The Heisman Trophy has come to stand apart from the most-valuable-player and player-of-the-year awards commonplace in other sports. The name ''Heisman'' has given it a certain uniqueness.
But the public is generally unaware of who John Heisman was and the place he holds in football history.
During the early part of this century, the Brown University alumnus became a legendary coaching figure at several schools, including Clemson, Oberlin, Auburn , and Georgia Tech. His 1916 Georgia Tech ''Golden Tornado'' squad defeated Cumberland College 222 to 0 in the rout to end all routs. Heisman was instrumental in legalizing the center snap and the forward pass and in initiating the use of yard markers and signals.
Fittingly, the award that bears his name provides a partial history of the college game.
* Teams that dropped the sport. The University of Chicago dropped football several years after the Maroons' Jay Berwanger won the first award. Ed Smith, a halfback who served as the model for the trophy, played at New York University, which also gave up the sport. Sensing football's spiraling growth, these universities elected to punt.
* Ivy League eclipsed. The academically prestigious Ivy League felt that learning and football could mix and produced nationally prominment teams on into the 1950s. In fact, two Yale men, Larry Kelley and Clinton Frank, captured back-to-back Heismans in 1936 and '37, and Dick Kazmaier won in 1951 when Princeton was the East's best team.
Since then the Ivies have been eclipsed by big-time schools that offer numerous athletic scholarships.
* Service-academy football. The heydey of Army and Navy football is reflected on the Heisman honor roll. With Army still a powerhouse in the aftermath of World War II, backfield mates Doc Blanchard (''Mr. Inside'') and Glenn Davis (''Mr. Outside'') grabbed the national spotlight. Blanchard won in 1945; then, after two years as a runner-up, Davis followed in 1946.
Army's Pete Dawkins received the honor in 1958. Navy got into the act in the early '60s, when Joe Bellino ('60) and Roger Staubach ('63) reported in for Heisman duty. Service-academy football declined during the Vietnam era, but it has experienced something of a resurgence in recent years. Until halfback Napoleon McCallum was injured, the Middies even had one of this season's serious Heisman candidates.
* Increased specialization. During the award's first two decades or so, recipients were often double or triple threats offensively who could run, pass, and even kick. Restricted substitution rules frequently meant they were also defensive stalwarts.
Not surprisingly, the only non-backs to win Heismans were Yale's Kelley and former Notre Dame star Leon Hart, a couple of 60-minute ends.