AndyVance's picture
July 31, 2013 at 10:40a

Unlike almost every other jersey number discussed to this point in our countdown to kickoff, you can count the number of players to wear #31 on one hand. Literally. Only five men have worn #31, and all of them played their college ball prior to 1952. Of those five, you've only ever heard of one: Victor Felix "Vic" Janowicz, son of Polish immigrants living in Elyria, Ohio, and one of the best classic triple-threat players ever to play the game.

A tailback in Ohio State's single wing offense, Janowicz won the Heisman Trophy in 1950 (becoming just the third junior ever to do so), and was a consensus All-American the same season. Ohio State's MVP in both '50 and '51, he also took home numerous player of the year honors, including the Big Ten's coveted silver football (an honor afforded one Braxton Miller last fall). Woody Hayes, who as the newly-minted Buckeye head coach only coached Janowicz's senior year, said of him, "He was not only a great runner, but also passed, was a placekicker and punter, played safety on defense and was an outstanding blocker. Janowicz epitomized the 'triple-threat' football player."

In Hayes' first season - and Janowicz last - Ohio State compiled a middling 4–3–2 record, coming off of a decent 6-3 season in 1950. Janowicz' Heisman-trophy winning season was the final for coach Wes Fesler, who fell prey to the reality that at Ohio State, one game matters above all the rest. The season finale against Michigan was the infamous game later known as the Snow Bowl with the bitter archrivals punting the ball a combined FORTY. FIVE. TIMES.

His College Football Hall of Fame biography says this about Janowicz' junior exploits:

In the Rose Bowl, January 2, 1950, he intercepted two passes, ran one back 41 yards, and helped Ohio State beat California 17-14. In 1950 he played both offense and defense, averaging 50 minutes a game. Wes Fesler, one of the last coaches to use the single- wing formation, put Janowicz at tailback, where he ran, passed, punted, blocked, and place-kicked. Janowicz threw four touchdown passes in a 41-7 victory over Pittsburgh. He made a 90-yard punt in a 48-0 victory over Minnesota. When the Buckeyes beat Iowa 83-21, Janowicz was responsible for 46 points. He ran for two touchdowns (one a 61-yard punt return), passed for four touchdowns, and kicked 10 extra points.

Behind the Heisman standout, the Buckeyes outscored opponents 286-111 that season, but Fesler's record against Michigan fell to 0-3-1 despite a respectable 21-13-3 overall. In Hayes' newly-installed offense, #31 wasn't nearly as dominant and the Buckeyes' record reflected the difference (though Hayes would be vindicated a few years later, as his 1954 squad won the school's second national championship and his first of five). Janowicz did kick field goals that were the winning plays in victories over Northwestern 3-0 and Pittsburgh 16-14; he appeared in two post-season senior games, the East-West Shrine and the Hula Bowl, earning MVP honors in both.

Known primarily as a halfback, he was in fact a helluva kicker, and set quite a few school records with his boot during the 1950 Heisman campaign:

  • Most Extra Points Made in a Game: 10 vs. Iowa
  • Most Extra Points Attempted in a Game: 11 vs. Iowa
  • Most Punt Attempts in a Game: 21 vs. Michigan
  • Most Punt Yards in a Game: 685 vs. Michigan

Jim Tressel couldn't be prouder.

Despite finishing smack dab in the middle of the Big Ten standings at season's end (remember that there were only 9 teams involved at that point: Chicago had ceased playing Division I football and Penn State wouldn't join the conference for another four decades), the Buckeyes still fielded eight NFL draft picks the following spring. Perhaps because of his more limited exposure in '51, Janowicz was the second Buckeye drafted, and wasn't selected in fact until the seventh round, selected as the 79th overall pick by the Washington Redskins (linebacker Joe Campanella was chosen in the third round as the 36th overall pick, by the Cleveland Browns, and would play six seasons for the Browns and the Baltimore Colts, serving as the Colts' General Manager from 1966 until his death in 1967).

Despite being drafted by the Redskins, the naturally-gifted athlete opted to play professional baseball after a brief stint in the service, and played 81 games with the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1953-1954. Interestingly, Janowicz was the first of only two Heisman winners to play both professional football and major league baseball, the other being 1985 winner Bo Jackson. A catcher, he was among the last players to sit behind the plate without the now-requisite facemask.

Compiling a .214 batting average over his two seasons on the bench, he returned to the gridiron, and was with the Washington Redskins in the National Football League from 1954-1955. In 1955, he led the NFL in scoring until the final day of the season, when Doak Walker beat him out for the honors. Sadly, however, injures sustained in a near-fatal auto accident ended his athletic career. Eventually overcoming the partial paralysis he suffered from the head trauma in the accident, Janowicz became a successful man about town in olde Columbus towne, becoming a broadcaster and public speaker. He would later work in manufacturing management and for the state auditor's office before cancer ended his days in 1996.

Because of his accomplishments, Janowicz was honored by the Columbus Downtown Quarterback Club in 1991 as "Ohio State's Greatest Athlete of the Last 50 Years," and later became the second football player in Ohio State history to have his number retired; #31 is immortalized alongside other Heisman Trophy winners in Ohio Stadium.

So with a salute to the incomparable Vic Janowicz, we'll call it square for today's installment of the countdown. If you've missed it so far, here is the archive of the series for your reading/viewing enjoyment:

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Buckeye in Illini country's picture

Playing on all three teams reminds me of grade school; never leaving the field.  Granted my team only had 22 players on it in 5th-6th grade.
And Vic was only a sliver better than I was.

