Editor’s Note: Jim Reineking is an editor for NFL.com. Here’s his take on successful NFL players who were Heisman Trophy winners in college.
“Marcus Allen: A Football Life” debuts on NFL Network tonight at 8 p.m. ET.
On Saturday, Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel became the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy. Football fans are years away from learning what Johnny Football’s NFL future holds — if there even is one — and whether he’ll be among the select few who won college football’s biggest prize and also excelled in the NFL, or among the many Heisman winners who fell short of expectations in pro football.
Marcus Allen — the subject of the latest installment of “A Football Life” — is among the few who transcended both the collegiate and professional game, and has a prominent place among the all-time great Heisman Trophy winners in the NFL.
1. Barry Sanders
College: Oklahoma State
NFL team: Detroit Lions
The subject of last week’s “A Football Life,” Sanders won the 1988 Heisman Trophy after one of the greatest single-season performances in college football history. Sanders rushed for a collegiate-record 2,628 yards and 37 touchdowns. Sanders’ college success carried over brilliantly into the NFL, where he displayed a thrilling running style uniquely his own in NFL history.
2. Roger Staubach
NFL team: Dallas Cowboys
As a Heisman winner for a military academy — the last, in fact, from the academies to win that award — and then the quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys when they were worthy of their “America’s Team” moniker, Staubach was a sort of gallant gridiron hero. Staubach was part of five Cowboys teams that reached the Super Bowl, with two of those teams claiming a championship.
3. Paul Hornung
College: Notre Dame
NFL team: Green Bay Packers
The “Golden Boy” is the only player from a losing team to ever have won the Heisman Trophy. At first, Hornung’s dynamic skill set — he could run, pass and kick — didn’t translate to the NFL, that was until Vince Lombardi arrived in Green Bay and turned Hornung into one of the greatest scoring threats in NFL history. In 1960, Hornung set a scoring record of 176 points that took until 2006 for the mark to finally be broken. The San Diego Chargers’ LaDainian Tomlinson did so by scoring 180 points, but that was done in a 16-game season, giving L.T. four more games to accomplish the feat than Hornung.
College: Southern California
NFL teams: Buffalo Bills, San Francisco 49ers
Before his legal troubles infiltrated his legacy, Simpson was considered one of the greatest running backs in NFL history. In 1972, Simpson rushed for 2,003 yards to became the first NFL running back to eclipse the 2,000-yard mark. In all, Simpson collected four NFL rushing titles and retired as the NFL’s second-leading all-time rusher (he now stands at No. 18 on the all-time list). At USC, Simpson’s exploits are the stuff of legend. In 1967, a season before winning the Heisman Trophy, Simpson was the star in one of the many contests in the “Game of the Century” realm. Simpson’s 64-yard touchdown run gave USC a 21-20 win over their cross-town rivals and the No. 1 spot in the polls.
College: Southern California
NFL teams: Los Angeles Raiders, Kansas City Chiefs
Allen had an epic three-year run from 1981-83. It started with his Heisman-winning campaign in 1981, continued with the NFL Rookie of the Year award in 1982 and then MVP honors in Super Bowl XVIII. Allen was known for his versatility, becoming the first player in NFL history to rush for more than 10,000 yards and have more than 5,000 yards receiving. A much-publicized feud with Raiders owner Al Davis resulted in a trade to the division-rival Chiefs, with whom Allen teamed with another exiled great — Joe Montana — for one last run at glory. The duo helped lead the Chiefs to the AFC Championship Game (where they ultimately lost to the Buffalo Bills) and Allen was named NFL Comeback Player of the Year.
NFL teams: Dallas Cowboys, Denver Broncos
After Dorsett led Pittsburgh to the national championship during his 1976 Heisman campaign, Dorsett became a member of the Cowboys after the team executed a bold draft-day trade to acquire the running back. Dorsett was deemed the missing piece in Dallas’ championship puzzle, and the rookie delivered as the Cowboys stormed to their second Super Bowl win in 1977.
7. Earl Campbell
NFL team(s): Houston Oilers, New Orleans Saints
A year after Dorsett won the Heisman, Campbell claimed the prize after a decorated career at the University of Texas. Campbell stayed in the state of Texas upon entry in the NFL, serving as the workhorse for the celebrated “Luv Ya Blue” era Houston Oilers of the late 1970s. Campbell’s powerful running style helped him lead the NFL in rushing for three consecutive seasons (1978-80), becoming the first player to do so since the Cleveland Browns great Jim Brown.
College: Southern Methodist
NFL team: Detroit Lions
Dallas’ Highland Park High School is famous for producing football players. Most notably, players for the Detroit Lions. Long before Matthew Stafford became Highland Park’s most famous alum, Walker and Bobby Layne teamed up to provide Detroit with its NFL glory years. Walker was a part of two of the Lions’ three NFL championship teams in the 1950s.
9. Charles Woodson
NFL teams: Oakland Raiders, Green Bay Packers
This year, Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o was not able to join Woodson as the only strictly defensive players to win the Heisman Trophy. So, Woodson stands alone amongst the offensive skill players to have won the award throughout its 77-year history (though, it should be noted that Woodson was a return specialist and also played some receiver for the Wolverines). Woodson has made a profound impact in the NFL. In 2001, Woodson was one of the key antagonists in the famous “Tuck Rule” playoff game against the New England Patriots. Woodson resurrected his career in Green Bay, where his penchant for picking off passes and returning those turnovers for touchdowns has him one score shy of Rod Woodson’s record of 12 pick sixes.
NFL teams: Los Angeles Raiders
Before becoming the first athlete to be named an all-star in two major sports, Jackson was a Heisman winner at Auburn after rushing for 1,786 yards in his senior season with the Tigers. Jackson’s entry into the NFL wasn’t without controversy, bypassing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to play baseball. Eventually, the Raiders acquired his rights and allowed a unique timeshare with the Kansas City Royals. Jackson might have been a part-time football player, but his exploits are the stuff of legend. He teamed with Allen to form one of the greatest running back tandems in NFL history, and was forever immortalized in the Nintendo classic “Tecmo Super Bowl.”