As the Heisman Trophy is about to be presented Saturday in New York City, it’s impossible not to think of all the gargantuan heroes who formerly have taken the award home. It’s equally as hard not to think of all the scorned and snubbed.
Bringing the notion of the Heisman Trophy’s unfair allocations of the past to the forefront this year came not in the counting of votes, but who wasn’t even invited to Times Square and given a shot at receiving the honor.
LSU running back Leonard Fournette – the same guy who burst out to an early Heisman lead (unofficially, of course) and finished first in the nation in rushing average (158.3 yards per game) and third in rushing yards (1,741) – didn’t even make the final cut. He will – and this is a shame that The Heisman Trust should have avoided – watch from home and prepare to unleash rage next season.
There’s also a chance – and this comes from more unofficial straw polling of late – the current favorite (and running back who stole the momentum from Fournette) in Alabama’s Derrick Henry could miss out on the win because Christian McCaffrey, the Stanford sophomore with 139 fewer rushing yards and just more than a third (8) of Henry’s touchdowns (23), might sneak away with the Heisman Trophy.
As college football fans in the South still stew over Fournette’s offensive slight and prepare for a possible Henry humiliation, take a look at five of the worst SEC oversights in Heisman history.
Peyton Manning, QB, Tennessee
Year Snubbed: 1997
Stats: Completion Percentage: 60.2% … Passing Yards: 3,812 … TDs: 36 … INTs: 11
Heisman Winner: Charles Woodson, CB/WR/PR, Michigan
Stats: Interceptions: 7 … Receiving Yards: 231 … Receiving TDs: 2 … Punt Return Average: 8.6 yards per punt … Return TDs: 1
In 1997 Peyton Manning won the Davey O’Brien Award, the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award, the Maxwell Award, was a consensus All-American and named the SEC Player of the Year. He also embodied the “pursuit of excellence with integrity” both on and off the field. Since that quote was taken directly from the Heisman Trust’s mission statement, Manning seemed like an easy pick to take home the Heisman Trophy.
Nothing’s easy in life … or fair.
Michigan’s Charles Woodson used the buzz behind his Swiss-Army Knife of a season to steal the nation’s highest single honor away from Manning.
Woodson really was a fantastic athlete and electing football star. He had an incredible seven interceptions – it wasn’t smart to throw toward Woodson – and turned the table on opposing defenses when installed into Michigan’s offense, as either a target or decoy. A punt return by Woodson was never a time to quickly sneak away for a restroom break either. He was, unknowingly, the reason the phrase Must TV was created a few years earlier by NBC.
That flash – mentioning TV was not a blind add-in, because eyeballs on screens is of the utmost importance – helped Woodson win the Heisman when Manning’s 36 touchdowns and 3,819 yards should have been enough.
Both superstars went on to thrive in the NFL, making it harder to doubt Woodson’s legitimacy to this title. I’d just never admit to that in Knoxville, Tenn.
Herschel Walker, RB, UGA
Year Snubbed: 1980
Stats: Rushing Yards: 1,616 … TDs: 15
Heisman Winner: George Rogers, RB, South Carolina
Stats: Rushing Yards: 1,781 … TDs: 14
There are two reasons (sort of) we might be making a mountain out of a mole here with the inclusion of Herschel Walker’s 1980 season. First, another SEC athlete (sure, the Gamecocks weren’t in the SEC at the time … but now that they are, this theft seems more egregious than it should be), George Rogers, took the trophy home … taking the award away from Rogers and handing it to Walker seems counterintuitive on a conference level.
The other reason why this argument gets brought up in fewer situations than it should is the fact that Walker won the award two years later. Hard to feel bad for a guy who was honored anyway.
That said, Walker should have two Heisman Trophies.
While Rogers rushed for 161 more yards and had a slightly better per carry average, Walker scored an extra touchdown. The UGA running back also more than tripled Rogers’ receiving yardage (70 to 23) and returned kicks for the Bulldogs while Rogers solely played offense.
These number are similar, which is where the argument for Walker over Rogers weakens. But take into account that Rogers was a senior and Walker a first-year star and add it to the fact that Walker helped UGA win a national title. If this vote had gone down in the 21st century, Walker probably would have come out on top.
Derrick Thomas, LB, Alabama
Year Snubbed: 1988
Stats: Tackles 88 … Tackles for Loss: 39 … Sacks 27 …
Heisman Winner: Barry Sanders, RB, Oklahoma State
Stats: Rushing Yards: 2,628 … TDs: 37
No one in their right mind would argue for taking away Barry Sanders’ Heisman Trophy and handing it to Derrick Thomas. That’s lunacy. Almost as silly, however, is the fact that Thomas finished 10th in the voting, with only an appearance on 12 total voting cards.
