Touted by many as one of the greatest all-around football players in Ohio State history, Vic Janowicz is finally getting his due. On Sept. 23, during the halftime ceremonies of the OSU-Penn State game, Janowicz’s No. 31 will become the second jersey number to be officially retired in OSU football history.
Janowicz is one of two players to have his number retired this season. Howard “Hopalong” Cassidy’s No. 40 will be retired Nov. 18 during the halftime ceremonies of the OSU-Michigan game.
“We are retiring all the jersey numbers worn by Heisman Trophy winners at Ohio State,” Andy Geiger, director of athletics, said. “Vic Janowicz was truly a great OSU player and I think it’s appropriate his name and number be displayed in the stadium. He made a marvelous contribution to Ohio State football history.”
Past teammates, coaches and sports writers agree Janowicz’s athletic ability was one of a kind. And many feel the retirement is long overdue.
“I think it’s wonderful and well-deserved,” Kaye Kessler, a sports writer for the Columbus Citizen Journal in 1950, said. “Everyone knows No. 31.”
Former teammate Skip Doyle said Janowicz was a natural with the ball.
“Ohio State had to retire his number,” Doyle said. “He was the best all-around player they ever had.”
The 1950 Heisman Trophy winner, Janowicz is said to have been every player rolled into one with his great passing, running and kicking abilities. As evidence of his great athletic ability, he won the Heisman despite the Buckeyes’ 6-3 season record.
During his junior season in 1950, Janowicz put together one of the greatest campaigns by an individual player in OSU football history. Accounting for 16 touchdowns and 875 yards in total offense, he proved he could be a threat on both sides of the ball.
Gene Feteke, who was an assistant coach when Janowicz was a player, said Janowicz was the whole package wrapped into one. Janowicz’s natural athletic ability allowed him to play offense and defense in any situation.
“He could do everything we asked him to do,” Feteke said. “And he could do it in a masterful-type situation.”
One of his masterful performances occurred in a game against Iowa, in which he ran for two touchdowns and threw for four more in an Ohio State 83-21 win. He completed five-of-six passes for 128 yards in the Buckeye win and also set a Big Ten record with 10 extra points.
But perhaps even more amazing was the Michigan game, now called the Snow Bowl of 1950, in which Janowicz kicked a 27-yard field goal into blizzard-like conditions. His kick is considered one of the greatest individual accomplishments in OSU history and perhaps sealed the Heisman Trophy nomination. His 21 punts for 685 yards set two more school records that day.
“That field goal was straight down the middle,” Fekete said. “It was absolutely phenomenal to kick that far in those kind of conditions.”
At the end of the season, Janowicz was named an All-America and the Heisman Trophy winner. In all, he had rewritten several records in the OSU football history book and forever put his name on its pages.
His senior year of college was a time of change for Janowicz and the Ohio State football program. Coached by Wes Fesler his first two seasons, Janowicz finished out his college career under the helm of legendary coach Woody Hayes.
Hayes not only brought a new face to the football team, he brought with him a new coaching style. A style that included his famous “T” formation. The formation often took Janowicz out of the play but he still kicked two game-winning field goals to finish his OSU career.
“Woody made a defensive player out of him,” Kessler said. “And Janowicz adapted to that after a time. He was probably one of the smartest players ever in that sense.”
After graduation, Janowicz had hopes of playing professional football but was called to duty by the National Guard in December 1952. After a month, he signed a bonus baseball contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates, despite not having played baseball since his senior year of high school in Elyria, Ohio, six years before.
After two seasons, Janowicz returned to football after signing a conditional contract with the Washington Redskins. He played for two seasons before having his career cut short by a serious car accident which left him partially paralyzed on the left side.
Off the field, Janowicz faced much adversity after his college success. Four days before the car accident, his daughter was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, which she fought for eight years. Following the death of his daughter, he went to work in the Abstract Manufacturing Company to help pay for the mounting bills.
Janowicz, who was a devout member of the St. Agatha Church, worked with youth groups and volunteered often in the community despite his own personal tragedies.
“Vic was a quiet, unassuming man,” Fekete said. “But, he would do anything for you.”
Doyle agreed and said Janowicz was one of his best friends.
“He was a goody-goody. He was such a nice man,” Doyle said.
Janowicz, who was named to the National Football Foundation Hall of Fame and the Ohio State Hall of Fame, died of cancer in February of 1996.