What The Heck, Why Not Dudek?

Do the big names have the right stuff for a Heisman winner? No, but Joltin' Joe Dudek surely does
December 02, 1985

This week's college football stumper is: Does the Downtown Athletic Club have to award a Heisman Trophy every year? Couldn't the DAC just melt this year's down and make somebody a nice Christmas doorstop? Or maybe it could cut the trophy into pieces and hand them out at one big wingding. And now, for Robbie Bosco of Brigham Young, an elbow. Maybe the DAC could save this season's Heisman and give out two some other year. Or give it to Doug Flutie again (page 52). After all, that was one hellacious pass. Or, best of all, the DAC could give the award to Joe Dudek, who might just deserve it.

Dudek you've never heard of. Either Chuck Long or Bo Jackson, whom you have heard of, will win because of the Bert Convy Effect, which states that if enough people see you or read your name often enough, they will eventually forget what made you famous in the first place. Thus, you are famous not for deeds done, but simply for being famous, which is a pretty cushy job.

Enter Bo and Chuck, America's two leading HeismanTrophyCandidates. Bo, running back of Auburn, and Chuck, quarterback of Iowa, are the two leading HeismanTrophyCandidates because their publicity departments named them HeismanTrophyCandidates at the beginning of the year, and like Jr. or Esq., the label became permanently glued to their names. The Heisman race (cough, cough) has been whittled down to these two because of the six primary HeismanTrophyCandidates—Bo, Chuck, Bosco, Keith Byars (Ohio State), Napoleon McCallum (Navy) and Kenneth Davis (TCU)—only Bo and Chuck made it through the season without 1) losing to UTEP, 2) injuring the same foot 11 times, 3) sinking with the ship or 4) suddenly showing up in the Forbes 400 (an NCAA no-no).

It matters not to America that Long hasn't had the best quarterback season in the land or that Jackson hasn't had the best running-back season. What matters is that they are the only two remaining who were supposed to win. So it follows that one of them must win, no?

Yes, unfortunately, but consider:

Bo Jackson? Puh-leeez. In the two games of mortal consequence to Auburn fans this season, Tennessee and Florida, Bo yanked himself out. At Tennessee, he had a knee bruise. Auburn lost. Against Florida, Bo had a thigh bruise. Auburn lost. Whatever happened to being carried off the field, you say? In big games, Bo grabs more bench time than Sandra Day O'Connor.

And a misconduct penalty for anybody who says Jackson could carry Herschel Walker's poetry journal. In the national championship game against Notre Dame in 1981, Walker carried 36 times with a famous subluxated shoulder. Georgia won. Against Clemson his junior year, Walker played with a broken thumb. Georgia won. Jackson, meanwhile, takes Auburn out of the Sugar Bowl with two Bo boo-boos.

As for Long, his talent is formidable, but not unsurpassed. In fact, it is regularly passed, even in his own conference. "Third best," says Bo—Schembechler, that is—who considers Jim Everett of Purdue and Jack Trudeau of Illinois better. And in the big games—a 12-10 win over Michigan and a 22-13 loss to Ohio State—Long didn't score, by land or by air. The Ohio State debacle, in which he threw four interceptions, came later in the same day that Dr. Bo declared himself no go against Florida. With the Heisman on the line, Long pratfalled over it.

Another thing: The plaque announces PRESENTED TO THE OUTSTANDING COLLEGE FOOTBALL PLAYER IN THE UNITED STATES. Yet no non-Division I player has ever won it. No player from the ACC, the WAC, the MAC or the PCAA has ever won it. No defensive player, interior lineman or kicker has won it. No receiver has won it since 1949. No player from a losing team has gotten it since Paul Hornung did in 1956. In fact, only three times since 1970 has it gone to a player who wasn't on an AP Top 10 team. Also, it's not a one-year award. These days, you need a setup year—a big junior season—to throw your name into the hype ring for the following fall. What the plaque should say is PRESENTED TO THE OUTSTANDING COLLEGE FOOTBALL BACK COMING OFF A GOOD YEAR WHO PLAYED AT ONE OF QUITE A FEW DIVISION I SCHOOLS THAT WIN BIG IN THE UNITED STATES.

That leaves out guys like Ed Marinaro, who broke nearly every NCAA rushing mark while at Cornell from 1969 to '71 yet finished second in the Heisman voting to Auburn quarterback Pat Sullivan. "It's not a legitimate award," says Marinaro. "I was criticized because everything I did was in the Ivy League. I dominated the league, but I guess I didn't count." When did he get over losing to Sullivan? "Oh, about a month ago," he says.

Such a narrow-mindedness means the best players of 1985 will be left to go fish. They include:

•Vinnie Testaverde of 9-1 Miami, a junior quarterback who has lifted the Hurricanes into contention for the national championship. He would still be playing behind Bernie Somebody if Bernie hadn't jumped to the pros. Sorry, no second-stringers.

•Brian McClure of 11-0 Bowling Green, a senior quarterback who not only joined Doug Flutie as the second Division I player ever to pass for more than 10,000 yards but also, at 6'7", could use Flutie for a Water Pic. Sorry, MAC.

