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The Journal Gazette

  • Associated Press Ohio State All-American Howard “Hopalong” Cassady and his wife, Barbara, pose with the Heisman Trophy in 1955.

Saturday, September 21, 2019 1:00 am

Heisman-winning Buckeye 'Hopalong' Cassady dies at 85

ANDREW WELSH-HUGGINS | Associated Press

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Howard “Hopalong” Cassady, the 1955 Heisman Trophy winner at Ohio State and running back for the Detroit Lions, died Friday. He was 85.

He died in Tampa, Florida, his longtime home, the university said.

“We've lost not only a legendary Buckeye, but also a wonderful person in Hop Cassady,” Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said in a statement. “He was an all-time great Buckeye in every way.”

Cassady also played baseball at Ohio State and was a longtime coach in the New York Yankees organization. It was the late owner and friend George Steinbrenner who was the first to tell Cassady he had won the Heisman.

“I had gotten word from my friends and told him not to get too big of a head but you're gonna win the Heisman,” Steinbrenner was quoted as saying.

Cassady was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1979. When he left Ohio State he held school records for career rushing yards, all-purpose yards and scoring.

“In those days if I had 100 yards in the first half I wouldn't play in the second half,” Cassady said during a 2001 interview with The Associated Press.

Cassady, whose No. 40 was retired by Ohio State in 2001, didn't need help getting recognized. He was nicknamed “Hopalong” by local sports writers in his first game when he scored three touchdowns in a 33-13 win over Indiana and “hopped all over the field like the performing cowboy.” It was an ode to the movie actor Hopalong Cassidy, the cowboy star of the 1950s who would pose with the football star for a memorable photo at the 1955 Rose Bowl.

The Columbus native was a four-year starter and letter winner and a two-time consensus All-American for the Buckeyes. He rushed for 2,466 yards and scored 37 touchdowns in his 36 games at Ohio State. During his four years under Hayes, he averaged almost 6 yards a run.

As a junior, he rushed for 701 yards and eight touchdowns when the Buckeyes went 10-0 and won the national championship. He was third in the Heisman voting.

His senior year, Cassady carried 161 times for 958 yards (5.9 per attempt) and ran for 14 touchdowns. He was named “Athlete of the Year” by The Associated Press in 1954.

Cassady squeezed in baseball at college for four seasons, starting for three years at shortstop. In 1955, when Ohio State won the Big Ten championship, Cassady had more home runs than Frank Howard, who went on to play 16 years in the majors.

After graduation, however, Cassady passed on the chance to play professional baseball. “I could have signed for $10,000 with the Yankees, but I would have had to go through the minors,” he said. “As the No. 1 draft choice I could start right away playing football.”

The Detroit Lions offered him a signing bonus of $15,000 that matched his annual salary. Cassady played eight seasons with the Lions, one with the Cleveland Browns and one with the Philadelphia Eagles before retiring in 1964.