Rudy Riska, the flagship of the Heisman Trophy, dies at 85

Rudy Riska, who first saw the Heisman Trophy on its pedestal at the Downtown Athletic Club in Lower Manhattan as a boy, and who years la...


Rudy Riska, who first saw the Heisman Trophy on its pedestal at the Downtown Athletic Club in Lower Manhattan as a boy, and who years later became the invaluable guide, advisor and mentor to young men who won, died on September 19. 12 in a Brooklyn hospital. He was 85 years old.

Her daughter Elizabeth Briody said the causes were dementia and pneumonia.

For more than 40 years, the erased Mr Riska led the organization of the club which awarded the Heisman Outstanding Football Player of the Year. He oversaw the winners’ itinerary and encouraged them to think seriously about what they would say in their acceptance speeches. He bought tickets to Broadway shows for their families, made reservations at top restaurants, and hosted the annual Heisman Dinner in Manhattan, which drew up to 2,000 guests.

Mr. Riska developed this job as athletic director of the Downtown Athletic Club, the longtime home of the trophy. He had noticed that no one was supervising the winner’s activities when he was in Manhattan for the awards ceremony.

“They were just college kids torn from their campuses and suddenly flown to New York,” he told the New York Times in 2010. “They were often unsophisticated children. Most had never played on national television. Many had never taken a plane until they flew to New York. Their heads were spinning.

“I walked in and Rudy put his arm around me and the rest was like a magic carpet ride”, Ohio State running back Eddie George who won the Heisman in 1995, told The Times. “And that was what Rudy wanted. He wanted every winner to remember their weekend forever.

Mr Riska worked entirely behind the scenes – fans watching the annual televised ceremony would likely not have known his name or face – but the winners understood his importance.

“I realize how much power he had, but he never showed it,” Desmond Howard, 1991 Heisman winner Desmond Howard said by phone. “When everyone’s relying on you. , you must have the power, but he behaved like someone who served you and took care of your every need. “

Rudolph James Riska was born on August 22, 1936 in Manhattan to Rudolph and Elizabeth (Marecek) Riska. His mother cleaned the offices. His family lived for a time near the Downtown Athletic Club in the Financial District, and when he was 11 his father took him to see the Heisman.

“I looked at the names engraved on the trophy,” he told The Times. “How lucky can we be to find ourselves in a job where these names come to life and become your friends? “

His sporting focus in his youth was baseball, not football. He threw a hit for Metropolitan High School, which sparked interest from the Yankees, who signed him to a contract. He played on low-level minor league teams in the Yankee system from 1955 to 1958 and in the Baltimore Orioles system in 1959. In Aberdeen, SD, a branch of the Orioles, his manager was Earl Weaver, future Hall of Famer of the Orioles. He compiled a 36-33 record, but chronic bursitis ended his career.

He went to work as a salesperson for the sporting goods company Rawlings, but after two years he accepted a job at the Downtown Athletic Club. He was soon appointed to the post of sports director, a post which John Heisman, the namesake of the trophy, will remain there until his death in 1936.

As athletic director, Mr. Riska developed fitness and sports programs for club members and created events that honored top athletes. But it was as the executive director of the Heisman Trophy Trust and the Heisman Foundation that he was widely known.

“What I think I was able to do” he told the Bay Ridge Paper in 2003, “is to guide and protect the Heisman from people who might try to make money the wrong way. I like to think of myself as the conscience of the Heisman.

He retired in 2004, three years after the September 11 attacks and their consequences led the club to close permanently. The trophy, which is awarded by a vote of members of the sports media and past winners, has been moved to various locations and is now kept at the Heisman Trust office in Manhattan.

Besides his daughter Elizabeth, Mr. Riska is survived by his wife Jos├ęphine (Karpoich) Riska, known as Lorraine; another daughter, Barbara Piersiak; and four grandchildren.

For a while, 15 or 20 of the former Heisman winners who traveled to New York for the annual new winner anointing took the weekend off to commemorate their accomplishments at a Blarney Stone bar near the club.

“People might be looking for them, but I would let them go on their own for a few hours,” Riska told The Times. “They let their hair down with their wives, rubbed shoulders with these blue collar workers in the building. It was a collection of some of the best college football players of all time. But they just wanted to hang out with a regular crowd.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Rudy Riska, the flagship of the Heisman Trophy, dies at 85
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