•John (Perfect) Lee of 8-2-1 UCLA, a senior who went 11 games and 23 field goals without missing. He's the most accurate field goal kicker in NCAA history. Sorry, no soccer types.

•Lorenzo White (Michigan State), who gained more yards—1,908—than any sophomore in NCAA history. The only players of any class to run for more yards: Marcus Allen in '81, Mike Rozier in '83 and Tony Dorsett in '76. Sorry, no sophs.

•Not to mention: Bart Weiss, who ran an elegant Air Force flexbone to near perfection; Rhode Island quarterback Tom Ehrhardt, who threw eight TD passes in one game and 35 altogether; Michigan defensive tackle Mike Hammerstein, who made running his way as fashionable as wearing Nehru jackets. Sorry, never heard of you.

Ah, well, Walter Payton didn't win it either, and he held the NCAA record for touchdowns for 11 years. Who broke it you say? Why, Dudek. He's our pick for the Heisman Trophy. Good seats are still available on the bandwagon.

For starters, Dudek has broken every touchdown record known to man in his four years at Plymouth State in Plymouth, N.H. His 79 career touchdowns broke the NCAA record of 66 that Payton set at Jackson State, and the NAIA mark of 77 that Wilbert Montgomery established at Abilene Christian from 1973 to '76. Dudek has rushed for a Division III (yes, III) record 5,570 yards at Plymouth, which has gone 37-6 since he arrived. Many NFL teams have sent scouts to see him play. Somebody must think he's good. Dudek will appear in the Japan Bowl at the end of the year. He'll join a couple of unknowns—Allen Pinkett of Notre Dame and Jackson. Get your autograph, Joe?

Then there's that name. It's marketable. In New Hampshire, they call Dudek Mr. Touchdown. No, no, no. Try the Plymouth Fury. And the kicker headline: HE'S DRIVEN. And the slogans! What voter's bumper could resist GIVE THE DU HIS DUE or WHAT THE HECK, VOTE DU-DEK.

What the heck? Take a breath of fresh air. Plymouth has no training table, no athletic dorm, no redshirts and no slush funds. There, players shake a man's hand without expecting to find a $20 bill for their trouble. Dudek has taken out a $2,500 student loan all four years and admits he's "loaned out." To make ends meet, he often takes odd jobs, including cleaning up the stadium on Sundays after cleaning up on the field on Saturdays. "It doesn't pay much," says Dudek. "Minimum wage."

Like a lot of superstar college tailbacks, Dudek's car has fewer than 600 miles on the odometer. Unlike a lot of theirs, his just turned over. "That was a big day for me," says Dudek. "Never thought it would make it past 100,000." To pay off the car, Dudek had to take off the spring semester of his sophomore year to drive a van for Blue Cross/Blue Shield.

Dudek needs Blue Cross. He has missed one game in four years. He has played with everything from broken toes to sprained fingers. He has played half of this year with a hip pointer. Dudek's swan song on Saturday was typical GI Joe. He carried 34 times for 265 yards and two TDs, and had runs of 56 and 40 yards called back. They would have given him 361 yards, four more than the alltime one-game high another preseason HeismanTrophyCandidate, Washington State's Rueben Mayes, had last year. With 4:16 to play, Dudek collapsed from a badly sprained ankle and exhaustion and was taken from the field by ambulance. Thigh bruise, indeed.

What the heck? In a year when Eddie Robinson proved a legend can smolder anywhere, why not write in Dudek as a civil protest against an otherwise forgettable, felonious season in college football: players raking in cash like bank tellers, tales of misdeeds by everybody from players to the NCAA itself, duplicity piled upon duplicity, fourth-and-long for sanity. Come to think of it, maybe we've got it wrong. Maybe Dudek doesn't deserve the Heisman. Maybe the Heisman deserves Dudek.

TWO PHOTOSMANNY MILLANWhile Jackson (above right) was removing himself from key games and Long (far right) was falling short in the big ones, Dudek was running wild. PHOTOCHUCK SOLOMON[See caption above.] PHOTORONALD C. MODRA[See caption above.] PHOTOPETER READ MILLERBosco (above) played in the wrong conference, and Byars played hardly at all; McCallum was deep-sixed as Navy went under. PHOTOTONY TOMSIC[See caption above.] PHOTOGENE SWEENEY/THE BALTIMORE SUN[See caption above.] PHOTOBILL LUSTERMcClure (left) also performed in the wrong conference, and White excelled two seasons too early. PHOTOJOHN BIEVER[See caption above.] PHOTOCRAIG MOLENHOUSEUCLA's Lee booted 23 consecutive field goals, while Hammerstein led a Michigan defense that was positively octopuslike. PHOTOANTHONY NESTE[See caption above.] PHOTOJOHN GARNER JR.In 1982, Doug Flutie (left) and Dudek were named New England Players of the Year. PHOTOMANNY MILLANPlenty of college tailbacks have cars with 100,000 fewer miles on them than Dudek's.