Oct. 18, 2000
By Sam Blackman Assoc. Sports Information Dir.The Maryland Game Program – October 14, 2000
A name synonymous with not only the early years of Clemson football but the collegiate game is John Heisman.
A stern disciplinarian, he expected his players to be of high character and performance both on the football field and in the classroom.
Heisman coached the Tigers in 1900-1903 and was responsible for putting the Clemson name among the annuals of the great early collegiate teams, including the undefeated team of 1900.
Heisman was brought to Clemson by professor, and later University President, Walter Riggs. In the spring of 1894, Riggs was a graduate manager for the Auburn football team and he was responsible for finding a coach for the 1895 season. Riggs wrote to Carl Williams of the University of Pennsylvania, captain of the 1894 team, asking him to suggest a suitable coach. He replied recommending J.W. Heisman, an ex-Penn player, and his coach at Oberlin a few years earlier.
After several weeks, Riggs finally found Heisman in Texas, where he was engaged in raising tomatoes. Having sunk about all of his capital into the tomato venture, he was glad to go back to his old love of football and he readily went to coach at Auburn for $500.00 a year.
Riggs later was hired as a professor at Clemson and he hired Heisman at Clemson in 1900. (Riggs started the Clemson football program in 1896 and was head coach in 1896 and 1899).
Heisman began his coaching career at Oberlin in 1892 and lasted 36 years in the profession. His career included positions at Akron, Auburn, Clemson, Georgia Tech, Pennsylvania, Washington and Jefferson, and Rice University. He had an overall career record of 185 wins, 70 losses and 17 ties.
He invented the hidden ball trick, the handoff, the double lateral and the “Flea flicker.” He pioneered the forward pass, and originated the center snap and the word “hike” (previously the center used to roll the ball on the ground to the quarterback).
Heisman took Clemson to a 19-3-2 record in his four seasons. His .833 winning percentage is still the best in Clemson history. He was also the Clemson baseball coach between 1901-1904.
Clemson was a powerhouse during his tenure and was a most feared opponent. His secret was that he depended on smart, quick players rather than large size and brawn.
William Heisman, a nephew of John Heisman used to tell a story about how his famous uncle stressed academics.
“I remember a story Coach Heisman used to tell me about this famous football player he confronted in the locker room before a big game.
My uncle came busting through the door and went over to this guy and said, ‘You can’t play today because you haven’t got your grades up to par.’ The player looked up at my uncle and said, ‘Coach, don’t you know that the sportswriters call this toe on my right foot the million-dollar toe?’ My uncle snapped back right quick and said, ‘What good is it if you only have a fifteen-cent head?'”
Another favorite Heisman story was the speech he used to make before a season began. Heisman would face his recruits holding a football. “What is it?” he would sharply ask. Then he would tell his players “a football was a prolate spheroid, an elongated sphere – in which the outer leather casing is drawn up tightly over a somewhat smaller rubber tubing.” Then after a long pause he would say, “better to have died as a small boy than to fumble this football.”
Heisman broke down football into these percentages: talent 25 percent, mental 20 percent, aggressiveness 20 percent, speed 20 percent, and weight 15 percent. He considered coaching as being a master-commanding, even dictatorial. “He has no time to say ‘please’ or ‘mister,’ and he must be occasionally severe, arbitrary, and something of a czar.”
There were some interesting facts about the 1900 season and the following are little known facts about a few of the games in that magical year.
On Oct. 22, 1900, Clemson defeated Wofford 21-0. Clemson did have the chance to score even more points, but Clemson and Wofford made a pre-game arrangement that every point Clemson scored after the first four touchdowns would not count (back then touchdowns counted five points). No one could keep an accurate count after Clemson scored its first 21 points within six minutes. All additional touchdowns Clemson made were called back and the ball was given to Wofford deep in Clemson territory.
In an early Clemson-Georgia game, on Nov. 10, 1900, Clemson had to fend off the fans and the Bulldogs in this game as the Tigers defeated Georgia in Athens by a score of 39-5. Before the game started, the Clemson players had to survive a coal barrage thrown by some students from the windows of nearby dorms.
On Nov.24, 1900 Clemson defeated Virginia Tech by the score of 12-5. This game was shortened at the request of the Virginia Tech captain because it was getting dark and the players could not see the ball.
Clemson finished the 1900 season with a 35-0 defeat of Alabama on Nov. 29, 1900. This allowed Heisman’s team to finish the season undefeated with a 6-0 record. This was Clemson’s first undefeated team and was the only team to win all of its games in a season until the 1948 squad went 11-0. The Tigers only allowed two touchdowns the entire 1900 season.
John Heisman’s 19-3-2 Clemson record is still the best in Clemson history on a percentage basis. The man for which the famous trophy is named that each year honors the best player in college football, holds the distinction of building the foundation of Clemson’s football tradition.
Heisman shared his views of Clemson football in its infancy.
“At Clemson we have a style of football play radically different from anything on earth. Its notoriety and the fear and admiration of it have spread throughout the length and breadth of the entire Southern world of football. All colleges should have fixed athletic traditions and should be loyal to them as to the institution itself. To the complete unity and harmony of athletic opinion and sentiment existing at Clemson is due in no small part of credit to her glorious athletic record.”
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