Friday, September 17, 2010

Turning over in his grave

John Heisman, the namesake of the fabled Heisman Trophy, must be turning over in his grave. No, not about Reggie Bush. John would be distraught at how pointless the Heisman Trophy really is.

Reggie Bush gave back his trophy like coaches resign a day before getting fired. But really, I don't care either way. So there is no Heisman Trophy winner for the 2005 season. Can you even name the past half dozen winners? Sure, we remember Ingram, Bradford and Tebow. Then I bet we lose some of you. Before that it was Troy Smith then (nobody) then Leinart. How about the 2003 winner? Anyone? Marco? It was Jason White. Rounding out the past ten were Carson Palmer of course, preceded by Eric Crouch, Chris Weinke and the immortal Ron Dayne. I rest my case.

The Heisman Trophy is only a big deal the year it is won. After that, no one cares to remember. It's like remembering who makes first team All-NBA each season. Sure you could guess, but do you really recall? But there are bigger problems with the Heisman than even remembering who won. The problem is with the actual winners.

First of all, the Heisman is awarded to "the best player in college football." That's what the award is. The fine print, however, reads "the best player in college football...who plays quarterback or running back on a top five team in the nation who ends on a high note rather than limping to the finish." Let's just say there are a select group of nominees each season. Who was the best player in college football last year? Everyone agrees it was Ndamukong Suh. The fact that he even made the top five is a testament to...something. But, of course, he did not win.

The last time a player besides a quarterback or running back took home the trophy was 1997. And before that, it happened in 1991. Those are the only two instances in my lifetime. Are you really telling me in the 24 years I have been alive, only twice was "the best player in college football" not a quarterback or running back?

Let's take this a step further. The QB's and RB's who win each year could probably be deemed the most influential players that season, just based on how often they touch the ball. But when was the last time the Heisman winner was a great football player? Of course it is slightly early for someone like Bradford, but the last winner to make an NFL Pro Bowl is Carson Palmer. Before him, we must travel back to the 1998 and 1997 winners, Ricky Williams and Charles Woodson. To pick nits, I wouldn't consider either Palmer or Williams a great pro. The last Heisman winner to actually be a great pro player was the last non-quarterback/running back: Charles Woodson. Is there something to be learned from that?

One more step further: How many of the last dozen winners (from most recent to Charles Woodson) were even serviceable in the NFL? Ingram, Bradford and Tebow are too soon to tells (although I doubt Tebow will make an all-pro team in his lifetime). Troy Smith was recently cut by the Ravens and has never done much besides show slight promise. No Reggie Bush on the list anymore but we'll tackle him anyway. For a number two overall draft pick, he is a bust. There I said it. Leinart is obviously a bust. Jason White never even made an NFL roster. Palmer, as we said, has been okay, and was very good for two years. Eric Crouch never played in the league. Weinke never did much. And Ron Dayne was a huge bust. Not that I must back up my opinions with factual data all the time, but that is a very high percentage of sucky Heisman winners.

And this 'phenomenon' is not brand new. Here are some of the names of winners from the ten years before Woodson: Danny Wuerffel, Rashaan Salaam, Charlie Ward, Gino Torretta, Ty Detmer, and Andre Ware. That group might be even worse than the first decade we covered.

As should be fairly obvious by now, every single player on the list of sucky winners was a quarterback or running back. The only star player out of any of them was the guy who did not play either position. What this tells me is, most obviously, the award is too often given to either a quarterback or running back. But, more importantly, this tells me the Heisman is rarely given to the actual best player in the nation. How can you have such a high, high rate of failure if the best player is really getting that award?

For some comparison, because this kind of stuff is such an inexact science, let's compare it to the past dozen number one overall draft picks. Not counting 2010 and 2009 (too soon) out of the past 12 'number one overall picks,' seven have made pro bowls and five of those seven, it could be argued, were literally the best at their position in the league when they did so. Of course there were terrible busts too, but again, pretty much all quarterbacks. I see a theme.

I'm not trying to force change upon our nation. I know how hard it is to change anything in sports. It took dozens of years before Cy Young voters in MLB started to actually give the award to the best pitcher, rather than the guy with the most victories. So I'm not expecting an offensive tackle to take home the Heisman any time soon. But I am hoping for one thing: for us to not really care about Reggie Bush giving his back or there being no winner in 2005 or any of that. Because, the fact remains, the award is pretty useless to begin with.

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