It’s finally game week in Oklahoma, Sooner Nation! With only five days left in our countdown to kickoff, we felt it would only be right if we took this opportunity to highlight the five Heisman Trophy winners in our storied history: Billy Vessels, Steve Owens, Billy Sims, Jason White, and Sam Bradford.
We begin in 1952, when running back Billy “Curly” Vessels led the Sooners’ offense with 1,072 rushing yards on 167 carries, scoring 17 touchdowns on the ground and once more through the air. Vessels was known for his tough rushing style and his vision in the open field. Oklahoma went 8-1-1 that season, finishing 4th in the country and winning the conference title. Vessels was awarded with the Heisman Trophy, college football’s most prestigious honor, becoming the first OU player to ever do so.
We’ll fast-forward to 1969, when the powerful Steve Owens was running over defenders with his great size and strength. Although the Oklahoma Sooners had a rather disappointing season that year, going 6-4, Owens was the workhorse that made the team go. That season, Steve Owens carried the ball a staggering 358 times for 1,523 yards and 23 touchdowns. His monumental efforts ultimately won him the Heisman Trophy.
In 1978, with head coach Barry Switzer at the helm of the Oklahoma Sooners, running back Billy Sims turned in a remarkable Heisman Trophy winning campaign. Rushing for 1,896 yards on 256 attempts and 22 scores, Sims was a star in Switzer’s high-powered offense. Born in Missouri but raised in Texas, Sims is the only Heisman Winner in OU history who is not from the state of Oklahoma.
After going 25 seasons without a player winning the Heisman, Oklahoma’s Jason White became the first OU quarterback to win the coveted award in 2003. Early in his career, White was known for his ability to move on the football field, but after suffering two ACL injuries, the QB had to alter his style. White then became known for his cannon-like arm strength and deep-ball accuracy. In 2003, White threw for 3,846 yards and 40 touchdowns en route to claiming the Heisman Trophy.
From the longest drought without a Heisman winner to the shortest amount of time in between, quarterback Sam Bradford won the award just five seasons after Jason White. While Bradford’s deep-ball was also impressive, his true strength was his pinpoint accuracy. Bradford remains as one of the most efficient and precise passers in both college and pro football history. In 2008, Bradford was the leader of the highest scoring offense in Oklahoma history. Entering the ceremony with a record of 12-1 and a conference championship, his 4,464 yards and 48 touchdowns were astronomical enough to earn him the Heisman Trophy.
So how does the university remember these football giants? For those Sooner fans who have never been, just east of Memorial Stadium you’ll find Oklahoma’s Heisman Park. The park is an area dedicated to the five aforementioned Heisman winners. Each player has been commemorated and immortalized with a larger-than-life statue in their image.
While it is always fun for fans to prognosticate who may win the next Heisman Trophy or which teams will win the next championship, it is also important to remember the history of how the University of Oklahoma became so rich with a tradition of greatness. From all-time great head coaches to one-of-a-kind players, no program knows winning better than Oklahoma.
Follow Crimson & Cream Machine on Twitter!