This Day in College Football History – October 22nd

Frank Francis Sinkwich, Sr. (October 10, 1920 – October 22, 1990) won the 1942 Heisman Trophy as a player for the University of Georgia, making him the first recipient from the Southeastern Conference. In the course of a brief but celebrated career in professional football, Sinkwich was selected for the National Football League Most Valuable Player Award. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1954.

Sinkwich was born in Starjak,Croatia to (about 12 miles west of Zagreb) as his mother had traveled back to Croatia in 1912. WWI broke out in 1913 and as with many she and the children remained there for the duration of the war. They returned to the US, going to Youngstown, Ohio when he was two years old, joining his father Ignac (Ignatius) who operated a grocery store. By 1940 the family operated a restaurant in Youngstown. Original surname was spelled SINKOVIĆ

According to an article Sinkwich wrote in 1988, he grew to appreciate the value of competitiveness on the streets of Youngstown’s west side. “I learned early in neighborhood pickup games that I had the desire to compete”, he wrote. “When people ask why I succeeded in athletics, I always tell them that I didn’t want to get beat”.

Sinkwich gained early recognition as a star athlete at Youngstown’s Chaney High School. He went on to the University of Georgia and played under coach Wally Butts. In 1941 he led the nation in rushing yards with 209 carries for 1,103 yards. He was a two-time All-America selection and led the Bulldogs to an 11-1 season in 1942, capturing the Southeastern Conference Championship and a victory over UCLA in the 1943 Rose Bowl At the Rose Bowl in the team picture he was placed in number 52 instead of 21 because they did not want the press to be all over him. That same year, the Washington D.C. Touchdown Club honored Sinkwich as “back of the year”, and he was overwhelmingly voted the Number 1 athlete for 1942 in the annual poll by the Associated Press over second-place finisher Ted Williams of the Boston Red Sox, a year in which Williams was American League Batting Champion, American League Home Run Champion and hit for baseball’s triple crown.

In his three-year college career, Sinkwich rushed for 2,271 yards, passed for 2,331 yards, and accounted for 60 touchdowns–30 rushing and 30 passing. He was the leading NCAA rusher in his junior season of 1941 with 1,103 yards. During his Senior year of 1942, Sinkwich set the NCAA single-season total offense record of 2,187 yards. Sinkwich earned his Bachelor of Science in Education (B.S.Ed.) from the University in 1943.

After his collegiate career, Sinkwich joined the United States Marine Corps; however, due to his flat feet he received a medical discharge and proceeded to play with the Detroit Lions, who had selected him first overall in the 1943 NFL Draft. In Detroit, he earned All-Pro honors in 1943-1944, as well as being named as NFL MVP in 1944.

After his two years in Detroit, Sinkwich served in both the United States Merchant Marines and the United States Army Air Forces, but a knee injury received while playing for the 2nd Air Force service team in 1945 hampered his playing career when he returned to professional football in 1946 and 1947. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1954.

Dan McMillan (June 29, 1898 – October 22, 1975) played tackle for USC and was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1971. In the case of Dan McMillan, one school’s loss was another school’s gain. A fierce blocker and tenacious tackler, McMillan had just completed two outstanding seasons at Southern Cal when World War I called him to serve his country as a pilot. While in flight school near Berkeley, McMillan met several of the California players and was impressed enough to transfer to Cal. The fabled “Wonder Teams” of coach Andy Smith had been gifted with the All- America talents that helped the Bears to dominance in the West, running a 50-game unbeaten streak until 1925. A tackle alongside Hall of Fame end Harold “Brick” Muller, McMillan gained All-America mention from Walter Camp in 1920, the year the Bears out-scored nine opponents, 510-14, and clawed Ohio State, 28-0, in the Rose Bowl. McMillan helped Cal to another unbeaten season and Rose Bowl appearance in 1921 gaining consensus All-America recognition along the way. However, thoughts of his days at USC were ever foremost in his mind, and McMillan cited a 38-7 victory over his former teammates in 1921 as his “biggest thrill.” He recovered a Trojan fumble and nearly returned it for a touchdown in that contest. McMillan played at Southern California in 1917, 1919 and at California 1920-1921

Peter Louis Pihos (October 22, 1923 – August 16, 2011) was a football player in the National Football League for the Philadelphia Eagles. He was a high school junior when his mother moved the family to Chicago. His father was a murder victim, and when a suspect was acquitted, Pete decided to become a lawyer. He was just one semester short of a law degree when he became disenchanted with the idea. Pihos was an All-American at Indiana University, as a defensive end and is in the College and Pro Football Fall of Fame.

Pihos was drafted in the 5th round of the 1945 NFL Draft by the Eagles, but two years of military service prevented him from joining the team until 1947. During his nine seasons of play, he missed just one game. Immediately after Pete joined the Eagles, the team marched to its first divisional championship. In the playoff game against the Pittsburgh Steelers for the Eastern Division crown, he blocked a punt to set up the first touchdown in the Eagles 21-0 win. Philadelphia won three straight divisional championships and then back-to-back NFL titles by shutout scores. In 1948, the Eagles defeated the Chicago Cardinals 7-0. One year later, Pihos caught a 31-yard touchdown pass in the Eagles 14-0 win over the Los Angeles Rams.

Pete led the NFL in receiving from 1953 through 1955 and earned first-team All-Pro or All-League honors six times and was named to six Pro Bowls.

Pihos died at age 87 after succumbing to Alzheimer’s disease. The documentary short Dear Dad by his daughter Melissa Pihos explores the effects of Alzheimer’s by juxtaposing photos and footage from his days as a player for the Philadelphia Eagles with images of him as he fights the disease. A feature-length documentary Pihos: A Life in Five Movements is shooting and editing throughout 2011 and 2012. Melissa Pihos also created PIHOS A Moving Biography in March 2011.

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