On Johnny Football

Look at this guy in the photo above. Call him Johnny. He grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, and he played college football for Brown as an undergrad and for Penn as a grad student in law. 159 pounds of pure, uhm, gumption, Johnny played center. That was small for a lineman, even in that pre-1900, no helmet period of college ball.

Johnny’s real love, however, was acting. He had a deep, booming voice for someone who was fairly short and imperially slim. While still a high schooler, Johnny carried himself with somewhat of a theatrical air. His speech at graduation (he was the class valedictorian) was on The Dramatist as Sermonizer. Later, when Johnny decided to marry, he even married an actress.

He chose a career as a professor and, since he had played in college, a football coach. But acting and the stage never left his soul. During the off-seasons from his sport, he raised money for his teams by starting dramatic societies and putting on plays in which he often starred. One college paper at a poly-technical school at which Johnny taught gave a rave review of one of his performances, saying that, “He acted not like an amateur, but like the skilled professional that he is.”

His elocution and diction were perfect. His dramatic and even comedic timing was impeccable. His stage presence was riveting. Johnny used his not inconsiderable talents to win parts in some Broadway productions, and he acted in several plays off-Broadway as well. He toured with a southern dramatic company one summer, and eventually opened his own acting company and then, later, theatrical production company which both bore his name. His influence became so great that after his death from pneumonia at the age of 66, a musical was written about him and the rather odd mix in his life of football, teaching, and acting.

Oh, perhaps you wonder why you don’t know about this football player turned teacher and actor. Today, people around major universities and their supporters certainly know about him, but not for his acting abilities. In fact, there’s a major college prize, awarded yearly, that’s named after him, but it doesn’t go to the best collegiate actor.

No, it goes to the best collegiate football player.

It’s the Heisman Trophy.