Quickly ... who won the Heisman Trophy in 2006? Who went home that year with the single most famous individual award in American sports? (He played for Ohio State.) Remember the Florida State stud that took home the trophy in 2000? What about that dual threat from Nebraska the next year?
This Saturday night at the Nokia Theatre in New York City, history will be made (as they say) when Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel becomes the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy. Or linebacker Manti Te’o becomes the eighth Notre Dame star to earn the honor. Whether or not such news makes history as you measure it, the trophy will all but surely be connected to the recipient for the rest of his days, and in the first paragraph of his obituary many, many years from now.
And I couldn’t care less. I’ll more than likely see if I can squeeze in a family movie during the broadcast announcing the 78th Heisman winner. Snooze.
It’s not that I’m against honoring individuals for athletic achievement. I count down the days to Major League Baseball’s MVP announcements every fall. I enjoy the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player (if only because calling a basketball star a MOP for life tickles me). And I take Sports Illustrated’s Sportsman of the Year more seriously than I should.
But then there’s the Heisman Trophy. Only U.S. presidential campaigns take longer to unfold than a “Heisman campaign.” No college football preview worth its paper (yes, some are still printed, found on newsstands) ignores “candidates” for the HeismanTrophy. Web sites are devoted to the enterprise (stiffarmtrophy.com, to name one). Worst of all, a player’s performance on a given Saturday is often spun as helping or hurting that player’s Heisman candidacy, merely incidental to how that performance helped determine the game’s outcome.
For me, the Heisman Trophy died when Michigan’s Desmond Howard actually struck the stiff-armer’s pose after scoring a touchdown (and before winning the trophy) in 1991. Any chance for exhuming the bronze body was dashed six years later, when a player who touched the football 55 times all season and scored four touchdowns (Charles Woodson) was given the award over the decade’s best player (Peyton Manning).
Among the 76 men who have won the Heisman (Archie Griffin won it twice), how many do you think are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame? Exactly eight: Doak Walker, Paul Hornung, Roger Staubach, O.J. Simpson, Tony Dorsett, Earl Campbell, Marcus Allen, and Barry Sanders. This is an apple trophy to an orange Hall of Fame, you say? The Heisman is about one year, in college football, not an entire career in the NFL. Right you are. But come on ... 90 percent of the men deemed “the most outstanding college football player in America” — even for just one year — don’t find themselves honored by the more-generous Pro Hall of Fame someday? (Among Heisman winners still active or not yet selected for the Pro Football Hall, I see two with yellow sport coats in their future: Tim Brown and, yes, Charles Woodson.)
Johnny Football is a great story this season (for beating Alabama). Manti Te’o is a great story (for leading fabled Notre Dame to the championship game). It’s somehow a shame that the winner of this Saturday’s award will be remembered more for that award than for the actual on-field achievements of the team he inspired. There’s something broken in that truth.
Troy Smith won the Heisman in 2006 (but you knew that). Chris Weinke became a household name in 2000, and Eric Crouch made Nebraska fans forget Johnny Rodgers in 2001. Right? Eric Crouch is a football legend. Right??