HOW OVERRATED IS THE HEISMAN TROPHY? LET US COUNT THE WAYS ...


With the Heisman Trophy to be presented Saturday evening, the Writers' Bloc decided to take a look at the sports world's most ballyhooed individual award. We don't want to give away too much about our attitude on the overrated trophy without your reading what follows, but we can reveal that we think the Heisman is:

Dead (since 1980, says Tim Keown)
Irrelevant
About nothing
Rarely picks the right guy
Perfunctory
Spooky
A curse/jinx
Poorly designed
Out of touch with today's kids
Inspired by a bully
A ripoff

Otherwise just about perfect.


Tim Keown
To: Writers' Bloc
Subject: Heisman Trophy

Like so many things in the world of television-driven sports, the Heisman has become a prognosticator's dream and a realist's nightmare. You can fill hours and hours of airtime discussing who might win and why, but every December the depressing reality sinks in: All the talk means nothing. It's the same guy every year -- Chris Weinke, Carson Palmer, Ricky Williams, Gino Torretta, Jason White. Aside from the Charles Woodson year, the winner is the best back who puts up the best numbers for a top-10 team. Big deal.

(And Woodson needed to play some offense to gain the voters' imprimatur. He wouldn't have sniffed it if he had simply been a great defensive back.)

To me, the Heisman died in 1980, when the voters had the chance to alter history by voting for the most deserving player, Pitt's Hugh Green. The man was an absolute terror, maybe the single most dominating college player of the last 40 years. But, too bad, he played defense, so the voters finger-dribbled their lower lips and voted like they always do, for that year's best back/best numbers/best team -- South Carolina's George Rogers.

Propelled by savage blowouts and excellent receivers, Jason White will walk to the podium Saturday night, and someone somewhere will start talking about next year.


Luke Cyphers
To: Writers' Bloc
Subject: Heisman Trophy

That's the best thing about the Heisman, Tim -- it's an award about nothing. It doesn't forecast success in the NFL. It isn't fair to defensive players and linemen. And when Larry Fitzgerald doesn't win, it will prove it hasn't caught up with the times enough to acknowledge the importance of wide receivers or the relevance of underclassmen.

Yet it still merits prime-time TV, a season's worth of speculation, and a whole day before the prestigious Writers' Bloc (which Access Hollywood calls "some of the best writing about nothing you'll see anywhere on the web").

You gotta admire that.


Eric Neel
To: Writers' Bloc
Subject: Heisman Trophy

The problem with the Heisman is that it's perfunctory. Dole it out every single year and it's little more than a 15 percent tip, just a habit before you get up from the table.

Bo Jackson
You have your Gino Torretta Heisman winners and then you have your Bo Jackson Heisman winners.

Not every year is a Heisman year. This clearly isn't a Heisman year. Gino Torretta's year? Andre Ware's year? Not Heisman years.

Barry Sanders' year? Bo Jackson's year? Yes, sir.

Withhold the thing, I say. Let it gather mystique and gravitas. Some guy from the NYAC comes to the podium this year and says, "We at the club have been impressed and entertained by another fine year of college football, featuring marvelous play from many wonderful young athletes. However, we do not feel the performance of any single player has consistently risen to the Heisman standard and so there will be no Trophy this year."

Bam. Just like that, the little guy is back. He means something. Everybody wants a piece of him.


Patrick Hruby
To: Writers' Bloc
Subject: Heisman Trophy ... and many, many more

College football is a lot like Lake Wobegone: All the kids are above average. How else to explain the plethora -- and proliferation -- of campus gridder awards, of which the Heisman Trophy is merely a drop in an overflowing bucket of gratuitous postseason acknowledgment?

The stiff-armed statuette splits time with the Walter Camp and Maxwell awards, both given to the nation's outstanding player. Unless, of course, he plays defense, in which case the Bronko Nagurski and Chuck Bednarik (note: NOT presented by Frank Gifford) awards pick up the slack. Interior linemen have their own award (Outland Trophy), as do linebackers (Butkus Award), defensive ends (Hendricks Award), defensive backs (Thorpe Award), running backs (Walker Award), receivers (Biletnikoff Award), tight ends (Mackey Award), kickers (Groza Award), punters (Guy Award), quarterbacks (O'Brien Award), senior quarterbacks (Unitas Award) and linemen in general (Lombardi Award).

Oh, and don't forget about centers, who bask in the warm, golden glow of the Rimington Trophy. Surely you're familiar with its immortal design, that of a bronzed lineman preparing to snap a football, one meaty arm pointing out some sort of defensive shift.

Or maybe not.

