast, are invited to attend the ceremony. Many former Heisman winners also attend. The winner is revealed and the trophy presented during a televised ceremony that typically lasts one hour.


The first Heisman Trophy — named the DAC Trophy at that time — was awarded to University of Chicago running back Jay Berwanger in 1935. All of the winners have played what are considered "skill" positions on offense — quarterback, running back, wide receiver and tight end — with the most common positions of Heisman winners being quarterback and running back. The 1997 winner, University of Michigan cornerback Charles Woodson, is considered to be the first defensive player to win the award, but he also occasionally played wide receiver on offense and returned kicks.

Most of the winners have been seniors or juniors. The first sophomore to win it was University of Florida quarterback Tim Tebow in 2007. As of 2011, no freshman had won the Heisman, and only one player had won it twice — Ohio State running back Archie Griffin in 1974 and 1975.

The 2005 Heisman Trophy was vacated in 2010 after it was determined that the winner, University of Southern California running back Reggie Bush, had violated the rules of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) by receiving improper gifts while he was a student. The Heisman Trust chose to vacate the 2005 award rather than present it to Vince Young, who finished a distant second in the voting that year, when he was a quarterback at the University of Texas.

Sports n' Hobbies is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By wesley91 — On Feb 05, 2011

@carrotisland: There was so much controversy over the 2010 Heisman Trophy, it seemed like election time. Apparently, 6 of the Heisman Trophy voters said that they would not even be putting Newton on their ballots.

Football writer Michael Bradley had this to say: “My vote this year is a vote for the trophy. It is designed to protect the Heisman and what it means. It doing that deprives Newton of a spot among the award’s list of luminaries, so be it. I just can’t allow the trophy, which has been sullied in the past year by revelations that 2005 winner Reggie Bush had received more than a half-million in cash and prizes from a prospective agent, absorb another body blow.”

By calabama71 — On Feb 04, 2011


Apparently, there were allegations against Cam Newton and his family right around the time that he was up to win the Heisman Trophy. It was alleged that Cam and his family sought money for him to play at Mississippi State. It was also alleged that he cheated on his schoolwork while he was in school in Florida.

It was determined that, by a vote, Cam would be eligible for the Heisman Trophy unless the allegations were proven to be true before then.

By CarrotIsland — On Feb 03, 2011

I don't watch a lot of sports but my husband is a big football fan. What was the issue with the 2010 Heisman Trophy winner, Cam Newton? I know there was some type of drama going on but I'm not sure what it was. Anyone know what it was about?

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