Summary

Birth:
22 Jun 1917 1
Death:
Nov 1977 1
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Personal Details

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Full Name:
Robert David O'Brien 2
Also known as:
Davey O'Brien, Heisman Trophy Winner 2
Full Name:
R Obrien 1
Birth:
22 Jun 1917 1
Death:
Nov 1977 1
Residence:
Last Residence: Fort Worth, TX 1
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Occupation:
Football 2
Race or Ethnicity:
Irish 2
Social Security:
Card Issued: Texas 1
Last Payment: Fort Worth, TX 1
Social Security Number: ***-**-5230 1

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Stories

Davey O'Brien

Davey O’Brien was born in Dallas, Texas on June 22, 1917. As a youth, he quarterbacked a sandlot football team self-named the Gaston Avenue Bulldogs and spent several summers at the Kanakuk Boys Kamp near Branson, Mo. He was a 118-pound, five-foot-seven All-State selection who led WoodrowWilson High School to the Texas State playoffs in 1932.

 

O’Brien enrolled at Texas Christian University in 1935 and sat on the bench behind the legendary Sammy Baugh. In 1937, O’Brien’s first season as starting quarterback, TCU fell to a mediocre 4-4-2 record, yet O’Brien began to make a name for himself as he was named to the first-team All-Southwest Conference.

 

In 1938, the now 150-pound O'Brien, often referred to as "Little Davey", threw for 1,457 passing yards - a Southwest Conference record that stood for 10 years. He had only four interceptions in 194 passing attempts, and set a NCAA record for most rushing and passing plays in a single-season. That year O’Brien led the Horned Frogs to their first undefeated season, as they outscored their opponents by a 269-60 margin and held nine of their 10 regular-season opponents to seven points or less, including three shutouts. With O’Brien at the helm of their offense, the Horned Frogs’ season culminated with a 15-7 victory over Carnegie Tech in the Sugar Bowl and the National Championship Title. 

O'Brien amassed remarkable accolades as a college athlete – named to 13 All-America teams and the first player to win the Heisman, Maxwell and Walter Camp trophies in the same year – but even more impressive was the leadership he exerted, the competitive spirit and sportsmanship he displayed, his dedication to excellence and his ability to inspire others to excel. He was also the first Heisman winner from both TCU as well as the Southwest Conference, and when he went to New York to accept the Heisman Trophy, Fort Worth boosters hired a stagecoach to carry him to the Downtown Athletic Club.

 

After graduating from TCU, O’Brien signed a $10,000 contract with the Philadelphia Eagles of the National Football League (NFL). In his rookie season with the Eagles, he passed for 1,324 yards in 11 games, breaking fellow TCU alum, Baugh’s, NFL record and was named first-team quarterback on the NFL’s All-Star Team. The Eagles gave him a $2,000 raise, but he retired after the 1940 season to join the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

 

After completing his training, he was assigned to the bureau’s field office in Springfield, Mo. O’Brien was a firearms instructor at Quantico, Va., and spent the last five years of his FBI career in Dallas. He retired from the bureau in 1950 and went to work for Haroldson L. Hunt in land development. He later entered the oil business working for Dresser-Atlas Industries of Dallas.

 

Davey O’Brien was named to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1955 and the Texas Sports Hall of Fame in 1956. In 1971, he was diagnosed with cancer and underwent surgery to remove a kidney and part of his right lung. He lost his courageous battle with cancer on November 18, 1977.

 

 

Davey O'Brien

Davey O'Brien stood 5 feet, 7 inches tall and tilted the scales to 150 pounds when quarterbacking TCU in 1938.

 

 

He may have been a smidge taller and slightly heavier in cleats and pads, but O'Brien certainly would never be confused with a hulking, menacing product like Chuck Bednarik -- hailed as pro football's last "60-minute man" more than two decades later.

But O'Brien's own versatility in leading the Horned Frogs to the national championship, as recognized by the Associated Press, made him the biggest man in college football that 1938 season as winner of the Heisman Trophy.

 

 

"He was so little, you wouldn't even see him," TCU teammate and end Don Looney, 95, once said of O'Brien. "Sometimes I would be running, and something would just tell me, 'Here it comes.' And the ball would fly right into my hands."

 

 

In the 75 seasons in which the AP has crowned a national champion and a Heisman Trophy has been awarded, 13 players have won both in the same season. O'Brien was the first to do so.

 

 

He died in 1977 at age 60. Since 1981, major college football's top QB has received the Davey O'Brien National Quarterback Award.

 

 

O'Brien led the nation in passing and total offense in 1938, guiding TCU to an 11-0 finish. But he also was the Frogs' place-kicker and punter and played in the secondary and returned kicks, to boot.

 

 

That about covers it.

 

 

"I don't think he sat out very many plays," said the Heisman winner's son, David O'Brien.

 

 

TCU's recent football success can be called a renaissance because of what the Frogs achieved in the 1930s behind O'Brien and his quarterbacking predecessor, Sam Baugh, who led TCU to the Sugar Bowl and Cotton Bowl following the 1935 and 1936 seasons before O'Brien took over behind center as a junior. O'Brien led the nation in passing in 1937 and finished second in total offense as the Frogs went 5-4-2, winning only half of their Southwest Conference games.

 

 

O'Brien and the 1938 Frogs experienced no such frustrations. Well, maybe one: They dropped from first to second in the AP poll in mid-November behind Notre Dame. But a week after TCU's regular season ended, the Irish lost at USC. The Associated Press named its national champion before bowl play back in the day and so crowned the Frogs.

 

 

In TCU's 15-7 Sugar Bowl victory over Carnegie Tech on Jan. 2, 1939, O'Brien displayed his prolific skills. He threw a touchdown pass, kicked a field goal and made a late interception to clinch the win.

 

 

His coach was even knocked out by his passing prowess.

 

 

Frogs skipper Dutch Meyer would typically watch his team from a wooden folding chair in the bench area. Following O'Brien's high, sailing passes, however, once proved problematic to the coach, according to Looney.

 

 

"Davey threw a pass to me, and Dutch leaned back in his chair watching it fly," Looney recalled a few years ago. "It was so high, his chair fell over backwards. He hit his head and was out cold."

 

 

O'Brien played two seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles, ranking among the NFL's passing leaders. But he walked away from the pro game to join the FBI.

 

 

That's not to say he stopped firing downfield. O'Brien became a standout on the bureau's pistol team.

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