When did the Heisman Trophy race become lengthier and costlier than a presidential campaign?
Welcome to this week's column, presented by Jack Link's Beef Jerky ("I love beef jerky"), entitled, "The Heisman Trophy: A History Lesson, A Slouch Rant and Your Unexpected 2009 Winner."
We began this season with three presumptive nominees for the award -- the current Heisman holder, Sam Bradford; the former Heisman holder, Tim Tebow, and the upstart Heisman hopeful, Colt McCoy.
This is eerily similar to the three-way presidential race in 1912,* contested among the then-White House occupant, William Howard Taft; the former White House occupant, Theodore Roosevelt, and the upstart Oval Office hopeful, Woodrow Wilson.
(* Note to Younger Readers: I understand that many of you are unaware of the year 1912. It was part of what was known as "the 20th century" and part of a very different America -- Los Angeles, for instance, was livable; very few people brought firearms to town hall meetings, and there was, I believe, only one ESPN.)
What can we learn from 1912 that applies to 2009? The incumbent, Taft, saw his vice president, James S. Sherman, die in office late in the campaign, leaving him without a running mate; similarly, Bradford must deal with a sprained right shoulder. Roosevelt appeared to be the man of the people -- like Tebow -- but couldn't overcome larger institutional forces. And the winner was the new face, Wilson, which bodes well for McCoy.
Still, presidential comparisons aside, I am flabbergasted by the nature of Heisman voting these days.
(Memo to Editors: Cue Slouch rant.)
In the old days, you would vote for the Heisman at season's end after seeing virtually none of the contenders' games. Nowadays, you can see all the contenders' games if you wish, but we pretty much anoint the Heisman favorites before a single snap is taken. And after each week, Heisman panels are polled.
Miss America doesn't work this way, does it? Is there a three-month buildup in which we hear that Miss Florida has "great legs," Miss Wisconsin "is a lock for Miss Congeniality" and Miss Rhode Island "plays the hell out of the accordion"?
Not only is the current Heisman hype unceasing and irritating, it denies the un-hyped any chance. I spent two years of my life tirelessly campaigning for Hawaii's Colt Brennan -- he only happened to throw 58 touchdown passes his junior year and then led his team to an undefeated regular season his senior year -- but my message was met with mainland malaise.
(Colt Brennan was my Ron Paul: great ideas, apparently unelectable.)
This year, I bring Sports Nation the most unlikely, yet most obvious, Heisman Trophy winner ever -- unlikely because he is a freshman, obvious because he plays under the brightest lights.
His name is Matt Barkley. He is a true freshman -- I've never been quite sure what a "true freshman" is but I figure it's better than a "fallacious sophomore" -- and he is the starting quarterback at USC. He just turned 19 last week, but he has the maturity of a 20- or 21-year-old.
Tebow was the first sophomore to win the Heisman; no freshman has ever won it. Barkley will.
He's had a private quarterback tutor longer than Paris Hilton has had a personal shopping assistant. He looks spectacular -- golden hair, big smile -- and he plays spectacularly. On Saturday, he led a game-winning 14-play, 86-yard drive at Ohio State, and I am backing him though I despise Southern Cal.
Southern Cal not only produces Heisman quarterbacks (Carson Palmer, Matt Leinart), even its backup quarterbacks (Matt Cassel) become NFL starters. So if you're the starting quarterback at the nation's top football program, aren't you the best player in the land?
(As most of you know, only quarterbacks and running backs get serious Heisman consideration. Interior linemen don't count; they're cows grazing on the side of the road.)
In addition, Barkley does volunteer work, plays guitar with a church youth group and went to South Africa last Christmas to help run an orphanage.
Heck, why stop at the Heisman? This kid could be president someday.
Q. At your next poker tournament, would you mind if I scream "Deal him aces!" at the beginning of each hand, similar to the way golf fans yell "Get in the hole!" on every one of Tiger's shots? (Joe Lucas; Woodstock, Md.)
A. Pay the man, Shirley.
Q. Any truth to the rumor that the Pirates were trying to trade the Pirate Parrot for two minor-league mascots in order to "shore up" their farm system? (Mike Dojcak; Castle Shannon, Pa.)
A. Pay this wise soul, too.
Q. In pro bowling, if a pinsetter is crowding the lane, does the bowler roll one inside to move him back? (Roger Minor; Houston)
A. Looks like you're going to have to dip into petty cash, Shirley.
Q. If baseball is such a timeless game, why does Joe Torre always wear a watch? (Jim LaBate; Clifton Park, N.Y.)
A. What, are we running a back-to-school special today?