College football has been around longer than the NFL. It has a lineage that can be traced back over 100 years. Many awards are given out at the end of the college football year, but there is no greater honor than receiving the Heisman Trophy, the award for the best college football player in the nation. Because of the number of players in the NCAA, the Heisman is arguably the hardest individual trophy to win in sports. Those who become Heisman winners join a lifelong fraternity. Let’s look at the history of the Heisman trophy through the years, from the beginning to the Heisman Trophy odds of the upcoming season.
1970: Jim Plunkett, QB, Stanford
Quarterback Jim Plunkett is a legend in the Bay Area. He is the first Heisman in Stanford History after leading them to a 9-3 record and a Rose Bowl berth. The San Jose native was a longshot to win the Heisman his senior year in the college football odds, but his fantastic season for Stanford could not be denied. Plunkett threw for 2,715 yards and nine touchdowns, while Stanford captured the Pac-8 title. Plunkett finished his college career with an upset 27-17 victory over the undefeated number one Ohio State in the 1971 Rose Bowl. The New England Patriots drafted Plunkett with the number one overall pick in the NFL Draft. He was traded to the San Francisco 49ers in 1976, and in 1980, he joined the Oakland Raiders and won two Super Bowls in 1980 and 1983. He was named the Super Bowl XV MVP.
1971: Pat Sullivan, QB, Auburn
Auburn’s first Heisman Trophy winner came in 1971 when QB Pat Sullivan set numerous school and SEC records during a 9-1 regular season. Sullivan was named 1970 SEC Player of the Year as he led the nation with 2,856 yards of total offense, but his best season was his senior year. The Tigers started 9-0, and Sullivan had his Heisman game against Georgia, throwing for 248 yards and four touchdowns. His season totals were 2,012 yards and 20 touchdowns. Sullivan was drafted in the second round by the Atlanta Falcons. He spent four years in Atlanta before playing with the Washington Redskins and the San Francisco 49ers in 1977. He would become the radio color commentator for Auburn before being named the quarterbacks’ coach in 1986.
1972: Johnny Rodgers, WR, Nebraska
Johnny “The Jet” Rodgers helped the Nebraska Huskers to their first two national championships in school history in 1970 and 1971, before becoming its first Heisman winner in 1972. The Omaha native was an impact player as a receiver, rusher, and returner.
In his senior year, Rodgers had 1,978 all-purpose yards. He brought in 54 catches for 919 yards and scored 17 touchdowns. He owns the Nebraska record with 143 career receptions and 2,479 receiving yards.
As a returner, he has 1,515 career punt return yards with seven touchdowns, along with 847 career punt return yards and a touchdown. Rodgers played for the Montreal Alouettes and was named the 1973 CFL Rookie of the Year and a three-time all-star. He played for the San Diego Chargers from 1977-1978.
1973: John Cappelletti, RB, Penn State
John Cappelletti secured the Nittany Lions’ first Heisman Trophy winner after a perfect 12-0 season in the college football lines. Cappelletti began his career as a defensive back, but he showed his playmaking abilities and was switched to a running back his junior year. In his first season as a running back, he rushed for 1,117 yards and 12 touchdowns. Cappelletti was a consensus All-American in 1973. He rushed for 1,522 yards and 17 touchdowns. In the final month of the season, Cappelletti had three straight 200-yard games. He was selected 11th overall in the 1974 NFL Draft by the Los Angeles Rams. He spent six seasons in Los Angeles before finishing his final four years with the San Diego Chargers.
1974: Archie Griffin, RB, Ohio State
Junior running back Archie Griffin helped the Ohio State Buckeyes to a 10-1 record and a number three national ranking. Born in Columbus, Ohio, Griffin started all four years with the Buckeyes, leading them to a 40-5-1 record with four Big Ten titles and four Rose Bowl appearances. At 5-foot-9, Griffin was a smaller running back, but he was a hard runner and did not let his size get in the way of becoming a college football legend. Griffin became the fourth Buckeye to win the Heisman. He rushed for a career-high 1,620 yards and 12 touchdowns and won the Heisman. But he was not done collecting Heisman hardware.
1975: Archie Griffin, RB, Ohio State
Archie Griffin is the only player in history to win two Heisman Trophies. Although his senior season might not have been as good as his junior year, Griffin was still a force to be reckoned with. He rushed for 1, 357, and seven touchdowns while Ohio State completed an 11-0 season and finished the year ranked number one. Griffin ran for a then-record 5,177 career rushing yards on 845 carries.
