ROBERT DAVID “Davey” O’BRIEN
June 22, 1917-November 18, 1977
Dallas-born Robert David O’Brien played a lot of sandlot football as a youth, quarterbacking the self-titled team, Gaston Avenue Bulldogs. By the time he graduated from Woodrow Wilson High School, the 5’-7”, 118-pound All State quarterback had led the team to the state playoffs
Enrolling at Texas Christian University (TCU) in 1935, O’Brien spent his first two college years on the bench behind legendary quarterback Sammy Baugh. When he earned a starting position in 1937, he led the nation in passing yardage and in punt returns. Despite playing for a 4-4-2 TCU team that year, he was named first-team All Southwest Conference.
In 1938, the then 150-pound quarterback known as “Little Davey” threw for 1,457 passing yards—a Southwest Conference record that stood for 10 years. He had only four interceptions in 194 passing attempts and was the national NCAA leader in total offense. With O’Brien at the helm, the Horned Frogs finished an undefeated season with a 15-7 victory over Carnegie Tech in the January 1939 Sugar Bowl; the Horned Frogs won a National Championship Title.
Named to 13 All-America teams, O’Brien became the first college football player to win the Heisman, Maxwell and Walter Camp Trophies in the same year. He also became TCU’s and the Southwest Conference’s first Heisman Trophy winner. In dramatic fashion, when he traveled to New York to accept the Heisman Trophy, Fort Worth booster Amon G. Carter hired a stagecoach and a posse of cowboys to transport him to the New York City Downtown Athletic Club.
Chosen as the fourth player in the 1939 draft, O’Brien signed a $10,000 contract to play professional football for the Philadelphia Eagles. During his outstanding rookie season, he passed for 1,324 yards in 11 games and broke fellow TCU alum Sammy Baugh’s NFL record. O’Brien was named the first-team quarterback on the NFL’s All-Star Team and the Eagles gave him a $2,000 raise. Yet after one more NFL season, the All-Star quarterback retired to join the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), becoming a firearms instructor for the Bureau at Quantico, Virginia.
During his professional career, O’Brien completed 223 of 478 passes for 2,614 yards, and 11 touchdowns. He also played as a defensive back, intercepting four passes for 92 yards. As a punter, he averaged 40.7 yards per kick for his nine punts.
O’Brien’s longtime friend and business partner, Charles Ringler, believed that the accomplishments and commitment of one of Fort Worth’s finest sports heroes deserved to be honored and remembered. In November 1977, just before O’Brien passed away from cancer, Ringler and other members of The Fort Worth Club established the Davey O’Brien Foundation and the O’Brien Memorial Trophy. The O'Brien award—honoring teamwork, sportsmanship and leadership in both academics and athletics—is the nation’s oldest and most prestigious national quarterback award.