Frank “Flatfoot” Sinkwich earned the first Heisman Trophy awarded to a southern college player. He brought national recognition to the University of Georgia’s football program and contributed to his alma mater for the remainder of his life.
Sinkwich was born October 10, 1920, in McKees Rocks, Pennsylvania. His parents, Croatian immigrants from Russian Georgia, raised him in Youngstown, Ohio. There he was a running back for the Chaney High School football team during the Great Depression. In 1939 he was recruited by University of Georgia (UGA) backfield coach Bill Hartman; Sinkwich accepted Hartman’s offer on the condition that his friend George Poschner be granted a scholarship as well. That fall both Sinkwich and Poschner made headlines playing for the “Point-a-Minute Bullpups,” the university’s freshman football squad. (Freshmen were not eligible for varsity play.)
In 1941 Sinkwich earned All-American honors as the team’s leading halfback. After having his jaw broken early in the season, he played the remaining regular season games with his jaw wired shut and a large jaw protector attached to his helmet (an innovation preceding the first face masks). He wore the protector when he led Georgia to a 40-26 victory over Texas Christian University at the 1942 Orange Bowl, Georgia’s first postseason appearance. His performance, called one of the best individual performances in Orange Bowl history, included receiving nine of thirteen passes for 243 yards and three touchdowns, and 139 yards rushing, capped by a 43-yard touchdown run.
The following year Sinkwich shared the backfield with newcomer Charley Trippi. (Sinkwich was switched to the fullback position, with Trippi playing halfback.) The duo led Georgia to an 11-1 record, culminating with a 9-0 Rose Bowl victory over the University of California at Los Angeles. Sinkwich, known for his toughness if not his size (he stood an unremarkable 5 feet 10 inches and weighed 185 pounds), played the game with sprained ankles. For his stellar play in 1942, which included a still-unbeaten school record of twenty-seven touchdowns, Sinkwich was awarded the Heisman Trophy by a unanimous vote. For the second year in a row he won All-American honors, and UGA celebrated him by retiring his jersey, number 21.
After the Marine Corps rejected Sinkwich for physical reasons in 1943, the Detroit Lions, a professional football team, drafted him in the first round. In his two years as a running back with the Lions, Sinkwich was named All-Pro twice and league MVP in 1944. The following year he was accepted into the Air Force. Soon after, he suffered a serious knee injury playing for the Air Force football team. The injury ended Sinkwich’s career at the age of twenty-five. After the setback he coached at Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina, and the University of Tampa, Florida, before settling in Athens as a businessman. In 1954 he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.
In later years Sinkwich’s success as a wholesale beer distributor allowed him to be a major supporter of UGA athletics. Along with his former coach Bill Hartman, he chaired the committee to raise funds for construction of the Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall, completed in 1987. Frank Sinkwich died of cancer on October 22, 1990. His Heisman Trophy is on display at the Butts-Mehre Hall.