My Annual Angry Heisman Trophy Rant!

It’s that time of year again. Time for my annual angry, unhinged Heisman Trophy rant! Normally just my family, friends and anyone else unfortunate enough to be within earshot get subjected to my yearly gripe fest about one of my pet peeves, but this year I thought I would expand my audience by using this platform to broadcast my concerns to the interwebs. A serious injustice is done every year, and it’s high time somebody attempted to do something about it.

Today is the Heisman Trophy presentation in New York City, and once again the Heisman voters will dutifully give the award to a quarterback, as Oregon’s Marcus Mariota is the overwhelming favorite to win it. However, let’s look at for what the trophy is supposed to be awarded. This isn’t for what I think it is awarded. This isn’t for what sports talk show hosts say it is awarded. This isn’t for what Joe Fan believes it is awarded. This is for what the Heisman Trophy itself says it is awarded:

The outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity. Winners epitomize great ability combined with diligence, perseverance, and hard work.

Hold on; let me get my glasses so I can look carefully at this. I don’t want to miss anything. It says it is awarded to the “outstanding” college football player. Well, would you lookie there. It doesn’t say the best quarterback. It doesn’t say the outstanding quarterback. It doesn’t say the best skill position player. It doesn’t say the outstanding skill position player. It doesn’t say the most “impactful” player. It doesn’t say the “most valuable” player. It says the “outstanding” player. Hmmm…

Now what is a plain, unbiased understanding of what it means to be outstanding? It means, as the two words it is combining suggest, to stand out, or in a team sport sense to stand above other players. Nothing in the meaning of the word outstanding necessarily implies quarterback. Nothing implies skill position player, unless one wants to be wooden and dense, and argue that such players “stand out” more because they touch the ball more. Well if that is the sense we are going to use, then why not factor in who has the brightest red Mohawk or the best dreads or the hippest end zone dance. Those people stand out in the overly literal sense as well.

“But Dan,” my obviously Communist sympathetic and intellectually deficient opponents always object, “quarterbacks and skill position players touch the ball more and therefore have more impact on the game.” To which I of course reply, “Please show me in the official wording of the award where it says anything about impact or number of touches.”

Guess what. There already is an award for the “most valuable” college football player. It’s called the Archie Griffin Award. Guess what else. There are awards for specific skilled positions. The Davey O’Brien Award goes to the best NCAA quarterback. The Doak Walker award goes to the nation’s top college football running back. The Fred Biletnikoff Award goes to the most outstanding receiver.

And as far as the rest of the award language goes, can only quarterbacks “exhibit[s] the pursuit of excellence.” Can only skill position players do so with “integrity?” Can only skill position players “epitomize great ability?” And combine that with “diligence?” With “perseverance?” With “hard work?” Oh wait. Perhaps there’s the problem. Maybe only skill position players work hard. All those linemen are a bunch of loafers, I guess.

For those who suggest that I am confusing “outstanding” with “best,” perhaps you should check out the list of players who won the Walter Camp Award and the Maxwell Award, both of which theoretically go to the “best” player. Manti Te’o managed to crack both in 2012, but otherwise they too are quarterback and running back fests. Funny how the “best” and the “outstanding” players so often seem to be quarterbacks. What are the odds?

The Heisman Award has become a travesty. Contrary to its clearly stated intent, it does not go to the “outstanding” college football player. It generally goes to the best quarterback who plays on a winning traditional power team with a good PR hype machine behind him. When we’re lucky, and it’s a particularly down year for quarterbacks, the Heisman voters might throw a running back a bone.

Such recipients are usually face obviously not the “outstanding” player in college football. This is illustrated by the so-called Heisman Curse which predicts a lackluster NFL career for the winner, especially quarterbacks. Now I recognize that the NFL requires a certain skill set for its quarterbacks that is different from what may help you to excel in college, so I don’t even hold the NFL performance of people like Tim Tebow or Tim Couch against them. But what about fairly traditional quarterbacks like Gino Torretta, Danny Wuerffell, Chris Weinke and Matt Leinart? Yeah, those boys really lit up the NFL. Compare this to Charles Woodson, the only defensive player ever selected and he only won because he played both ways, who went on to have a stellar career as a pro. You think maybe, just maybe, Charles Woodson really was arguably the “outstanding” player his year? Anyone care to embarrass themselves and make that argument about Chris Weinke?

Here is how I believe a Heisman voter should go about deciding who is the outstanding player in college football. Decide who is the outstanding offensive lineman. The outstanding defensive lineman. The outstanding defensive back. The outstanding kicker. Etc. Then once you have your most outstanding for each position, decide who is the most outstanding at his position of the lot. That is who should receive your Heisman vote.

An analogy that I often used when I’m trying to pound some sense into the obviously wrongheaded people who disagree with my Heisman take, is that the Heisman should be much like the Best in Show at a dog show. Which dog is the outstanding representative of its bread? Which player is the outstanding center? Which dog is the outstanding representative of its group? Which player is the outstanding lineman? Which dog is most outstanding of all the group representatives? That’s your Best in Show. Which player is the most outstanding for his position group? That’s your outstanding player. That should be your Heisman Trophy vote. As things stand now, the Heisman is like a Best in Show that only a dog from the toy group can win.

I’ll use the 2012 football season as an example, because the example is clear that year. The outstanding college football player in 2012 was Jadeveon Clowney. He was the outstanding player at his position in college football that year. He was a more outstanding defensive lineman than Johnny Manziel was an outstanding quarterback. He should have won the Heisman. He finished sixth.

Now I will concede that human nature being what it is, it is likely natural and unavoidable that a disproportionate number of Heisman Trophies would go to quarterbacks and running backs because the results of what they do are more obvious to us, especially the casual viewer. It is harder to judge just how good a lineman is compared to his peers. But it is the voters’ job to know these things. I will also concede that there are likely positions that will be disproportionately underrepresented because it is harder to distinguish yourself from your peers at them. Kicker and punter come to mind. The difference between an average punter and the outstanding punter is less than the difference between an average quarterback and the outstanding quarterback. But that said, an argument could be made that Ray Guy was the outstanding player one of his years or that Kevin Butler was one of his, for example. What you can’t argue with a straight face is that the outstanding player is a quarterback 13 out of the last 20 years or a quarterback or running back 19 out of the last 20 which isn’t even counting today’s sure thing quarterback. Again, what are the odds?

To see if the voters are getting it right, there ought to be some correlation between Heisman ballots and predicted draft boards. This correlation won’t be perfect because the NFL draft also looks at potential for talent development, and in the case of certain positions looks at a particularly NFL oriented skill set. As I said above, I don’t expect an outstanding college option quarterback to necessarily be high on NFL draft boards, but it provides a rough gauge. NFL scouts knew that Clowney was a more outstanding player than Manziel as I asserted above, his current health issues aside.

So today I will not bother to watch the Heisman Trophy presentation, because it is a farce and will remain a farce until a lineman or linebacker or whoever wins it. Expect my yearly rant to continue until the Heisman voters become as enlightened as your humble scribe.

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