Joe Bellino, the first Navy player to win the Heisman Trophy, died Thursday in Massachusetts, the Heisman Trophy Trust confirmed . He was 81.
A 5-9, 180-pound halfback, Bellino was dubbed the “Winchester Rifle” for his hometown of Winchester, Massachusetts, where he was a three-sport high school star good enough to be offered a contract by the MLB Pirates.
Instead, he chose the Naval Academy over offers from Notre Dame and several Big Ten schools.
In three seasons at the Naval Academy from 1958-60, he scored 31 touchdowns, rushed for 1,664 yards on 330 carries, returned 37 kicks for 833 more yards and altogether set 15 Naval Academy football records.
“The Heisman Trust joins the Bellino family in its sorrow,” Heisman Trust president William Dockery said in a statement. “He was a cherished member of our Heisman Family and will be missed.”
Sad to hear about the death of a great man, Joe Bellino, who passed away last night at the age of 81. He will be missed by many.
In 1960, Bellino rushed for 834 yards and 15 touchdowns and added three receiving TDs. He was a unanimous All-America selection, won the Maxwell Award and handily won the Heisman over Penn State quarterback Richie Lucas.
A profile of Bellino in Sports Illustrated in November 1960 read, in part:
“(W)ith a football in his hands and the bulging, muscular posts that serve him as legs drumming down a football field, Joe Bellino becomes something special. At Navy they class him with the legendary Buzz Borries as one of the two great halfbacks in academy football history. With the Army game yet to come, Joe Bellino has already scored more touchdowns in one season (17) and in one game (4) than any Navy football player ever has. He has scored more points in a season (104) and gained more yards rushing (749 in 148 carries for a five-yard average). He has also caught 15 passes for 264 yards, quick-kicked 11 times for a 47-yard average and completed five of 14 passes for 112 yards and two more touchdowns. He blocks and tackles, thanks his teammates for throwing blocks for him and compliments officials when they make a good call. Last year he scored three touchdowns against Army (which no Navy player had ever done before) and even before the 1960 season began he was headed for All-America, as sure as there are missiles on a Polaris submarine. Nothing he has done since has damaged his reputation a bit.”
Bellino’s No. 27 was retired following the 1960 season. After completing his four-year service obligation, he had a three-year stint with the Boston Patriots of the AFL.
Bellino was a 1977 inductee into the National Football Foundation and Hall of Fame.
In addition to his football accomplishments at Navy, Bellino also was an outstanding catcher and outfielder on Midshipmen baseball teams.