Billy Vessels, 1952 Heisman Trophy winner, dead at 70

Sunday, November 18th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (AP) _ Billy Vessels, the elusive Oklahoma halfback who won the 1952 Heisman Trophy, died Saturday. He was 70.

He died at his South Florida home after a long illness, said his son, Billy.

Vessels was an All-American in 1952 and was the first Oklahoma player to win the Heisman. In 1950, he led Oklahoma in rushing and receiving, helping the Sooners capture their first national title. He was a member of the College Football Hall of Fame.

A leg injury ended a brief professional career after stints with the Baltimore Colts and the Canadian Football League.

Vessels finished the 1952 college season second in the nation in rushing with 1,072 yards and second in scoring with 108 points. He was honored as AP back of the year.

He was a two-time all-conference selection who set school records for rushing yards, scoring and all purpose yards in a season.

Vessels was born in tiny Cleveland, Okla., where he still is revered.

``Everybody knows who he is,'' said Lester ``Tate'' Hager, who was co-captain of the Cleveland High School football team when Vessels was captain. ``It's going to be sad news for the whole town.''

Hager said he's kept in touch with Vessels, whom he calls ``Curly. He tried to reach him by telephone two weeks ago, but Hager said he spoke to only Vessels' wife.

``He was an awful nice person,'' Hager said. ``On a scale of one to 10, I'd have to give him a 10. There wasn't a selfish hair on his head.

``He was the best football player I've ever known.''

Vessels became involved in horse breeding in the late 1970s. He served on the Florida Pari-mutuel Commission from 1976-83 and later became its executive director.

He was elected president of the National Association of State Racing Commissions in 1984 and served as director of the Florida division of pari-mutuel wagering from 1987-89.

Funeral arrangements have not been completed.