Let’s start with one of the most sought-after attributes in a defensive player along the front seven … pass-rushing capabilities. Thomas notched 27 sacks in 1988. Sacks in the NCAA weren’t a widely honed-in stat until the 2005 season, and since then the best season over those 11 seasons came from Louisville’s Elvis Dumervil with 20 sacks.
Thomas recorded 27, remember.
He was also incredible against the run and pulled down 39 running backs behind the line of scrimmage. The best tackles for loss total registered since 2005 was from USF’s George Selvie with 32 in 2007.
Thomas had a monster season among epic campaigns. To finish 10th in the Heisman voting was an embarrassment, especially with Rodney Peete (2,812 passing yards, 18 TDs, 12 INTs) in second place and Troy Aikman (2,771 passing yards, 24 TDs, 9 INTs) in third. Let’s also not forget the six other players that filled spots between Thomas and Aikman, names like Tony Mandarich, Major Harris and Timm Rosenbach.
The Heisman voters bias against defensive players really hurt Thomas in 1988.
Rex Grossman, QB, Florida
Year Snubbed: 2001
Stats: Completion Percentage: 65.6% … Passing Yards: 3,896 … TDs: 34 … INTs: 12
Heisman Winner: Eric Crouch, QB, Nebraska
Stats: Completion Percentage: 55.6% … Passing Yards: 1,510 … TDs: 7 … INTs: 10 … Rushing Yards: 1,115 … Rushing TDs: 18
Ask anyone – fan, pundit, odds maker – to create a list of the worst Heisman winners of all time, and Eric Crouch’s name would likely be on the list. While not totally fair to Crouch, it also has to be equally mind-boggling to Florida quarterback Rex Grossman, who finished second to the Nebraska quarterback in 2001.
Grossman, just a sophomore at the time … a notation that absolutely hurt him in the minds and eyes of some voters … completed more passes than Crouch attempted, and had a far superior completion rate to boot. Grossman also had nearly five times the touchdown throws and was a fairly safe passer with a 34-to-12 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Crouch on the other hand threw more picks (10) than touchdowns (7).
Why’d Crouch take home the award? Voters were obviously enamored with Crouch’s dual-threat capabilities. Crouch rushed more than he threw the ball, and gained 1,115 yards. He also scored 18 touchdowns on the ground. While his running proficiency absolutely should have gotten his name into the Heisman mix, the voters got this wrong.
Nebraska played in the BCS title game, a fact taken heavily to heart by the 162 first-place votes Crouch received (compared to the 137 for Grossman on a Gators team that failed to win the SEC East, finishing a game behind Tennessee). A great team and a flashy skill set certainly hammered the Heisman home for Crouch.
Darren McFadden, RB, Arkansas
Year Snubbed: 2006
Stats: Rushing Yards: 1,647 … TDs: 14
Heisman Winner: Troy Smith, QB, Ohio State
Stats: Completion Percentage: 65.3% … Passing Yards: 2,542 … TDs: 30 … INTs: 6 … Rushing Yards: 204 … Rushing TDs: 1
Darren McFadden didn’t get snubbed for the 2006 Heisman like Peyton Manning did in 1997. He finished second to Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith, and while the voting was erroneously skewed too greatly toward Smith (2,540 to 878), Buckeyes fans can certainly argue Smith’s case.
Smith threw for 30 touchdowns and completed better than 65 percent of his passes too. Ohio State was also a participant (although on the losing end of a 41-14 shellacking from Florida in the championship) in the BCS title game.
But Smith wasn’t even the clear-cut best quarterback in the Big Ten in 2006, an honor that could have gone to Michigan’s Chad Henne, Drew Stanton of Michigan State, Purdue’s Curtis Painter or even Minnesota’s Bryan Cupito. McFadden was the cream of the crop in the SEC.
McFadden led the conference with 14 rushing touchdowns, was best with a 6.3 yards-per-carry average and actually finished fifth in the country in ground scoring.
So let the Smith versus McFadden debate rage on (my vote would have gone to McFadden had I owned the right to vote in 2006), and also know that McFadden made this list not only because he finished second to Smith, but he also finished second the next season to Tim Tebow.
I’m not about to make a case for McFadden over Tebow, but I do feel some passionate melancholy that he got so close twice and may have been overlooked once.