Les Horvath Is Still the Only NFL Player and Licensed Physician to Win the Heisman Trophy

Most NFL careers are short. But if an athletes plays his cards right, retirements can be more lucrative than their time on the gridiron. Former quarterback Rex Grossman runs a successful nursing company, for example. But Les Horvath did something else. He went to college to get a job and discovered his aptitude for football later. During his time in the NFL, he never stopped working toward his non-football-related goal.

Les Horvath didn’t attend college to play football

Horvath joined the Ohio State University football team on a lark in 1940, according to Eleven Warriors. He came to the school on a scholarship, intending to train for future work in medicine. Playing football seemed like a fun side project, given his bulky build. But Horvath was a bit short, at 5-foot-10, and didn’t expect much to come of it.

Despite his size, Horvath’s work off the bench earned him a starting role in 1942. By the end of his undergraduate years, the team went from a .500 squad to one of the best in college football. Horvath helped the team win its first ever National Championship. Then, he turned his attention to grad school. He thought his unexpectedly successful time in football was done.

How a dental student became a short-lived NFL star

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Horvath decided to specialize in dentistry, taking his studies seriously as always. But the football team wasn’t done with him. They took advantage of a wartime law that expanded eligibility, allowing him to rejoin the team.

He earned the Heisman Trophy during this time, the first in Ohio State history to do so according to the school’s Hall of Fame. He also made history in a broader sense, as the only graduate student to achieve such a feat. As his peers from his undergraduate team either joined one of the nascent pro leagues, or left football for good, Horvath continued to excel in college ball.

Still, the stability of dentistry and a love for studying medicine continued to captivate the young halfback. The Cleveland Rams drafted him back in 1943, but he wouldn’t take them up on it until 1947, after a short stint in the Navy.

Horvath gave the NFL one year of undivided attention in Cleveland

Running back Les Horvath in play in 1948
Les Horvath falls to the ground in 1948 | Nate Fine/Getty Images

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Horvath’s time with the Rams brought him to California, where the team moved. Restless during the offseason, he established his first private dentistry practice there. His best professional year was in 1948, Pro Football Reference reports. His 30 rushing yards and 118 receiving yards came out of earning increased time off the bench that year.

He left the Rams to go back to Ohio, where a new team called the Cleveland Browns was founded. For the first time in his life, his attention was solely on football. The year ended up proving to Horvath once and for all where his heart truly was. After one season, he left the NFL for good.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the former halfback lived out his days growing his dentistry practice in Glendale, California. He died of heart failure in 1995, having lived a life far more centered on caring for people’s oral health than on football. Yet, the highest honor in college football was nonetheless his. He topped his field in amateur football.

He earned his spot as a professional player. He served in the navy, becoming an officer and providing medical care for his fellow sailors. Even with all that success, he found his purpose in a different calling.