Pete Dawkins, Most Accomplished Heisman Winner Ever

The title of most impressive Heisman winner of all time goes to Pete Dawkins, who won the award in 1958.

Johnny Manziel is a deserving Heisman winner. He’s got a way to go, however, to take the title of most impressive Heisman winner of all time from Pete Dawkins, who won the award in 1958.

  • He overcame childhood polio to become a star high school athlete.
  • At West Point, he became the only cadet to simultaneously serve as First Captain (the highest ranking cadet), class president, and captain of the football team. He was also assistant captain of the hockey team.
  • He won the 1958 Heisman trophy.
  • He won a Rhodes Scholarship and graduated Oxford with a masters in philosophy, politics, and economics. He also won three rugby blues and is credited with popularizing the overarm throw.
  • After finishing Airborne and Ranger school, he commanded a rifle company in Vietnam and earned two Bronze Stars for Valor.
  • He was a principal author of the plan to convert to an all-volunteer Army.
  • He was a White House Fellow from 1973-1974.
  • He earned a masters in public administration and PhD from Princeton in 1979.
  • He became the youngest brigadier general in the US Army in 1981.
  • After a sports injury requiring back surgery, he retired from the Army in 1983, stunning those who expected him to rise to Chief of Staff.
  • Post-retirement, he went on to become a partner at Lehman Brothers, vice chairman of Bain and Company, and CEO of Primerica.
  • The only failure on his record? He lost a 1988 bid to unseat Frank Lautenberg from the Senate.
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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Tom N says:

    It’s sad that Dawkins hurt his legacy by becoming involved with the criminals at Lehman and Bain.

  2. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Talk about an over-achiever….

  3. James Joyner says:

    @Tom N: Dawkins hasn’t been at either of those institutions in over 20 years; I don’t think we can blame him for their excesses. (And I don’t know what Bain has done that would be considered criminal in any case.)

  4. Whitfield says:

    What a great biography for our young people to read. Now that is a role model, hero, and inspiration if there ever was one. I did not know all of this about him and appreciate you putting his biography up.

  5. michael reynolds says:

    I hate guys like this. They make the rest of us look like lazy slobs who barely rolled their fat asses out of bed this morning and have so far accomplished only two things: assembling a bowl of raisin bran and drinking coffee.

  6. I remember Dawkins’ run against Lautenberg. I was still living in New Jersey at the time and there were still a lot of Republicans who were burning at Lautenberg over the campaign her ran in 1982 against Millicent Fenwick, a largely moderate Republican who had won the GOP nomination and who he went on to essentially characterize as too old for the job. Ironic considering that Frank is now approaching 90 and back in the Senate.

    Dawkins was a good guy and he would’ve made a very good Senator. Some wanted him to run for Governor after the 88 loss but he demurred. New Jersey’s loss, I think.

  7. Whitfield says:

    @michael reynolds: My personal preference is Rice Krispies and cinnamon toast.

  8. Franklin says:

    How have I not heard of this guy? That’s quite the CV.

  9. James Joyner says:

    @Franklin: Well, 1958 is a long time ago. I’m familiar with him mostly because I was 30 classes behind him at West Point. My tenure there was less successful by several orders of magnitude.

  10. KariQ says:

    Wait! Only TWO bronze stars in Vietnam? Only BRONZE stars? What a slacker!