Dec. 14, 2010
EVANSTON, Ill. -- A pair of Northwestern legends were honored Monday when the Big Ten Conference announced their names would be part of two new trophies created to recognize the league's rich and storied history.
College Football Hall of Fame members Otto Graham and Pat Fitzgerald were chosen to represent past legends and leaders on trophies that future generations of Big Ten athletes will compete to win. The Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year will be awarded the Graham-George Trophy, named for Graham and former Ohio State tailback Eddie George, while the conference's Linebacker of the Year will be awarded the Butkus-Fitzgerald Trophy, named for former Illiniois linebacker Dick Butkus and Fitzgerald.
The awards are part of a lineup of 18 new trophies unveiled Monday in conjunction with the Big Ten's announcement of new football division names and a new logo for the 2011-12 academic year.
"It's really humbling," Fitzgerald said. "It was a couple of weeks ago that (the Big Ten) reached out to me, and I laughed. I asked `are you sure?' I grew up wanting to win the Butkus Award. I grew up wanting to be that kind of linebacker. Now to be side-by-side with a player like that and a person like that to me is an honor. To be representing the conference that way is an honor, too."
Graham was a multi-sport star for Northwestern from 1941-43, finishing third in the Heisman voting as a single-wing tailback as a senior. That same year, Graham also earned All-America honors in basketball. After graduating from Northwestern and a stint in the Army Air Corps, Graham moved on to professional sports, first playing for the Rochester Royals of the National Basketball League before joining the Cleveland Browns. Shifting to quarterback for the Browns, Graham led the team to 10 straight league championship games (4 AAFC, 6 NFL) and won 85 percent of his games, eventually earning a spot on the NFL's 75th anniversary team. Graham has been inducted into both the College and Pro Football Hall of Fames.
Fitzgerald made history during his Wildcat playing career, capping his four-year run by becoming the first player to win two Bednarik and Nagurski awards, accomplishing the feat in 1995 and 1996. As a junior in 1995, Fitzgerald was a part of a Northwestern defense that led the nation in scoring defense and guided the Wildcats to their first Big Ten Championship since 1936 and first Rose Bowl Game appearance since 1949. He then helped the team repeat as conference champions as a senior a year later.
A two-time consensus All-American while in Evanston, Fitzgerald was inducted into Northwestern's Athletic Hall of Fame in 2003, becoming the Wildcat head coach in 2006 after serving as an assistant the previous five seasons. The Oak Lawn, Ill., native was also inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.
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