Updated: Oct 13, 2020
The most prestigious award in the 49ers organization is the Len Eshmont Award. Since 1957 it has been given annually to the player who best demonstrates the courage and inspirational play of Len Eshmont. Who is Len Eshmont and why is this award held in such high esteem within the 49ers organization?
Leondard Charles "Len" Eshmont was born in Atlas, Pennsylvania on August 26, 1917. He starred at Mount Carmel Township High School where local sportswriters nicknamed him the “Green Ghost” or the “Galloping Ghost”. His athletic achievements at the prep level allowed him the opportunity to accept a scholarship to national power Fordham University.
He was a sensation in college and garnered All American honors as a running back. After playing the 1941 season with the New York Giants he enlisted in the Navy where he served during WWII. When he returned from the service, he still felt a passion for the gridiron and decided to sign with the San Francisco 49ers in the brand new AAFC.
An Original 49er
After serving in WWII, Len Eshmont was ready to take on a new America, a nation which had recently staked it’s claim as the most powerful on Earth. He elected to try football again and signed with the 49ers of the AAFC. In 1946, his first year, he was dynamic on the ground as well as the air, running for 340 yards and six touchdowns while receiving 287 yards and two touchdowns. He only rushed for one more touchdown the rest of his career, but he did pick up an additional 841 yards on the ground in his remaining three years. He caught four touchdowns during that same time period but only recorded 624 yards.
Eshmont retired after the 1949 season, right when the 49ers came to the NFL. During his career in San Francisco, Eshmont accounted for 2,092 all purpose yards with 7.34 yards per touch. The 49ers were in the thick of a championship chase every year of the AAFC’s existence and Eshmont often put the 49ers in a position to win.
Later Life, Death and Legacy
Following his retirement, Len Eshmont became an assistant coach at the US Naval Academy. After a few years in Annapolis, Eshmont moved on to become an assistant coach at the University of Virginia. Unfortunately, he never realized his full potential as a coach due to infectious hepatitis he developed while in Virginia. He passed away in 1957 at the youthful age of 39.
The year of his death, the 49ers decided to dedicate an award to his honor. The first recipient of the Len Eshmont Award was Y.A. Tittle who had recently led the 49ers to their first postseason appearance. Over the years, there have been a wide variety of players who have won the award from Hall of Fame players to those long forgotten. Twice there have been multiple winners of the prestigious award. The first year was 1988 with defensive tackle Michael Carter and running back Roger Craig earning the award. The second year there was multiple winners was 1990 with defensive end Kevin Fagan and linebacker Charles Haley winning the coveted prize. Defensive tackle Bryant Young has won it the most, earning it an incredible eight times. The latest recipient of the Len Eshmont Award is tight end George Kittle.
Each of these recipients have exemplified the life and play of Len Eshmont. Despite his short career, his courage and inspiration on the gridiron continues to inspire the 49ers organization to this day.