UCLA’s Kenny Washington Wins Douglas Fairbanks Trophy After Vote Of Collegiate Players

kwash-trophies
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Several years before there ever was such a thing as the coveted Heisman Trophy (first presented in 1935) or even the prestigious Maxwell Award (1937), the collegiate football player rated to be the nation’s very best was bestowed with the honor of the DOUGLAS FAIRBANKS TROPHY.

The noteworthy prize was named after the famous silent film era actor who also was a founding member of both the United Artists entertainment company as well as The Motion Picture Academy organization. From its inception in 1931, the Douglas Fairbanks Trophy was directly tied to the annual All-America XI as determined by a poll of collegiate football players across the country and formally announced by the popular national magazine, Liberty Magazine. Players on every major college team were given specific instructions with respect to a comprehensive grading system co-invented by USC Trojans head coach Howard Jones along with prominent southern California syndicated sports columnist Norman L. Sper, Sr., and asked to vote for the very best performer at each position out of all the players that their own team had faced during the season in quesiton; additionally, players were also requested to name one opponent judged to be the most outstanding overall.

It is very relevant to note that Sper’s annual national poll of collegiate players on behalf of Liberty was always conducted after the very last of all NCAA regular season games in any given year had been played. At this particular point in time, of course, the majority of All-America squads were named before some college teams had actually completed their respective schedules. It is also important to remember that, from 1931 thru 1941, Liberty Magazine retained status as an official “selector” in terms of the NCAA’s annual Consensus All-America XI.

The roll call of Douglas Fairbanks Trophy winners reads very much like a list of college football’s brightest stars during the decade that preceded the United States’ involvement in colossal event known as World War II; as it turned out, all eleven of the players who won the Douglas Fairbanks Trophy were later enshrined in the College Football Hall Of Fame :

1931 …… Erny Pinckert …………………….. Southern Cal – sr HB
1932 …… Harry Newman ………………….. Michigan – sr QB
1933 …… Francis “Pug” Lund …………….. Minnesota – jr HB
1934 …… Robert “Bones” Hamilton …… Stanford – jr HB
1935 …… Jay Berwanger ……………………. Chicago – sr HB
1936 …… Sam Francis ……………………….. Nebraska – sr HB
1937 …… Byron “Whizzer” White ………. Colorado – sr HB
1938 …… Davey O’Brien ……………………. Texas Christian – sr QB
1939 …… Kenny Washington …………….. UCLA – sr HB
1940 …… Tom Harmon …………………….. Michigan – sr HB
1941 ……. Frank Sinkwich ………………….. Georgia – jr HB

As for the validity of allowing the collegiate players to serve as the voters exclusively, no less of a qualified authority than the professional scouts and coaching staffs of the National Football League clubs, themselves, certainly seemed to stamp their overwhelming approval on the individual players who were being chosen to receive the Douglas Fairbanks Trophy each year … (with the conspicuous exception of UCLA’s Washington, that is) :

Berwanger …… 1st round, 1st overall – 1936 NFL Draft ……. Philadelphia
Hamilton …….. 8th round, 67th overall – 1936 NFL Draft … Brooklyn
Francis ………… 1st round, 1st overall – 1937 NFL Draft ……. Philadelphia
White ………….. 1st round, 4th overall – 1938 NFL Draft …… Pittsburgh
O’Brien ………… 1st round, 4th overall – 1939 NFL Draft …… Philadelphia
Washington ……………….. not selected – 1940 NFL Draft
Harmon ……….. 1st round, 1st overall – 1941 NFL Draft ……. Chicago
Sinkwich ………. 1st round, 1st overall – 1943 NFL Draft ……. Detroit

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“GRIDDERS NAME KEN WASHINGTON GREATEST PLAYER”

Berkeley Daily Gazette – December 27, 1939

NEW YORK (United Press) — 1,659 players from 91 major football schools in the country today selected their own All-America team based on the ability of their rivals during the 1939 season. Their selection appears in the Liberty Magazine on sale today as is unique in that it was picked without the benefit of “experts”. Only one of the 664 players named (i.e., at all positions) received the vote of every player who opposed him (and) he was Kenny Washington, UCLA’s great halfback.

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The Berkeley Daily Gazette article referred to above also reported that “91 of the 93 ballots cast by opponents of the University of Michigan this year named Tom Harmon as the outstanding player they faced”. But those most impressive returns still left Harmon short as far as the voting for the Douglas Fairbanks Trophy was concerned. This because all 103 of the votes cast by opponents of the University of California at Los Angeles labeled Washington, the nation’s total offense (yards rushing & passing) leader in 1939, as the very best.

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One response to “UCLA’s Kenny Washington Wins Douglas Fairbanks Trophy After Vote Of Collegiate Players

  1. Patrick J. Friedrich

    According to my research, Frank Sinkwich also won the Fairbanks Trophy in 1942.