The Cincinnati Bengals drafted Griffin in the first round of the 1976 NFL draft. He played eight years in the NFL before returning to Columbus to join the Ohio State Staff. Nearly 50 years later, no one has been able to win two Heisman, with many top stars leaving after their junior year; the NCAA football odds of that happening again might be a longshot.
1976: Tony Dorsett, RB, Pittsburgh
The first Pittsburgh Panther to win the Heisman, running back Tony Dorsett set multiple rushing records, and his 1976 season was capped off with college football’s most prestigious award. Pitt was chasing a national championship during Dorsett’s senior season, and during the last seven games of the season, he averaged 215 rushing yards and finished with an NCAA leading 1,948 yards. Dorsett finished his career as the all-time rushing leader with 6,082 yards, which lasted 22 years until Ricky Williams surpassed it in 1998.
The Dallas Cowboys selected Dorsett with the second overall pick in the 1977 NFL Draft. He made an immediate impact, being named the 1977 Offensive Rookie of the Year and helping the Cowboys win a Super Bowl in his first year. He was a four-time Pro Bowler and named All-Pro three times.
1977: Earl Campbell, RB, Texas
After an undefeated 1977 season, the Texas Longhorns had their first Heisman Trophy winner in running back Earl Campbell. He started as a fullback in the Longhorn’s “Wishbone” offense, rushing for 928 yards and six touchdowns as a freshman in 1974. After a successful sophomore year, Campbell was hampered by injuries during his junior year, and the NCAAF Vegas odds looked bleak for Campbell to win the Heisman in 1977. His senior season, Campbell returned with a vengeance, rushing for 1,744 yards (a Southwest Conference record) and 19 touchdowns, leading the nation in both categories. The Longhorns finished the year 11-0 and beat Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl. Campbell finished his fantastic career with 4,443 yards and 41 touchdowns. Campbell continued his dominance in the NFL, winning the 1978 Offensive Rookie of the Year, 1979 NFL MVP, and was the NFL Offensive Player of the Year from 1978-1980.
1978: Billy Sims, RB, Oklahoma
Running back, Billy Sims became the sixth junior and the third Oklahoma Sooner to win the Heisman after leading the nation in rushing in 1978. After ankle injuries slowed him down, Sims had to redshirt his freshman year, which still lingered into his sophomore season. A healthy Sims showed the county what he could do in 1978, rushing for a conference record 1,762 yards and averaged seven yards a carry, along with 20 touchdowns. Although Penn State QB Chuck Fusina received more first-place votes, Sims was awarded the Heisman Trophy.
After winning the Heisman, Sims rushed for 134 yards as the Sooners won the Orange Bowl and finished the season ranked third. Entering his senior year, Sims was a favorite in the Heisman Trophy odds and should have won the award in back-to-back years. He rushed for 1,506 yards, but 529 yards came in the last two games of the season after the Heisman votes had already been gathered. Sims finished 1979 as the runner-up.
The Detroit Lions drafted Sims number one over in 1980. He was the Offensive Rookie of the Year and was named to three Pro Bowls before a knee injury ended his NFL career in 1984.
1979: Charles White, RB, USC
The man who beat out Sims in the Heisman voting was USC’s Charles White, the third Trojan to win the award. Born in Los Angeles, White immediately impacted the team as he set a USC freshman record with 858 rushing yards and ten touchdowns. In his Sophomore season, White took over the starting job and did not disappoint, rushing for 1,478 yards in his first year and 1,760 yards as a junior.
White entered his senior season as a Heisman front-runner alongside Billy Sims from the University of Oklahoma. Even though White missed a game and a half due to injuries, he still led the nation in rushing with 1,803 yards and 18 touchdowns while the Trojans finished 10-0-1 on the year.
White was a runaway winner of the Heisman and followed his victory at the podium with one of his best performances in the Rose Bowl. The running back had 247 yards on 39 carries in a thrilling 17-16 victory over Ohio State. White finished his career with 5,598 rushing yards and 53 touchdowns.
The Cleveland Browns selected White 27th overall in 1980. He also played for the Los Angeles Rams, where he won the NFL rushing title in 1987.
Our College football expert picks the 1970s as the most dominant era for running backs. Even though the passing game was evolving and becoming a more significant part of teams’ offense, the college running back still dominated the game. Archie Griffin was as dominant as it gets, winning the Heisman Trophy in back-to-back seasons, the only player to do so. While there are more star freshmen than ever before, the Heisman Trophy odds of that happening again are still slim. Those were the Heisman Trophy winners of the 1970s, but we are not done covering the history of college football’s most prestigious award.
Next up, some of the greatest NFL players won the Heisman as college athletes in the 1980s.