Akron’s Heisman Moment 130 Years Ago Helped Shape Our Beloved Game

Bronze Football Statue of John Heisman
The intriguing tactician who would change the game of football forever had a spell in the future Rubber City, delighting Akronites with “scientific” football before his rise to fame.


The Akron Zips football team has not had an overwhelming amount of success since it joined the FBS in 1987, winning just one MAC Championship and one bowl game in 36 seasons. Since then, the Zips have had just seven winning seasons total. These unfortunate statistics may lead us to forget about the school’s 19th century football success that included one of the most important seasons in all of college football history.

130 years ago Akron — then Buchtel College — struck gold when it hired John Heisman as its second head coach. The hire meant the first winning season in team history as Heisman used his football prowess to power the 1893 squad to five wins in a seven-game season. Because Heisman was constantly innovating while coaching, the 1893 season proved to play a big role in shaping the sport of football into what it is today.

Heisman, a Cleveland native who played at Brown and Penn in his college days, only had one year of coaching under his belt before he joined Buchtel — but it was a pretty good one. At 23 years old, he led Oberlin College to an undefeated 7-0 record in 1892. The tremendous season included a blowout win over a team in central Ohio that now calls themselves the Buckeyes and a close victory over Michigan in Ann Arbor.

Despite being younger than many of today’s fifth and sixth-year seniors, Heisman had already built up such a name for himself as a coach in the blossoming world of American football, his arrival in the Rubber City was major headline news. The Akron Beacon Journal at the time reported “a great rejoicing among students” following the announcement that he’d become the school’s football and baseball coach in January 1893.

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