Is any of this surprising? Not really. College football produces approximately 2,157 pre- and postseason All-Conference, All-Region and All-America squads, including one from Playboy Magazine (and that's not counting the Girls of the Big 12). Nearly half the teams in Division I end up in a bowl game of some sort, while two more meet in the New Orleans Bowl. Add in individual team and booster club honors -- excluding cash-stuffed envelopes and loaner SUVs -- and hosannas are as common as halfback counters. Not that there's anything wrong with that, provided corporate ATMs like Tostitos and Nokia, proud sponsor of the Nokia Sugar Bowl, brought to you by Nokia, are willing to foot the bill.

So when you tune into the Suzuki Heisman announcement ceremony this weekend -- and please do, since it just happens to be on ESPN, the network that cuts my checks -- don't shed a tear for the runners-up. Chances are, they'll get theirs. Instead, think of the lonely long snapper, perhaps the only player in the college game who remains trapped on the outside of the Home Deport Awards Show, looking in.

At least until the Mosi Tatupu Special Teams Award gains wider acceptance -- which, given the current landscape, is only a matter of time. After all, at least half the snappers out there are obviously better than average.


Jim Caple
To: Writers' Bloc
Subject: Heisman Trophy

I know it isn't considered cool to say this, but I love the Heisman Trophy. The Heisman is no predictor of NFL glory, instead going to a guy who was just a good college player. I love that war hero Nile Kinnick won it. I love that Doug Flutie won it. But mostly I love it because of the trophy itself, the most substantial piece of sports bling that isn't being worn around Rickey Henderson's neck.

The enduring image of that tough, scowling back is why the Heisman still matters. That's why people still care. That's why schools spend $100,000 painting pictures on a Times Square wall (for his school's next candidate, I assume Phil Knight will simply mount a Broadway musical -- "Rodgers and Hammerstein's Oregon!").

If I could win one piece of hardware/schlock/apparel, I would quickly choose the Heisman over an Olympic gold medal, Augusta's green jacket, the Tour's yellow Jersey, a WBC diamond-crusted belt, a Super Bowl ring or even a baseball triple crown. I would display it in front of my house like a lawn jockey. I would strap a seat belt around it and drive it around town in a convertible with the top down. I would carry it into bars in a shopping cart and charge people to rub it for good luck.

And if I were Archie Griffin, I would use BOTH my Heisman Trophies as the world's most impressive book ends.

Although I guess I would have to buy some really big books to fit between them.

(By the way, when I covered the Lingerie Bowl press conference last week, a photographer asked "quarterback'' Nikki Ziering to strike a Heisman pose. She had no idea what it was, and no matter how many times someone showed it to her, she couldn't get it right. She finally got frustrated and asked that she not be asked to do any more Heisman shots.)


Robert Lipsyte
To: Writers' Bloc
Subject: Heisman Trophy

I spent a day in Huntington, W. Va., last year watching Byron Leftwich being photographed from every angle for the bobblehead doll that would be sent to every suspected Heisman voter. It was a big deal (except for Byron, bless his wise and jolly soul), because if the quarterback made the short list and went to New York, Marshall University would be on the Happy News Network. A mid-level school in a desperately poor state, the Thundering Herd needed some good air. Coaches, university administrators, PR agents and "friends of the program" hovered and murmured, as if trying to will their hopes and dreams into the making of this magical doll that would sway the electorate and change all their lives.

It was spooky and revelatory; I'd never taken the Heisman seriously before, just another trophy from a dying Wall Street club voted on by media mutts, a sort of Miss America for glam jocks. But it's very serious. It can have enormous impact in ways that have nothing to do with the message. Byron never got to New York, maybe just as well; Marshall was sinking into booster scandal by then. But Byron did get to the NFL and his bobblehead sits over my desk and nods me on: Tell it like you think it is, B-Lip, as if you think you know.


Tom Friend
To: Writers' Bloc
Subject: Heisman Trophy

The Heisman is a better pose than it is a trophy. It has all the intrinsic value of the Walter Camp Award -- only it's televised. And that show!!! Will somebody loosen up? Will one of the nominees show up in baggy, low-rise jeans, please? They lob lollipop questions at the players, at their moms and at their junior high coaches, and then some guy behind the camera tells the audience to applaud. Merv ought to host it.

Look, it used to be the Heisman got you a Norelco commercial and a first-round signing bonus. Ask Gino Torretta (can't even spell his name) about that. Ask Eric Crouch. It's a curse now. My best advice to Fitzgerald, White, Manning and Perry is: Don't win it. Don't even go. Randy Moss went, never took off his shades and almost fell into the second round of the NFL draft. They thought Randy was arrogant.

They all had it backwards, man. It's the trophy that's arrogant. That trophy's in denial.

Boycott! Calling all Heisman nominees -- boycott!


Dan Shanoff
To: Writers' Bloc
Subject: New marketing strategy

To: John W. Heisman Executive Committee

From: Marketing Staff

Subject: Re: Trophy Modifications

Committee members:

As expected, our most recent research reports reveal that our beloved Trophy's image has lost much of its brand value with consumers, particularly in key younger demographics:

25- to 34-year-olds: 75 percent associate "getting the Heisman" with being shot down by a "decent-looking but not totally unattainable" woman after a little small-talk at the bar.

