The Heisman: Just Say NO!

With the 2013 football season behind us, the hype for the 2014 Heisman has begun, with Marcus Mariota at or near the top of the list.  My reaction is simple: Just say NO!

It’s not that Mariota doesn’t deserve consideration for the Heisman.  Quite the contrary, it’s the Heisman that doesn’t deserve consideration from Mariota, or any of the other fine, upstanding players from the Pac-12 — with the possible exception of the USC Trojans. (See below.)

What came to be the Heisman Award, started out in 1935, when the Downtown Athletic Club (DAC) in New York City, established it to recognize “the most valuable football player in the East.”  At the time, John Heisman was the director of the DAC, and it was only after his death that the award was named in his honor — and, theoretically, broadened to include players west of the Mississippi.

Unfortunately, it appears that the majority of voters for the award are not aware of any athlete west of the Mississippi — except for the state of Texas, the numerically challenged Big 12 and USC.  Of the 78 Heisman awards that have gone out, a mere three have gone to Pac members outside of USC: Terry Baker (Oregon State) in 1962, Gary Beban (UCLA) in 1967 and most recently, Jim Plunkett (Stanford) in 1970.

The Heisman voters have at least noticed that USC, with six Heisman winners, exists, and most of their winners haven't had to give their trophies back.

The Heisman voters have at least noticed that USC, with six Heisman winners, exists — and most of their winners haven’t had to give their trophies back.

So, outside of USC, the Heisman Committee has snubbed the Pac for 43 straight years.  This is reminiscent of the old Peanuts cartoons where Lucy would hold the football for Charlie Brown to kick and then always pull it away at the last second, causing him to land on his keister.  Lucy was always able to convince him that “this time would be different,” — but it never was.

Eastern Time Zone Ohio State is tied with Eastern Time Zone Notre Dame for the most Heisman winners at seven each.

Eastern Time Zone Ohio State is tied with Eastern Time Zone Notre Dame for the most Heisman winners at seven each.

So it goes with the Heisman: from time to time they throw a token Pac player into the finals, and all the guy gets for the trouble of packing off to the Big Apple is the privilege of standing there with a stupid grin on his face as they present the award to someone whose primary advantage is a lower number on the western longitude reading assigned to his college.

In 2013, the snub was complete.  Not a single Pac-12 player made the top ten in the voting.  So I say to all the would-be 2014 Charlie Browns in the Pac-12, “Don’t fall for it!”  Tell them that if they really want to give you the trophy, just box it up and ship it Fed Ex, UPS or whoever that is that’s a proud sponsor of the Pac-12 Championship Game.

Johnny F. signed Texas A & M (Central Time, SEC) up for its second Heisman.

Johnny F. signed Texas A & M (Central Time, SEC) up for its second Heisman.

Then there’s the issue of integrity.  When the Heisman abandoned the total East-of-the-Mississippi thing and decided to include Texas and L.A., they defined the award as being for “the most outstanding player in college football in the U.S. whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity.”


Yeah, right.  Three of the past four winners have carried clouds in that department:

*Cam “I had no idea my dad was selling me to the highest bidder” Newton;

*Johnny “I’m so cool my last name is Football and I signed my name 77,382 times just for fun” Manziel; and

*Jameis “Not enough evidence to convict, not in Florida anyway” Winston.

There are those who say, “Yeah, well, whatever happened to innocent until proven guilty?”

Well, here’s the problem with that line of thinking.  ”Innocent until proven guilty” and “beyond a reasonable doubt” are the standards for criminal conviction.

There are other standards that apply, such as “preponderance of evidence,” which applies to civil court and “too damn many smoking guns to ignore,” which applies to public perception and who you would want your daughter or sister to go out with.

Even the most innocuous descriptions of Jameis Winston’s brush with the law paint a picture of someone with sordid personal standards of behavior, yet upon news that “there wasn’t enough evidence to get a conviction for a felony,” suddenly all questions of his integrity got brushed under the carpet.  Maybe there wasn’t enough evidence to convict, but there was certainly enough evidence to sully the Heisman — as if that once-revered standard of college football needed any more sullying.

What would John Heisman, the man for whom the trophy is named, have to say about that?

Here’s a little about the man behind the name.  Among his many other achievements, he compiled a record of 102-29-7 at Georgia Tech between 1904 and 1919, winning a national championship in 1917.

Heisman left Georgia Tech — and Atlanta — when he went through a divorce, because “he didn’t want to cause his former wife, who wanted to stay in Atlanta, any social embarrassment or inconvenience.”  Yeah, that sounds like something Johnny Manziel or Jameis Winston would do, doesn’t it?

John Heisman believed strongly in integrity.  In 1915, he became upset when Cumberland used semi-pro ringers to hand his Georgia Tech team a 22-0 loss in baseball.  (He coached basketball and baseball as well as football.)  Heisman was so upset that the next fall, when Georgia Tech played Cumberland in football, he ran up the score to the tune of 222-0, a game that remains the most one-sided in football history.

I’m not even sure how you run up that kind of a score, but it had to involve something like 30 touchdowns and who knows how many safeties.  I’m guessing that there weren’t a lot of field goals.

Anyway, the point is, Heisman was a man of integrity and conviction and he had no problem punishing those who exhibited contrary behavior.  I really doubt that he would have a warm, fuzzy feeling about the dirt on the trophy that bears his name today.

So spare us the talk of Pac-12 players being top Heisman candidates.  The Heisman has all the equity and objectivity of a dog show at best, except that dog shows at least have the decency to avoid awarding Best in Show to dogs that soil the stage.

Marcus Mariota — and the rest of the great players in the Pac-12 — would do us all a favor, and possibly put the Heisman back in line, if they would just say, “No, thanks.”

Main photo by Kevin Cline

Print Friendly
Mike Merrell

Mike Merrell

Mike (Editor-in-Chief) is a 1970 graduate of the University of Oregon where he attended the Honors College and received all-conference honors as a swimmer. After college, Mike ran for the Oregon Track Club and narrowly missed qualifying for the US Olympic Trials in the marathon. He continues his involvement in sports with near-daily swimming or running workouts, occasional masters swim competition (where he has received two Top-10 World rankings), providing volunteer coaching to local triathletes and helping out with Mike lives on 28 acres in the forest near Sandpoint, Idaho, where he has served as a certified public accountant for most of his working career. His current night job is writing novels about Abby Westminster, the only known illegitimate daughter of Britain's finest secret agent who has to bring down arch-villains plotting dastardly deeds. And, yes, Abby is also a DUCK!

4 Responses

  1. Gary McAuley says:

    I am building a website detailing some of the slanted history of the Heisman.
    Should be operational in the next week or two.

  2. hokieduck says:

    This is a terrific post, Mike Merrill. Terrific. Loved the history on Coach John Heisman especially. I also could not agree with you more on the Integrity leg having been kicked out from under the award. Sickeningly so, actually.

    I am truly glad that Marcus Mariota seems to genuinely not care about the individual awards in football. He returned to Oregon for one reason: to be part of the first year of playoff college football. May his decision be a good and safe and healthy one, foremost, and may it result in a wonderful year for Duck football.

    Go Ducks. WTD. Starting today.

  3. Douglas Fur '74 says:

    Mariota would have to stoop to take the Heisman.
    We all sighed when he decided on one more year.
    Now I’m getting greedy, trying to think how we can have our cake and eat it. How do we have the country’s best quarterback in each game and get the young guys real game time? ULM has been running a 2 quarter back set. Princeton has been running 3 quarterbacks in at once. Can we use this concept to get the “next man up” experience in the heat of important games?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *