When Robert Griffin III of Baylor was named the winner of the 2011 John Heisman Memorial Trophy, he became the 11th winner of the award to have faced Rice en route to winning the award named for the legendary coach who concluded his career by coaching the Owls from 1924-27.
Griffin led the Bears to a 56-31 win in September, becoming the first Heisman winner to face the Owls since Ricky Williams of Texas in 1998.The Downtown Athletic Club of New York first presented a national player of the year award in 1935 to Chicago's Jay Berwanger. Heisman, who had became the club's athletic director in 1930, was instrumental in the creating the scope as well the voting procedures for the award. When he passed away the following October, the club unanimously voted to name their new award in his honor.
Two years later, the Owls had their first face-to-face matchup with an eventual winner of the Heisman, as Davey O'Brien led TCU to a 29-7 win at Rice Field.
A decade later, SMU's Doak Walker led the Mustangs to a 33-7 win over Rice at Rice Field and went on to capture the honor to as a junior. The Owls turned the tables on the reigning Heisman winner in his senior season (1949), as the Owls rallied for a 41-27 win in Dallas on their way to a Southwest Conference title and a #5 finish in the national polls.
Rice faced its first non-conference Heisman winner in 1954 when they dropped a tough 13-7 decision at Wisconsin. The Badgers where led by bruising fullback Alan "The Horse" Ameche and came into the game ranked third in the nation A national television audience saw Dicky Maegle and the Owls take a 7-6 lead into the game's final moments before Ameche punched in the game-winner in the final moments.
Maegle would become the first Owl to find his way into the award's final vote totals, finishing sixth with 258 points--including 36 first-place ballots, with remains the highest number of points and first-place votes for any Owl.
Rice would face the eventual Heisman winners in three consecutive seasons from 1957-59, posting a memorable win over one and providing a second with a signature moment in his Heisman campaign.
The Owls took on top-ranked Texas A&M in 1957, who were led by John David Crow who was destined to win the Heisman. However on this day, the stars on the field wore blue and gray, most notably King Hill whose interceptions foiled Aggie drives, whose punts pinned them deep when starting drives, and who PAT after the Owls lone touchdown proved to be the difference in the game as the Owls' prevailed 7-6. Hill's efforts that day earned him a place on numerous All American teams but did not generate any support for the Heisman.
One year later, Pete Dawkins and his Army teammates found themselves on their own 36, locked in a 7-7 tie with less than a minute left vs. the Owls at Rice Stadium on Homecoming. But Dawkins got behind the Owls defense and hauled in a 64-yard scoring pass to give the Cadets a 14-7 win and set the stage to win the Heisman.
LSU's Billy Cannon would had his Heisman moment later in the 1959 season, but he opened that year with a 26-3 win over LSU at Tiger Stadium. It would mark the last time the Owls would face a Heisman winner in his winning season for nearly two decades.
The Owls would return to the Heisman voting ranks in 1976 when quarterback Tommy Kramer, who earned consensus All America honors that year while becoming just the second quarterback to surpass 3,000 yards in a season, finished fifth in the voting, one spot ahead of Giff Nielsen of BYU.
Earl Campbell would break that Heisman-less streak in 1977, and Billy Sims of Oklahoma made it back-to-back encounters. It then took 11 years until Andre Ware of Houston would learn of his selection as the Heisman winner at Rice Stadium, as the Cougars and Owls had played for the Bayou Bucket on the day of the award's announcement.