Did you know that Vic Janowicz won the 1950 Heisman Trophy as the most outstanding college football player in the United States - the first former Major League baseball player to win and up until Bo Jackson (1985), the only one to accomplish that feat? Janowicz passed up offers to play professional football out of Ohio State in order to pursue a baseball career, reached the major leagues with the Pittsburgh Pirates, but only hit .214 over two seasons as a bench player. He returned to football late in the 1954 season with the Washington Redskins, and was their starting halfback in 1955. During training camp in 1956, he suffered a serious brain injury in an automobile accident that left him partially paralyzed and ended his athletic career. Vic is included on our list of Baseball and Football Players and one of the few who is also a member of the College Football Hall of Fame.
On May 29, 1987, Vic Janowicz was inducted into the National Polish-American Sports Hall of Fame (Link). The Epitome of the Triple Threat, by Buck Jerzy, is a superbly written article about Janowicz' induction in their prestigious Hall:
Vic Janowicz, son of Polish immigrants, is still considered the most versatile football player in Ohio State University gridiron history. The late Woody Hayes, who began his coaching career at Ohio State in Janowicz’s senior season (1951), said the little scatback did it all.
“Vic was unusually skilled in all phases of the game,” Hayes explained. “He not only was a great runner, but he also passed, was a place kicker and punter, played safety on defense and was an outstanding blocker. He epitomized the triple-threat football player.”
Janowicz had his greatest season as a junior and capped it by winning the coveted Heisman trophy in 1950 and being named to every All-American team.
University of Michigan fans remember Janowicz’s performance in that season’s final game, played in a blizzard in Columbus. The Wolverines won the “Snow Bowl”, 9-3, but the Elyria, Ohio native kept the Buckeyes in the game with his punting: 21 times for 672 yards, both still single-game OSU records. He kicked a 27-yard field goal into a 40-mile-an-hour wind for the Buckeyes’ only points.
Janowicz also holds the Ohio State record for most extra points in a game when he was a perfect 10-for-10 against Iowa in 1950. He also scored two touchdowns and passed for four more in the lopsided 83-21 victory over the Hawkeyes.
Janowicz is a rarity in professional sports by having played both major league baseball and football.
After serving in the Army, he signed a $25,000 bonus contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates, a remarkable feat considering he hadn’t played organized baseball since graduating from high school six years earlier.
Severely handicapped without minor league experience and the victim of a bonus-baby rule that required a player to remain in the major leagues for two years, Janowicz, a catcher and third baseman, saw little action in the 1953 and 1954 seasons.
Following the 1954 baseball season, Janowicz returned to football and signed with the Washington Redskins. Despite having been away from the game for two years, he made the team. He became Washington’s starting halfback by the end of the season. In 1955, he was the NFL’s leading scorer until the final week of the season. Janowicz had run, kicked and caught passes for 88 points, only to be beaten out in the last game of the season by the Detroit Lions’ versatile Doak Walker, who finished with 96 points.
The one-time collegiate star appeared headed for an outstanding professional football career until tragedy struck following a 1956 pre-season game in Los Angeles. Janowicz was injured in a near-fatal automobile accident, suffering a massive head injury that caused a creeping paralysis of the left side of his body over the next two years.
Determined to regain his health, Janowicz was moved to Columbus and began a rigorous program of physical therapy. He eventually made an amazing recovery. Janowicz died in 1996.