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Remembering Ohio State’s Heisman Trophy winners of the 1950s

Vic Janowicz and Hopalong Cassady both brought the trophy back to Columbus in the decade.

Janowicz Gets Heisman Trophy
Vic Janowicz holds up his Heisman, 1950
Photo by Bettmann Archive/Getty Images

Throughout the 1950s, the Ohio State Buckeyes were a football powerhouse. It was the decade of the Snow Bowl of 1950, of the 1954 national championship, of Woody. Wayne Woodrow Hayes took the reins of the OSU football program as head coach for the 1951 season; he would hold the position until shortly after that fateful Gator Bowl in December 1978. And the 50s witnessed Ohio State players earning the university’s second and third Heisman Trophies.

Vic Janowicz 1950

Vic Janowicz in Football Uniform
Janowicz in Buckeye uniform

Janowicz is listed as a running back, and if you look at his rushing statistics for his junior, Heisman season, you have to ask “what?” Janowicz’s contribution to the Bucks and to football, however, goes far beyond those running stats.

First of all, he played both ways — he played halfback, then tailback in single-wing offenses, and he started at safety on defense. And he punted. And he was the place kicker. As a prelude to that Heisman season, Janowicz intercepted two Cal passes, returning one back for a touchdown, in OSU’s 1950 Rose Bowl victory.

During the 1950 season, Vic moved to tailback in the single wing and against Pitt was six for six passing, with four touchdowns. In a big 83-21 win over Iowa, Janowicz was all over the field—rushing, passing, punting, returning kicks, kicking extra points, playing defense. Before he left the game, with most of the rest of the starters early in the second half, Vic Janowicz had recovered two Iowa fumbles, returned a punt 61 yards for a touchdown, completed 5/6 passes for another four TDs, rushed for a touchdown, and kicked 10 extra points, all in all accounting for 46 points. No wonder the Heisman webpage calls Vic Janowicz one of “the great multiple threats in college football.”

When he returned for his senior year in 1951, many fans and sportswriters thought that he was still the best collegiate football player in the nation. But Janowicz didn’t repeat as Heisman recipient his senior year. No, Woody arrived, changing the offense and reducing the role of the multi-threat single-wing tailback.

Vic’s versatility extended beyond the gridiron, however. After leaving OSU, Janowicz played Major League Baseball for the Pittsburgh Pirates before turning to pro football. Tragically, an auto accident injury ended his career after two seasons with the Redskins, 1954 and 1955.

Howard “Hopalong” Cassady 1955

Howard Cassady Running with Football
“Hopalong” carries the ball

For nearly twenty years, from his first film appearance in 1935 to the end of his television series in 1954, Hopalong Cassidy, played by William Boyd, was the cowboy hero of the movies and television. Dressed in black, riding Topper, Hopalong was mythic. Naturally, when Buckeye running back Howard Cassady started building a mythic career of his own, he was tagged with the nickname “Hopalong” (the spelling’s close enough, the pronunciation identical for Ohioans).

Woody Hayes won his first national championship in 1954. Cassady was All-American that year but lost out in the Heisman balloting to Wisconsin’s Alan Ameche. The following season the Bucks went 7-2, losing non-conference games by six points each to Stanford and Duke. Cassady, more of the kind of running back with which we are now familiar, was on a tear all year. He gained 958 yards on 161 carries for a 6.0 yards/carry average. He crossed the goal line for 14 touchdowns and also played defensive back. By any standard, Cassady was small. Although he’s usually listed at 5’10” and 183, it’s likely that his playing weight at Ohio State was in the 160s. But he could fly.

The third overall pick in the 1956 NFL draft, Cassady went to the Lions, where he played for several years as a running back, a defensive back, and a kick returner. Hopalong was one of the many great running backs to play in Woody’s “three yards and a cloud of dust” running game. But he would be the last Buck to win the Heisman for nearly 20 years—until Archie Griffin won his first of back-to-back trophies in 1974.