BOSTON — A defensive player is at a disadvantage when it comes to winning the Heisman Trophy, awarded annually to the most outstanding college football player. The reason is simple: Without the ball, how's a guy to strut his stuff?
Michigan's Charles Woodson, however, overcame this obstacle by taking away the ball - intercepting seven passes this season - and being so versatile that the University of Michigan left him on the field more than is normal. He returned punts and even played a bit of offense, catching an occasional pass.
This won him votes, lots of them - so many in fact that when hundreds of ballots submitted by writers and broadcasters were tallied, the Wolverine cornerback outpolled several strictly offensive stars to win the 63rd Heisman, presented at New York's Downtown Athletic Club Saturday night.
This was no landslide victory, but it was clear-cut, with Woodson, a junior, garnering 1,815 points to 1,543 for the University of Tennessee quarterback Peyton Manning, who entered the season as the favorite. Another quarterback, Washington State University's Ryan Leaf, was a distant third with 861 points.
All three players have one more important game to play this season, with Woodson leading undefeated Michigan into the Rose Bowl against Leaf's once-defeated Washington State Cougars, who knocked off highly-regarded UCLA and Washington in the Pacific-10 Conference to earn their first trip to Pasadena since 1931. Manning leads the champions of the Southeastern Conference into the Orange Bowl where they will face Nebraska.
Although Manning played brilliantly at times, he did not enjoy the tour de force some had anticipated. Still, he was much admired for his decision to pass up a certain million dollar pro contract to return to Tennessee for one final season.