Finally, the Heisman Award has won — and won big. If there was ever a time when the Heisman Award, college football and the sport in general needed a win, right now was pretty much that time. And after a string of losses, the Heisman Award won the big one when Marcus Mariota accepted the stiff-arm trophy.
Had Mariota stiff-armed the Heisman instead, it would have been perfectly understandable. Outside of USC, the Heisman has stiff-armed the West Coast for the past 44 years – ever since it honored Jim Plunkett of Stanford in 1970. And the Heisman had blessed the Northwest only once during its entire existence, with the 1962 award going to Terry Baker of Oregon State.
More recently, the Heisman voters have looked the other way when it came to reading the Heisman criteria fine print about “the pursuit of excellence with integrity.”
Cam Newton — No proof that he knew his father was selling his services to the highest bidder.
Johnny Manziel – He probably still has writer’s cramp from signing all those autographs, but the proof that he did it for money apparently fell a penny short of “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Jameis Winston – Sorry, we try to limit our articles to 1200 words.
With Marcus Mariota, the Heisman Committee got the chance to re-inject the quality of integrity into its award, and fortunately, it did not blow the opportunity. This is more important than ever before, because if you add up all the fire the sport has been under for the past hundred years, you still come up short of where it is today.
Contrasting this negativity, the Committee outdid itself, not only with Mariota, but with finalists Melvin Gordon of Wisconsin and Amari Cooper of Alabama as well. All of them are great ambassadors of college athletics and any one of them would have represented the Trophy well. Just probably not quite as well as Marcus Mariota.
In an era where Northwestern University football players petitioned to be treated as employees, Marcus Mariota says that getting a free college education for playing football is a pretty good deal.
While the Reverend Newton shopped his son Cam’s services to the highest bidder, Mariota graciously accepted a scholarship from one of the two colleges that offered him one. And while Johnny Manziel was getting writer’s cramp in a private room, Mariota was volunteering at a local Boys and Girls Club.
While the money side of the game has become seamy enough, the tie-in with off the field violence and pursuit of self-interest in the sport is a graver concern. Just one day’s headlines on ESPN.com include an Oklahoma State running back being arrested for domestic violence, Alabama coach Nick Saban’s daughter being involved in a lawsuit over a girl fight, and the coach of a U.S. Military academy calling the college football playoff “Un-American.”
With demands for money and instances of sexual abuse, physical abuse and domestic violence perpetrated by football players seemingly in the news every day, the worst Marcus Mariota could hit us with was a speeding ticket.
There were three parties directly involved in the winning of this year’s Heisman: the University of Oregon, Marcus Mariota and the Heisman Award itself. While the Ducks didn’t really need the publicity of producing a Heisman winner, the positive attention will no doubt help in their climb toward the top of the nation’s elite.
Marcus Mariota? Humbly honored, he tearfully and sincerely deflected all praise to his family, his coaches, his teammates, his school, his fans and his Hawaiian homeland, giving us all a better understanding of love, appreciation, humility, the gift of those around us, and even Hawaiian cultural values that we can hope to aspire toward.
Compared to the University of Oregon and Marcus Mariota, the Heisman — and college football — had a far greater need. That need was for a poster child to exemplify everything the Award and the game idealize, something that has been sadly lacking of late. Congratulations, Heisman. You won Marcus Mariota.
Top photo by Kevin Cline