1940's Heisman Trophy Winners
The 1940s were arguably the last decade of college football ruled by only a few dynasties. Only five teams won titles in the ‘40s, including three back-to-back winners (Minnesota, Army and Notre Dame), the last time a decade had more than one back-to-back national champion. The Army teams that won in ’44 and ’45 were particularly bolstered by the war (while many other colleges saw their squads depleted by World War II). The Cadets went undefeated in their two national championship seasons, with two Heisman trophy winners on the roster. Though Minnesota, Army and Michigan could lay claim to having the best team of the decade, that title almost surely belongs to the Fighting Irish. Notre Dame won four championships in the 1940s, more than any other team would win in a single decade since. They had a player finish in the top 10 of Heisman voting nine times, with three winners (the most winners from a single team in a decade until USC players won three in the 2000s). The Irish also went undefeated in five of the seven seasons coached by Frank Leahy in the decade (Leahy came on board in ’41, left for two years to join the Navy in ’44 and ’45, and returned in ’46).
With the war on, few innovations were made to the game, with one notable exception: the platoon. Prior to the 1940s, players played both ways, that is, they would play both on offense and on defense. However, in the ‘40s, with their roster swelled by recruits, Army and head coach Red Blaik began using a platoon system in which certain players only played on offense or defense. While initially the subject of scorn by other teams, the system eventually caught on, with modern-day football using almost exclusively the platoon system. Now, two-way players are an extreme rarity; the most notable two-way player in recent history was Florida State Seminole and Dallas Cowboy star Deion Sanders, who played both receiver and defensive back.