By: Red Phillips

I know this is a political website, and this topic has nothing to do with politics, but the subject makes me so furious every year I’m going to subject all you unsuspecting readers to my rant anyway. Besides, my position is contra the establishment and my way of doing things would represent a great big ol’ thumb in the eye of the powers that be so this just might be EtherZone material anyway.

Every year the Heisman Trophy and the lead up to it drives me up the freakin’ wall.

Here is what the Heisman award is officially given for:

The outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity.

Get that? "The outstanding college football player."  Nowhere does that say the outstanding skill position player. Nowhere does it say the outstanding quarterback or running back. Nowhere does it say the outstanding offensive player other than a lineman. No, it says the outstanding college football PLAYER. Are defensive backs not football players? Are defensive linemen not football players? Are offensive linemen not football players? And for that matter, does the award say anything about the player necessarily playing for a highly ranked team? If someone had been lost on a deserted island before 1935 and was found today and asked to read that very simple language would he, uncorrupted by years of brainwashing, come to the conclusion that the award could only go to a quarterback or running back? I think not. 

The Heisman Trophy is a travesty, and each year all the pre-Heisman talk makes my blood boil. It is not given to the outstanding college football player. It is given to an outstanding quarterback or running back with very few exceptions and usually to one that happens to be on a really good team. In the entire 76 year history of the Heisman two tight ends have won it and two receivers have won it. Charles Woodson is the only primarily defensive player to ever win, and it is almost certain that he would not have won had he not also been an excellent kick returner and occasional receiver. Other than that, every winner has been either a quarterback or a running back.

This is a farce on its face. So I’m supposed to believe that since 1935 the outstanding football player of any given year has never been a lineman? Never? Ever? Or hardly ever played for a crappy team?

There are already awards for best quarterback (Davey O’Brien Award) and best running back (Doak Walker Award). Do they get their own separate awards and get to monopolize the Heisman Trophy as well? Where is the justice in that?

I know all the arguments. The quarterback touches the ball on every offensive play. Running backs touch the ball frequently and can change a game with one run. Linemen are somewhat interchangeable. Quarterbacks are not. I get that, and if the Heisman was a most valuable player award, then those things would matter. But IT IS NOT a most valuable player award. It is an award for the outstanding college football player. What part of that is confusing?

I guess people could play semantic games with the word outstanding if they wanted to. What does outstanding mean but to stand out? So maybe, just maybe, if you don’t mind being really pathetic you could justify this travesty by saying that quarterbacks and running backs "stand out" more, but that would just be semantic weaseling to justify a continuing outrage. The Maxwell Award and the Walter Camp Award both allegedly go to the best player, and guess what. They always go to a quarterback or running back too so there is not some magic with the word outstanding that somehow confines the award to quarterbacks and running backs.

This year Robert Griffin III won the Heisman in a race that was unusually muddled until the end. Is he an outstanding college football player? Most certainly. Is he an outstanding quarterback? Most certainly. Is he projected to be a good pro and likely to be drafted high? Yes. Is he the most valuable player in college football, meaning that he elevates his team the most of any player - without him his team would be substantially worse? Perhaps. In fact, I think a good case could be made that he is the most valuable player since Baylor isn’t normally a powerhouse. He might also be something like the most outstanding athlete in college football since he is also an excellent track star. But is he the outstanding college football player? Very unlikely since he is probably not even the best quarterback. Pro scouts don’t think so.

The Heisman should go to the outstanding college football PLAYER which it is reasonable to interpret as the outstanding player at his respective position since it is impossible to compare otherwise as football is a team sport and every player has a different role. To make an admittedly crude analogy (if anyone complains that I’m comparing people to animals then that will be proof positive they need to get a life), the Heisman should be something like the best in show award at a dog show. Once you have decided which dog is the best in the hound group, the best in the toy group, etc. you pick the best in show from among the group winners. Likewise, an ideal Heisman voter would determine the best lineman, the best defensive back, the best quarterback, etc. and then vote for the best of the best players. Which player stands out the most from other players at his position? Of course this will always be subjective and will never be perfect, but it is the framework for how I think voting should be approached by a conscientious voter.

All you have to do to know how poorly the Heisman voters have done their jobs is to look at how relatively poorly so many Heisman winners have done in the pros and how low they have sometimes been drafted. There generally should be a correlation between where a player is drafted, and if he is the best player at his position. Of course there are exceptions to this. I recognize the college game is different and the best player at a position in college may have a different skill set than what the pros look for in the pro game. And I realize that the draft has a lot to do with projected potential and not just how a player plays right now. For example, if you must award it to a quarterback I can see awarding it to Eric Crouch even though no one expected him to be a good pro at quarterback.

