Heisman Trophy Spotlight: Youngstown’s Own

By David Ford

The Heisman Memorial Trophy is awarded annually to the most outstanding collegiate football player whose performance exhibits the qualities of excellence and integrity. In 1942, Youngstown native Frank Sinkwich won the award as part of the University of Georgia Bulldogs.

Originally born near Zagreb, Croatia, Sinkwich and his family emigrated to Youngstown. In an article published by The Vindicator in 1990, Sinkwich credited his toughness to growing up on the city’s west side.

“I learned early in neighborhood pickup games that I had a desire to compete. When people ask why I succeeded in athletics, I always tell them that I didn’t want to get beat,” Sinkwich said.

During his early career, Sinkwich gained recognition as a star athlete at Chaney High School in Youngstown. Upon graduation, Sinkwich accepted a scholarship to play for the Georgia Bulldogs. According to ESPN’s Mark Schlabach, the Bulldogs discovered Sinkwich almost by accident.

“Legend has it that Georgia found 1942 Heisman Trophy winner Frank Sinkwich by luck more than anything else. Bulldogs assistant coach Bill Hartman had traveled to Youngstown, Ohio, to recruit a blue-chip player, but the prospect had already committed to Ohio State,” Schlabach reported. “While Hartman was refueling his car at a service station, the attendant told him about a talented player who lived down the street. Hartman found Sinkwich’s father sitting on the front porch of the family’s home, and Hartman eventually persuaded Sinkwich to visit Georgia. Sinkwich became one of the Bulldogs’ biggest stars.”

In 1941, as a junior, Sinkwich obtained a nearly unanimous All-America team selection, despite playing the majority of the season with a broken jaw, after the Bulldogs issued him a custom-made facemask.

As a junior, Sinkwich gained national recognition. As a senior, Sinkwich set conference and national records.

During his Heisman season, Sinkwich accounted for 1,392 passing yards, ran for 762 and 26 total touchdowns. At the time, his total yards (2,187) set a Southeastern Conference record, while the team’s total offense in 1942 (4,725) set a conference record as well.

If he wasn’t tough before, Sinkwich scored the only touchdown in a 9-0 victory against the University of California-Los Angeles in the Rose Bowl, playing on two sprained ankles. He finished his final collegiate game with 33 rushing yards, but no passing yards. Eight official NCAA selectors named the 1942 Georgia Bulldogs as national champions. The Associated Press; however, selected Ohio State Buckeyes as their champion.

While the Associated Press favored Ohio State over Georgia, they recognized Sinkwich’s individual accomplishments. In 1942, Sinkwich was named the AP’s Athlete of the Year over Boston Red Sox and baseball’s all-time great Ted Williams. That year, Williams won the American League’s Triple Crown.

During his three-year career, Sinkwich rushed for 2,271 yards, passed for 2,331 and totaled 60 combined touchdowns.

In the 1943 NFL Draft, the Detroit Lions selected Sinkwich with the first pick. During his brief professional career, Sinkwich was named the 1944 NFL MVP and twice selected to the all-pro first team. He last appeared for the Baltimore Colts in 1947.

After his playing career, Sinkwich was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1954, as well as the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame in 1967.

Sinkwich passed away in 1990, at the age of 70. According to the Brunswick News (2010), Sinkwich was always modest about his success and appreciative of the University of Georgia,

His Heisman Trophy remains on display at the university’s Butts-Mehre Hall.