Davey O’Brien

TCU Horned Frogs quarterback (1936-1938)
(June 22, 1917-November 18, 1977)

  • Heisman Trophy winner in 1938
  • Maxwell Award winner in 1938
  • Drafted in the 1st round of the 1939 Draft with the 4th pick by the Philadelphia Eagles
  • Inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1955
  • NFL Rookie of the Year in 1939
  • Selected All-Pro in 1939 after leading the NFL in passing yards with Philadelphia

Davey OBrien CardRobert David “Davey” O’Brien was the first Heisman Memorial Trophy Award winner from west of the Mississippi, and he was also the first Heisman winner to pursue a professional career. O’Brien, who won both the Heisman Trophy and the Maxwell Award in 1938 as college football’s top player, was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles with the fourth overall pick in the 1939 NFL Draft which was dominated by former Horned Frogs taken in the first round. O’Brien’s center at TCU, Charles “Ki” Aldrich, was taken with the first overall pick by the Chicago Cardinals followed by O’Brien and then TCU tackle I.B. Hale who was selected by the Washington Redskins with the eighth overall pick. Hale and O’Brien were best friends who had also played together at Woodrow Wilson High School in Dallas prior to attending TCU, and both would later pursue careers as agents in the FBI.

O’Brien was an immediate success in the young NFL leading the league in passing yards as a rookie in 1939 and earning both All-Pro and Rookie of the Year accolades. Despite the success, O’Brien only played one more year before retiring following the 1940 season ending his football career.

Post-career and death

O’Brien immediately pursued a career as an FBI special agent spending time in Springfield, Missouri, and Quantico, Virginia, before retiring in 1950. He returned to Fort Worth where he worked for legendary Texas oil tycoon H.L. Hunt for a time and befriended his son, Lamar Hunt. When the latter Hunt began to assemble the ownership groups for the new American Football League in 1959, it was O’Brien who delivered the news to the NFL commissioner at the time – Bert Bell, the man who had been his coach during his professional career with the Eagles. Despite his assistance to Hunt whose new AFL team was christened the Dallas Texans and began play in the fall of 1960, O’Brien would go on to become the first color commentator that same season for Hunt’s new NFL rival, the Dallas Cowboys. He continued in the role from 1960 to 1964 during which time Hunt was forced to relocate his team to Kansas City after the 1962 season.

In 1971, O’Brien was diagnosed with cancer and underwent surgery to remove a kidney and part of his right lung. Unfortunately, O’Brien’s battle with the disease continued, and it ultimately claimed his life on November 18, 1977. Just prior to his death, his longtime friend and business partner, Charles Ringler, established the Davey O’Brien Foundation and the Davey O’Brien Memorial Trophy. It was originally presented to the most outstanding player from the Southwestern states of Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma or Texas, but four years later, it was expanded to a national scope and limited to the quarterback position. It remains the nation’s oldest and most prestigious quarterback award.

Where’s the trophy?

Davey O’Brien’s Heisman Trophy is on display at the heritage center of the John Justin Athletic Center located in the south end zone of TCU’s Amon G. Carter Stadium.

Web Links

Heisman.com Biography
Maxwell Award Biography
College Football Hall of Fame Biography
Wikipedia.org: Davey O’Brien
Davey O’Brien Foundation

Reading List

Videos and Highlights

The Story of the 1938 TCU Horned Frogs

The 1939 Sugar Bowl: TCU vs. Carnegie Tech

Davey O’Brien as quarterback of the Philadelphia Eagles in his final football game ever (12/1/1940: Washington Redskins 13, Philadelphia Eagles 6)


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