I will also concede that there might be factors other than best at their relative position that contribute to outstandingness. I’ll use a Georgia example since that’s the team I root for and am most familiar with. Champ Bailey placed 7th in the Heisman voting in 1998 and was helped by the fact that he played both ways (not occasionally but all the time), wide receiver and cornerback. Was he the best wide receiver in college football that year? Probably not. Was he the best cornerback? Probably judging by his draft status and pro career. Was he the best in show using my criteria? Maybe at the cornerback position. But I can see how the fact that he played both ways could conceivably contribute to a judgment of most outstanding without him having to be the best in show at his position of cornerback per se.

Also, people argue that the Heisman is an annual award and not a lifetime achievement award, but I don’t even begrudge voters looking at past performance as past performance would be one thing that would help determine best at a particular position. This year, for example, if I had to vote for a quarterback I would have voted for Andrew Luck over Robert Griffin III partially based on his body of work. I think Luck is a more outstanding quarterback than is Griffin. Looking at some of the quarterbacks (Chris Weinke or Danny Wuerfell anyone?) who have won, that Peyton Manning never won one looks pretty silly now. If we must give it to a quarterback, then surely Peyton Manning deserved one.

This year of the top contenders I would have voted for Tyrann Mathieu partially out of spite since he is a defensive player and partially because he comes the closest to my best in show criteria. Is Mattieu the best cornerback? Probably and his nearest rival may be on his own team. Is he the outstanding college football player (best at his position)? Maybe. Maybe not. But he is very likely a better cornerback than Griffin is a quarterback, and I’m sure most experts would agree with that. So how is Griffin the outstanding college football player if Mathieu is better at his position than Griffin is at his barring some other considerations such as the ones I have conceded above?

In 2009 I would have voted for Ndamukong Suh, again partially to spite the flawed process but also because I believe he was the best player at his position that year and his draft pick and pro career so far (minus the nastiness) bear that out. 

Theoretically the Heisman should distribute roughly according to the number of positions there are on a team. If we count the offensive and defensive lines and linebackers as one position each and count kickers and punters but don’t count long snap specialist etc. then there are roughly eleven positions give or take. Therefore quarterbacks should win roughly one in every eleven Heismans. Even this may be a generous estimate since there is only one starting quarterback and four (depending) starting defensive lineman per team. Maybe a quarterback should only win one in every twenty two Heismans. Anyway, this is making my head hurt, but you get my point. One in eleven? One in twenty two? It doesn’t matter. The point is that quaterbacks shouldn’t win the vast majority of them (since the modern passing era).

But again I concede, generous guy that I am, that it is conceivably easier to stand out at certain positions, and I will concede that there are some positions where it is conceivably harder to noticeably stand out amongst your peers. The latter would be especially true of offensive linemen I suppose. It would also be hard for a punter, for example, to stand out that much from his peers unless he was booting the ball 50 yards on average. Likewise, there are positions where it is easier to noticeably stand out from your peers, such as quarterback and running back. Also, certain positions, from Pop Warner on up, attract the best athletes and some fall to the workmen. No offense to anyone who played these positions, but historically cornerback goes to the better athletes and safety to the lesser. Defensive lineman to the better big athletes. Offensive lineman to the lesser. Etc. So it is not unreasonable to assume that you might wind up with more truly outstanding cornerbacks than safeties or more truly outstanding defensive lineman than offensive linemen. So a natural distribution of Heismans theoretically might not distribute precisely according to position. Also, the voters being humans and not machines and games being spectator events as opposed to combines, it is not really surprising that a greater than normal distribution of awards might go to skill position players that voters are more likely to notice. But that said, only five out of seventy six being something other than a quarterback or a running back is a bit ridiculous don’t you think.

So to sum up, maybe there are legitimate and natural reasons why a greater than normal distribution of Heismans would go to quarterbacks and running backs. I have tried to be fair. My beef is with the system and the expectations. The award is NOT a quarterback or running back award. It is a college football player award. For the assumption to be going in that the Heisman will go to a quarterback or running back is a travesty. For the "Heisman watch" to begin and end the year as a list of top quarterbacks and running backs with some occasional interloper nosing his way in because he is so outstanding he can’t be ignored (Suh) is an outrage. I hold the sports media responsible for this because they make up the vast majority of Heisman voters and perpetuate the farce with their coverage. Who will join me in denouncing this outrage and demanding justice for other positions?

"Published originally at : republication allowed with this notice and hyperlink intact."

Red Phillips is a physician from Georgia.  He occasionally blogs at Conservative Times.  He is a regular columnist for Ether Zone.

Red Phillips may be contacted at:

Published in the December 19, 2011 issue of  Ether Zone.
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