John W. Heisman Invented a Football Game

John Heisman, coached Georgia Tech for 16 years, headed the Downtown Athletic Club of Manhattan from 1930-35, when he died of pneumonia.  The Heisman trophy, given to the best college football player annually, is named in his honor.

John Heisman, coached Georgia Tech for 16 years, headed the Downtown Athletic Club of Manhattan from 1930-35, when he died of pneumonia. The Heisman trophy, given to the best college football player annually, is named in his honor.

While researching an article on the history of football board games for the upcoming issue of OneForFive.com Print Edition, I was clicking through the US Patent Database when I came across US Patent Application Filed June 1, 1904 for “Game Apparatus.” Coincidentally, the Patent was granted on September 19, 1905, or 109 years and 1 day ago.

The Inventor of the game is listed as “John W. Heisman of Atlanta, Georgia.”

In 1904, John William Heisman was head coach of Georgia Tech. Today, of course, Heisman is known mostly for the trophy that bears his name. The Downtown Athletic Club of Manhattan awards the Heisman Trophy annually to the best college football player in the nation.

As a football coach, Heisman was an innovator. According to Heisman.com:

What he considered his greatest contribution, the forward pass, became legalized in 1906, after three years of writing and pestering Walter Camp and the rules committee. Much of the official rule book in the day adopted Heisman’s suggestions word for word.”

That spirit of innovation and invention didn’t stop on the field, apparently. By today’s standards his board game would be considered rudimentary, but it does bear some of the hallmarks of a modern football board game.

Heisman’s game works like this:

There are 7 bottle-shaped receptacles, each of a different color, and each containing 20 consecutively-numbered balls. Each bottle represents a different type of play, and each ball represents a specific play of the corresponding type.

Fig. 1 - the game board

Fig. 1 – the game board

For instance, the patent gives an example of one bottle that may be called “Center Plays.” Should the offensive coach call for a “Center Play” he would then randomly select a ball from the bottle, the number on that ball then determining the specific play to be run. The gamer then refers to the “schedule” that lists outcomes of the 20 specific plays, presumably yardage gained or lost, turnovers, etc.

While the bingo-ball mechanic may be novel, the game doesn’t appear to have much to offer in this day and age. There are no concessions for squads with different strengths and weaknesses, and a coach doesn’t have any in-game defense against his opponent’s play calling. Also, if you ask me, it seems like pouring balls out of bottles to get results would grow tiresome quickly.

That said, in the US Patent Database sections CCL/273/247 (which are patents for board games related to American Football & soccer), there are 234 patents. The earliest was granted on March 20, 1894. Of the 234 patents granted in the past 120 years, Heisman’s was only the 8th filed.

Heisman patent 2

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