While our physical offices are closed until further notice in accordance with Austin's COVID-19 "stay home-work safe" order, the Handbook of Texas will remain available at no-cost for you, your fellow history enthusiasts, and all Texas students currently mandated to study from home. If you have the capacity to help us maintain our online Texas history resources during these uncertain times, please consider making a 100% tax-deductible contribution today. Thank you for your support of TSHA and Texas history. Donate Today »


Martin Donell Kohout

O'BRIEN, ROBERT DAVID [DAVEY] (1917–1977). Robert David (Davey) O'Brien, All-American football player at Texas Christian University, was born in Dallas, Texas, on June 22, 1917. As a youth he quarterbacked a sandlot football team that called itself the Gaston Avenue Bulldogs and spent several summers at a boys' camp near Brandon, Missouri. He was a 118-pound All-State selection at Woodrow Wilson High School, which he led to the state playoffs in 1932. He enrolled at TCU in 1935, studied geology, and sat on the bench behind Sammy Baugh until 1937, when Baugh went on to the National Football League. In O'Brien's first season as starting quarterback, TCU fell to a mediocre 4-4-3 record, but O'Brien was named to the All-Southwest Conferences first team. In 1938 he led the Horned Frogs to their first undefeated season, including a 15-7 victory over Carnegie Tech in the Sugar Bowl, and the only national championship in school history. In 1938 the five-foot-seven, 150-pound O'Brien had 1,457 passing yards, a Southwest Conference record that stood for ten years, and threw only four interceptions in 194 passing attempts. He was named to thirteen All-American teams and became the only college football player to win the Heisman, Maxwell, and Walter Camp trophies in the same year. When he went to New York to accept the Heisman Trophy, Fort Worth boosters hired a stagecoach to carry him to the Downtown Athletic Club.

After graduating from TCU O'Brien signed a $10,000 contract with the Philadelphia Eagles of the NFL. In his rookie season with the Eagles he passed for 1,324 yards in eleven games, breaking Baugh's NFL record, and was named the quarterback on the All-Pro team. The Eagles gave him a $2,000 raise, but he retired after the 1940 season to join the Federal Bureau of Investigation. He was assigned to the bureau's field office in Springfield, Missouri, after completing his training. Later he was a firearms instructor at Quantico, Virginia, and spent the last five years of his FBI career in Dallas. He retired in 1950 and went to work for Haroldson L. Hunt in land development. Later he entered the oil business and worked for Dresser-Atlas Industries of Dallas.

In 1971 O'Brien was diagnosed with cancer and underwent surgery to remove a kidney and part of his right lung. He died of cancer on November 18, 1977. He was survived by his wife, Janie, two sons, and a daughter. A month later the Fort Worth Club presented the first Davey O'Brien Award, to honor the best college football player in Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arkansas, and New Mexico. In 1981 officials of the newly established Davey O'Brien Educational and Charitable Trust decided to change the award to honor the best college football quarterback in the nation and to offer the Davey O'Brien High School Scholarship Award annually to a leading Texas high school athlete. The O'Brien Hall of Fame opened in 1986 on the sixth floor of the Fort Worth Club. O'Brien was named to the National Football Foundation Hall of Fame in 1955 and the Texas Sports Hall of Fame in 1956.

Dallas Morning News, May 1, November 19, 1977. New York Times, November 19, 1977. Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.

Image Use Disclaimer

All copyrighted materials included within the Handbook of Texas Online are in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107 related to Copyright and “Fair Use” for Non-Profit educational institutions, which permits the Texas State Historical Association (TSHA), to utilize copyrighted materials to further scholarship, education, and inform the public. The TSHA makes every effort to conform to the principles of fair use and to comply with copyright law.

For more information go to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml

If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.


The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Handbook of Texas Online, Martin Donell Kohout, "O'BRIEN, ROBERT DAVID [DAVEY]," accessed July 14, 2020, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fob15.

Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
visit the mytsha forums to participate

View these posts and more when you register your free MyTSHA account.

Call for Papers: Texas Center for Working-Class Studies Events, Symposia, and Workshops
Hi all! You may be interested in this call for papers I received from the Texas Center for Working-Class Studies at Collin College...

Katy Jennings' Ride Scholarly Research Request
I'm doing research on Catherine Jennings Lockwood, specifically the incident known as "Katy Jennings' Ride." Her father was Gordon C. Jennings, the oldest man to die at the Alamo...

Texas Constitution of 1836 Co-Author- Elisha Pease? Ask a Historian
The TSHA profile of Elisha Marshall Pease states that he wrote part of the Texas Constitution although he was only a 24 year-old assistant secretary (not elected). I cannot find any other mention of this authorship work by Pease in other credible research about the credited Constution authors...