— It was just about 30 years ago when we truly discovered the exact reason why the Heisman Trophy depicted a guy with a stiff arm: He was keeping all worthy defensive candidates from ever getting their hands on the trophy.
Back in 1980, the best player in college football was tough enough to snap that arm in half. Hugh Green spread fear across football fields like it was fertilizer. He played linebacker for the Pitt Panthers but actually was all over the place, sacking quarterbacks, maiming running backs, defending passes and generally delivering lots of pain. His biggest drawback was he never threw or ran with the ball. His problem was he played defense.
He wasn’t George Rogers, in other words. Rogers ran for 1,781 yards that year as a one-man show for South Carolina. Good player, no doubt. Worthy of Heisman consideration, definitely. But Rogers wasn’t the best player in college football. Put it this way: Had their teams met, and this is subjective thinking of course, Green would’ve sent Rogers running 1,781 yards in reverse.
Obviously, you know what happened. Rogers won the trophy, Green settled for runner-up in the voting. And the voting wasn’t even tight, 1,128 to 861, another slap in the face for Green and everyone who played defense. They say defense wins games. Defense just can’t win Heismans.
(And please, spare me the Charles Woodson example. Woodson won the trophy because he also ran the ball and caught the ball. Woodson’s true position was football player.)
On Saturday, the Heisman is up for grabs because nobody in college football had a Barry Sanders season. All of the finalists are bringing a flaw to New York for the ceremony. Colt McCoy was borderline horrible in the Big 12 championship game and nearly blew it for Texas on the next to last play when he forgot how much time remained. Tim Tebow cried on the bench in the Southeast Conference title game when he re-discovered what losing felt like. Toby Gerhart plays for Stanford, which means he spent too much time studying and not enough effort trying to reach 2,000 yards, which he needed (in the minds of voters) to overcome Stanford’s record. Mark Ingram wasn’t the leading rusher in college football.
And Ndamukong Suh’s problem? That’s obvious. He plays defense.
As a defensive tackle, he wasn’t included in the pre-season “Heisman Watch,” that silly list compiled every year by lazy media types who choose their candidates on what they did last year. Nobody bothered to document his tackles or follow how many times he caused quarterbacks to crumble or caught running backs after being triple teamed. That’s not sexy enough for the voters, you see, who were too busy counting rushing yards and passing yards and touchdowns, the easiest way to keep track of who “belongs” in the Heisman discussion.
All Suh did was carry a Nebraska team that didn’t exactly have Turner Gill at quarterback or Mike Rozier at running back. All Suh did was keep the Cornhuskers competitive, all the way ‘til the end, when he had 4½ sacks against Texas in the Big 12 title game but lost because their kicker couldn’t keep the ball inbounds.
Suh is Hugh Green and based on everyone’s gut feel, Ingram is George Rogers. Yes, it’s happening all over again. The best player in the country is about to get scrHughed.
Look, Ingram isn’t such a bad candidate or unworthy of consideration. He was the best offensive player for an undefeated Alabama team. He came up with big games when necessary. His story is compelling too, as the son of a fallen football star who’s now doing time. He rushed for 1,542 yards and punched into the end zone 15 times. That’s a solid season, by any standard. And the Crimson Tide, in their storied history, never had a Heisman winner before, if that means anything.
If Ingram wins the trophy, and he will, there will be no outcry or charges of robbery. He’s exactly what the trophy is all about, an offensive player who played for a visible program and helped his team go undefeated with a solid performance. In a teary-eyed acceptance speech that will go over well on TV, he’ll thank his father, former Giants receiver Mark Ingram, and become a permanent part of Alabama legend.
Another flashy player who scores touchdowns will then walk off with the trophy again, and another very worthy defensive player will be denied. Happens often. Suh will look at the trophy and wonder what-if, as in, what if he had the chance to play Alabama and tackle Ingram this season?
Just a hunch, but I’m sure the Bama offense would’ve kept Ingram’s chances alive by running toward the other side of the field.