18- to 24-year-olds: 85 percent assume the trophy goes to the college student who most effectively "full-body paints themselves in gold" and gets on ESPN "College GameDay" broadcasts.

10- to 17-year-olds: 95 percent think they have "already won the Trophy" themselves as a result of "create-a-player" on the "College Football 2004" video game.

Our conclusion: The Trophy's traditional "stiff-arm" image has grown a little stale. To inject the Heisman brand with a more contemporary look and feel, we propose the following finalists for "New Heisman" poses:

"Pointing at Self": The stiff-arm says "I'm pushing everyone away!"; this new gesture says "Look at me! I'm OK!"

"Talking to Agent": Disclosure: We got this from the college basketball player of the year award group.

"Taking a Knee": What's wrong with being aspirational? Perhaps we may inspire teams to not run up the score.

"Playing PlayStation": Vision, reflexes, strategy. Prove it on the field? No: Prove it sitting on the floor of my dorm room, pal!

"Getting Lap Dance": Wait, sorry. That's for another client: the coaches' "Thighs Man" Trophy.

"Sitting at Computer": No single player impacts the game as much as the BCS computer-formula experts do. (Kenneth Massey in '04!)

We look forward to your feedback.

Sincerely,
The Marketing Staff


Steve Wulf
To: Writers' Bloc
Subject: Heisman Trophy

The real Heisman Trophy should be a bronze statue of a coach, arms folded across his chest, with a smirk on his face. That's because John W. Heisman was the coach of Georgia Tech when it beat Cumberland College 222-0 in 1916. Heisman held a grudge against Cumberland for some reason -- I think it was a baseball game the year before -- and that was his payback.

So the 2003 Heisman Trophy goes to Bob Stoops. His Oklahoma Sooners ran up some magnificent scores this season: 52-9, 52-28, 59-24, 53-7, 65-13, 56-25 and, of course, the piece de non-resistance, the 77-0 shellacking of Texas A&M. Presenting the award is Kansas State coach Bill Snyder.


Chuck Hirshberg
To: Writers' Bloc
Subject: Heisman Trophy

Well. It's easy to be negative, isn't it? If I was as negative as all of you, I suppose I would make fun of the Heisman Presentation Award Dinner that's set to take place at the Hilton New York next Monday. "For the first time ever," announces a hyperventilating press release, "the GENERAL PUBLIC will be allowed to purchase tickets and attend this historic event." This is not the selection, mind you; that happens over the weekend and the general public is NOT allowed to purchase tickets for that. On Monday, they'll just be handing the trophy to this year's Charlie Ward.

Tickets are $600 each, but apparently you can save money by purchasing an entire table-for-10 for $6,000. The menu isn't specified (never a good sign), but you are promised "the chance to meet past Heisman Winners [and] get your picture taken with the Heisman Trophy." Please note: the chance to get your picture taken -- no promises. The Trophy is a prima donna and won't pose for more than a minute or two when she's feeling bitchy.

Easy to ridicule? You bet, but I believe in emitting positive chi, a term I learned from my wife's yoga instructor, who, based on his popularity with the gym babes, is definitely a guy worth emulating. So instead of mocking the Presentation Dinner, or redesigning the statue, or withholding the award, I think ESPN.com should offer another award: The I-Got-Your-Heisman-Trophy-Right-Here Awards. One goes to the Heisman Trophy winner who least deserved it; the other to the most deserving player, or players, who got passed over in favor of him.

We could honor Gino, who was chosen over Marshall Faulk, Garrison Hearst and Drew Bledsoe. No, I think not. My choice: None other than the Ole Ball Coach, Steve Spurrier, who beat out Bob Griese and Floyd Little, then went on to stink up the NFL as QB and punter (frequent, frequent punter) for the 'Niners.

The best part about my idea is, we could announce our Award next Monday, at the Heisman Presentation Award Dinner. All ESPN.com needs to do is spring for three tables -- enough to accommodate the Writers' Bloc and a bunch of our friends and family ($18,000 is a lot, but think how much you save)! And the Winners, too -- why not invite them?

The prize: no corny, useless trophy. Instead, each player gets a Heisman Durahyde Zippered Padfolio, available from the Heisman Trophy website:

"Made with a debossed Heisman logo, this padfolio holds a notepad, a pen, a calculator, business cards, paperwork, and more."

After all, at $34.95 per each, the Heisman Padfolio is worth more than the trophy itself.





ALSO SEE:


Heisman Watch

Heisman history and winners

The List: Best college football seasons

Writer's Bloc: Do you need chemistry?

Writer's Bloc: The right price

Writer's Bloc: BCS wars

Writer's Bloc: Sneaker wars

Writer's Bloc: It's gotta be the shoes





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