Monday Newsletter: Davey O’Brien’s Legacy deserves more recognition

Share this

By Jamie Plunkett
Frogs Today staff writer


Last week, Max Duggan officially became the first Horned Frog to win the Davey O’Brien award.

The award, given to the nation’s best quarterback, has never before graced the TCU trophy room despite being named after a Frog.

And what a Frog he was.

One of two Heisman winners to play their high school ball at Woodrow Wilson High School in Dallas, O’Brien made his way to Fort Worth in 1935. As a freshman, he backed up Sammy Baugh during TCU’s first national championship run. He backed Baugh up again during the 1936 campaign, watching on as Baugh put together a campaign that would earn him a fourth-place finish in the Heisman voting that season.

Following the 1936 season Baugh left for professional ranks, leaving the quarterback job to O’Brien.

The 1937 campaign was tumultuous. The Frogs finished with a 4-4-2 record, as O’Brien struggled at times. But, TCU finished on a three game winning streak, beating Texas, Rice, and SMU to close out their season.

That momentum carried into a stellar 1938 season, during which O’Brien set the Southwest Conference single-season passing yards record, throwing for 1,475 yards.

The geology major led TCU to an undefeated record and their second national title, following a 15-7 Sugar Bowl win over Carnegie Tech.

O’Brien’s season, which included 19 passing touchdowns and just four interceptions on 194 pass attempts, earned him 13 All American accolades, the Heisman Trophy, the Maxwell Award, and the Walter Camp award.

He was the first player from the Southwest Conference to win the Heisman, and was the first player to win the Heisman the Maxwell, and the Walter Camp in the same season.

To this day, he’s the only Horned Frog to win the Heisman Trophy.

O’Brien went on to have a short, two year stint in the NFL with the Philadelphia Eagles, not because he wasn’t successful, but simply because he wasn’t interested.

O’Brien rejected a $2,000 raise from Philadelphia following the 1940 season, electing instead to retire and join the FBI.

Following his time in the FBI, O’Brien worked in a variety of roles, including land management and as an advisor to Lamar Hunt during the founding of the American Football League.

Following his passing in 1977, an award was created in his honor, originally to be given to the most outstanding player in the Southwest.

Texas running back Earl Campbell was the first-ever winner of the award, followed by Oklahoma running back Billy Simms and Baylor linebacker Mike Singletary. They remain the only three non-quarterbacks to ever receive what was then known as Davey O’Brien Memorial Trophy.

In 1981, the trophy was renamed the Davey O’Brien National Quarterback Award, to be given annually to the best quarterback in the nation.

Prior to Duggan winning the award this season, only one Horned Frog had ever been named a finalist.

Trevone Boykin was a finalist for the award in 2014, following TCU’s 12-1 season and 42-3 win in the Peach Bowl over Ole Miss. Oregon’s Marcus Mariota eventually won the award that year.

Now that the trophy is making its way back to Fort Worth, the only question that remains is how close to O’Brien’s Heisman will it live?

Jamie Plunkett,

Just a Frog fan covering TCU Athletics.

TCU riff ram icon

Never miss an exclusive story!