With EA Sports NCAA Football '13 playing up the (mostly) contrived animosity bred by college football rivalries by allowing players to put Heisman Trophy winners on any team, Will last week asked the question of which SEC Heisman winner would have looked best in orange. But this is the Heisman, and no discussion of the Heisman is complete until you get around to discussing the greatest snubs in the history of the award.
Hmm. Let me think. Give me a minute.
. . .
Right. Vols fans are known for many things, but one of them is the tendency to bleed from the ears immediately upon hearing the name Charles . . . well, I'll spare you and instead call him Charles Manson. Much better, right?
It's true that one of the things for which bloggers are known is the intense need to ignore the obvious and instead embrace the not-so-obvious, but there is only one answer to this question, and it really doesn't even matter if you are a Tennessee fan. The greatest snub in the history of the Heisman is Charles Manson over Peyton Manning in 1997.
First, a sanity check. In association with SB Nation, EA Sports recently ran a poll asking this very question. The choices were Texas' Vince Young, Nebraska's Tommy Frazier, San Diego State's Marshall Faulk, and Manning. There were 22,579 votes cast across the entire network, and Manning, without ESPN to interfere, won running away with 60%. Pardon our friends at Burnt Orange Nation, who undercut their own argument for Young by conceding that Reggie Bush was "undeniably electric." That was a great contest against two worthy candidates. And give a bless-your-heart to our friends at Corn Nation, who are comparing Frazier's snub to Ndamukong Suh's. (Frazier lost to Eddie George, by the way -- also a worthy opponent.)
No, sorry guys, but we will not let you take this victory from us, no matter how bitter it tastes. It's Manning, and it's not close. The 1997 Heisman was a tragic fluke for a variety of reasons. Here are a few:
Defensive players don't win the Heisman. Charles Manson is the only post-two-platoon defensive player to ever have won the award. Several have been in the running, but none have won. If Dick Butkus couldn't win it, defensive players should be automatically disqualified.
Heisman winners don't have to come from the best teams. Yes, Manson's team went undefeated in 1997, but Tennessee was 11-1 in the regular season and won the SEC. Manning finished his UT career 39-5 as a starting QB. He lost to Alabama once and Memphis once. And his team lost to Florida three times, including the 1997 game, which is yet another reason to hate Steve Spurrier and the Gators. Not that you needed one. But it wasn't that Manning didn't play well against Florida, it's that Florida was simply better. Manson has the edge here, but it's not like the award always goes to the best guy on the best team, anyway. I haven't updated the math, but back in 2009, there had been 47 winners who were on teams with one or even two losses. Tim Tebow won with four losses in 2007. So while it may be said that winners generally come from good teams, it's not always the case, and it's without a doubt the case that the winner doesn't always come from the best team.
The intangibles. This is the most tragic of all. Never mind what Peyton Manning has accomplished as an NFL QB; he was an absolutely fantastic college quarterback. As I mentioned above, he finished his career with only five losses, and three of those came at the hands of Steve Spurrier's Florida Gators. He was so good so consistently for so long that people were tired of it. There was no competition for the Heisman through most of the 1997 season. As Will said in this terrific post back in 2009, when you're that good for that long, the only story left to be told is one of perfection, and if you can't tell that, you find something else:
In 1997, the only thing Peyton Manning hadn't done was beat Florida. In the two previous seasons, the Vols went 14-0 against the rest of the SEC and 0-2 against the Gators. In 1995, Manning played brilliantly against Florida...the defense just gave up 62 points with an assist from Jay Graham's fumbilitis. In 1996, you have to temper Manning's 4 interceptions with his 492 yards. So when the Gators beat the Vols 33-20 in his senior season, Manning's 353 yards and 3 TDs were overlooked - in part because he threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown - and the dream story was broken. And from that moment, a significant percentage of college football fans - including several Heisman voters - decided that nothing else Manning did really mattered. Manning would ho-hum his way through the rest of the season. 3,819 yards passing. 36 touchdowns. A 11-1 record and a #3 ranking in the polls, with an outside shot at the National Championship. But none of that mattered. Manning being really, really good was old news. And with the slightest imperfection, people began to look for another story.
ESPN at the time did not have rights to the SEC as they do now. It was widely viewed as the Big Ten Network. And when you're charged with selling the news, you'd better find a way to make it interesting. Manning being the best player in college football was uninteresting because it was old news, so they had to find an angle. Enter Charles Manson. When Manson ran a punt back for a TD against Ohio State, it simply didn't matter that Manning was concluding his career with a career day against Tim Couch and Kentucky with 5 TDs and over 500 yards. New news beats old news every time.
Look, it's not that Charles Manson wasn't a good player, and we're not trying to take anything away from a brilliant career. But he's no Peyton Manning, not now and not then. Shoot, he's barely even 2008 Eric Berry.
So don't talk to us about your Vince Youngs and your Tommy Fraziers. Those guys weren't as good as Manning, and although you might be able to make an argument to the contrary with a straight face, you can make no such argument about them losing to a less-worthy player and under ridiculous circumstances that had nothing to do with what happened between the sidelines.
Now if you want to have an argument about the second-worst Heisman snub, now we can have a discussion, because Johnny Majors lost it to a guy who played for a losing team. Sigh.
This post was sponsored by EA Sports NCAA Football 13. Check out the video for the game below.
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