Howard Cassady, member of Lions’ last championship team, dies at 85

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Howard Cassady, a Heisman Trophy-winning running back who would then win an NFL championship with the Lions, has died at the age of 85.

During his freshman year at Ohio State, Cassady was given the nickname “Hopalong” by sportswriters who saw him on the practice field and said he hopped all over the field like the fictional cowboy Hopalong Cassidy. So fast was Cassady’s first step on the practice field that Ohio State coach Woody Hayes would get angry with him for taking the handoff and hitting the line before the offensive linemen had had time to open a hole for him.

In 1954 Cassady finished third in Heisman Trophy voting and led Ohio State to the national championship, and in 1955 he won the Heisman by what was then the largest voting margin in the history of the award. Hayes would describe Cassady as “the greatest player of this century.”

The Lions chose Cassady with the third overall pick in the 1956 NFL draft, and in 1957 he led the Lions in touchdowns as they won the NFL championship, still the last title in franchise history. Cassady made $14,500 each of those first two years, giving him the most lucrative rookie contract in the league.

Cassady spent eight seasons in the NFL, seven of them with the Lions. Cassady had also played baseball at Ohio State, and after retiring he became the conditioning coach of the New York Yankees and worked for the Yankees for 30 years.