Bruce Smith, a native of Faribault, Minn. remains the only Gophers football player to win the Heisman Trophy.
Bernie Bierman, who coached Smith in his three seasons on the Gophers varsity (1939-41), told reporters: "My feeling in regard to Bruce is this — as a player, he did more to bring football glory to Minnesota than any player ever has."
Smith, whose father Lucius had played football for the Gophers, was an athletic standout at Faribault High School. As an eighth-grader Smith was a starter on the Faribault basketball team. According to the Faribault News, in 1967, "He was one of Faribault High School's all-time athletic greats."
In 1940, Smith's memorable 80-yard touchdown run against Michigan, led by that year's Heisman winner Tom Harmon, gave the Gophers, ranked No. 2, a 7-6 victory over the No. 3-ranked Wolverines.
"Some seven Michigan players took their shots at Bruce ... yet he kept those hard-driving legs churning and scored," Harmon later told reporters. "It was a run that would have to be rated as one of the finest football has ever seen."
Smith's touchdown, considered one of the most important plays in Gophers football history, helped the Gophers improve to 6-0. They finished 8-0 and won the national title — their fourth in seven seasons.
Going into the 1941 season, Smith, who was a starter on offense and defense and the Gophers' punter, was named by several national publications as the favorite for the 1941 Heisman Award. A knee injury slowed Smith down in 1941, but he still played a crucial role in helping the Gophers go 8-0 and win their second consecutive national title.
Following the season he was named the Heisman Trophy winner. The Heisman banquet was held in New York on Dec. 9 — two days after the invasion of Pearl Harbor. Smith's acceptance speech, which was broadcast by radio stations nationally, acknowledged the gravity of the events.
Shortly after receiving the award, Smith enlisted in the U.S. Navy. While in the Navy, he earned the National Service Player of the Year Award in 1942. In October of 1942, a Hollywood movie titled "Smith of Minnesota" was released.
Smith's legacy transcended sports. A priest from Alabama petitioned to have Smith canonized for sainthood.
After World War II, Smith played for the Green Bay Packers and Los Angeles Rams of the NFL.
He is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame. His jersey number (54) was retired by the University of Minnesota in 1977.