Columbus to Pasadena: 35 hours.  "We're on a road trip through the desert looking for strippers and cocaine... and Rose Bowl wins!"

Baroclinicity's picture

45 punts?  That's amazing.

When you're holding a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

GoBucksOSU's picture

I read they would punt on 1st down just to see if the other team would fumble the ball near their own endzone since conditions and visibility were terrible.

Hovenaut's picture

My fondness for Buckeye lore is comparable only to my fanaticism to today's teams. The Snow Bowl is an amazing point in both the history of Ohio State football, as well as The the loss directly led to the hiring of one W.W. Hayes.

The athletes have become bigger, faster, stronger, etc....but you won't see a performance the likes of Vic Janowicz in The Snow Bowl ever again.

AndyVance's picture

Ditto - I'm amazed at what some of these guys did "back in the day," particularly when you think about the stats they racked up in only 9 or 10 games a year, compared with potentially 14 today. Not to mention the differences in the game itself, offensive schemes, pace of play, etc. Just really amazing to look back at the greats.

chitown buckeye's picture

Really getting a lot of enjoyment out these, AV! Thanks for taking the time. This post really had me curious as I didn't know many who have worn #31. Keep them coming!

"I'm having a heart attack!"

AndyVance's picture

Glad to hear it; I haven't felt like the last few days' installments have gotten as much circulation given the focus on the Hyde story (understandable), so it's nice to hear the feedback.
BTW, juts got back from ChiTown this morning. Didn't get to see anything other than O'Hare and the Westin, unfortunately, but that's how work trips go, I suppose.

Unky Buck's picture

Good stuff as usual, Andy. I envy the "free time" that you have to be able to do this every day.

Rock over London; Rock on Chicago. Timex: It takes a lickin' but keeps on tickin'

AndyVance's picture

I started writing today's literally at 4:30 this morning... There's a reason that some of them don't come out until noon (lunch break). Thanks for the compliments - I appreciate the feedback!

Unky Buck's picture

Man, I'm probably rolling over hoping for another 2.5 hours of sleep at that point, haha. Kudos man. We all appreciate the hard work.

Rock over London; Rock on Chicago. Timex: It takes a lickin' but keeps on tickin'

RBuck's picture

Andy has to do the farm report:)

Long live the southend.

AndyVance's picture

Yes he does, although today it was catching an early-morning flight :)

MN Buckeye's picture

While I have read and enjoyed all of the Countdown posts, Andy, I have no idea how you manage the time to write them all. Whether you are up at 4:30 or not, your passion comes through loud and clear. I suggest you consider compiling these into a book. I know that I would buy one.

Unky Buck's picture

That's actually not a bad idea at all, MN. I would highly consider it if I were you, Andy.

Rock over London; Rock on Chicago. Timex: It takes a lickin' but keeps on tickin'

AndyVance's picture

Well, that may not be a horrible idea. I've always wanted to write a book...

MN Buckeye's picture

Since Nike is a Buckeye partner, Just Do It!  :)

Unky Buck's picture

I'm sure there would be a ton of legality involved so you would need to look into gaining rights to photos, having the Ohio State logo involved, etc. I know you know that, but obviously just making some points. Given your occupation, I'm sure you know enough people to get you the information you need. And there are clearly plenty of artisans around here that can provide some help in the graphics department if need be, so if you do get into it, let us know. It would be a really fun thing to read and have available.

Rock over London; Rock on Chicago. Timex: It takes a lickin' but keeps on tickin'

AndyVance's picture

The photo rights are potentially the biggest issue; the rest of it isn't that big of a deal in the grand scheme of things - lots of Ohio State books have been published over the years. This conversation has actually sparked ideas for two separate books that I think would be both unique in the Buckeye bibliography and interesting to fans like us... I'm going to do some digging and see what it would take to do this.

MN Buckeye's picture

Glad you are considering this, Andy!

BierStube's picture

Great job as usual AV!  I especially enjoy the "Buckeye History" lessons!  Some I remember some I am fuzzy on the details and stats, but these do help the "countdown to the chase"!

"No matter where you go, there you are." B. Banzai

CentralFloridaBuckeye's picture

Great to learn so much about Vic Janowicz!  I had of course heard a little bit about him and knew he won the Heisman.  Great article to help bring a lot more color to his playing days for those of us who were born many years after.  I wish I could have seen those great Buckeye teams from yesteryear as there were so many great ones back in the 40s, 50s and 60s! 
Go Bucks!!

kb1's picture

Ummm....90 yard punt? Is that even possible?

AndyVance's picture

I think I assumed it took a really nice Buckeye bounce... Then again, seeing film of our new Aussie import, maybe anything's possible - that dude can flat out kick!

Mirror Lake Jump's picture

Wait until we see Cameron Johnston unleash one this year.

pjtobin's picture

Vic was sick. In a good way. Oh my gosh. He must be the most talented guy I have ever heard of. Never leaving the field is tough.  So being the key player at all times makes you porta Jon toilet paper tough! This might be my favorite one yet Andy. You put a little something special into this one. Thanks!

Bury me in my away jersey, with my buckeye blanket. A diehard who died young. Rip dad. 

AndyVance's picture

This one was definitely one of the more interesting ones to do. I enjoyed writing it - thanks for the feedback! It definitely helps me feel good about setting aside the time each day to write these!

pjtobin's picture

I zoomed it way in. And then fat fingered a dv.  I am very sorry. You deserve many, many, up votes. My bad. 

Bury me in my away jersey, with my buckeye blanket. A diehard who died young. Rip dad. 

AndyVance's picture

It's okay - I've gotten lots of DVs on other threads this week, so you're in good company :)