The passing of former U of C football star Jay Berwanger on Wednesday night will hardly go unmarked. His death was front page newsboth in the Maroon and in national sports media outlets. But it would be a shame to remember Berwanger as merely a great football player, which is not to take away from his accomplishments on the gridiron, which are impressive by any school's standards. Berwanger's academic dedication was at least equal to his athletic accomplishments, if not more so. Berwanger chose Chicago over other schools offering better scholarships because he wanted to get a good education in business. He never played in the National Football League, despite being the first draft pick in NFL history. Berwanger took a waiver on professional football, in favor of putting his Chicago diploma to use in starting his own successful business.
Berwanger was perhaps the last tie to the University of Chicago of the early twentieth centuryan era in which Chicago was as well known for its athletics as for its academics. Robert Maynard Hutchins dismantled the football program less than five years after Berwanger departed the University, yet Berwanger remained a positive figure representing Chicago. One might have expected Berwanger to feel put out by Hutchins's decision to scrap the sport that helped make him famous, yet he never stopped giving back to his alma mater. He was tireless in working as a member of alumni committees, and was perhaps the most visible alumni of the University, returning for every Homecoming after the return of football in 1969.
Jay Berwanger was one of the bright lights of the first century of the University of Chicago, and he will never be forgotten. Although Chicago may never add another Heisman to its trophy cabinet and Stagg Field has long since given way to the Regenstein, Berwanger's heroics on and off the field will ensure him a place in Chicago's hall of fame.