One Heisman doesn't fit all football players

The Heisman Memorial Trophy, which goes to the best college football player each year, is by far the most prestigious award in collegiate athletics.

It's also a sham.

Ballots are in the hands of the more than 900 voters and the deadline is Dec. 10.

Here's the problem: While the voters are honorable enough for the most part, it's absolutely impossible to pick the best football player. That's because, depending on the position each plays, the skills and requirements are widely and wildly divergent. It's like comparing New York City with Boise, Idaho, salmon with pizza, moonlight with moonshine.

To pretend that we can pick one player is disingenuous nonsense.

A quarterback, for example, needs to be football smart with vision and the ability to keep his wits when all about him aren't. Conversely, a linebacker needs to be strong to fend off blocks and blessed with an emotional, yes, maniacal, disposition. A quarterback and a linebacker have about as much in common as Madonna and Mickey Mouse.

Generally, defensive players are free-spirited, fly-to-the-ball types who feed on emotion. They play with their eyes red and crossed and their ears back. Offensive players typically are more composed, thoughtful, analytical. Their craft is more exacting and so they ponder.

And this doesn't even begin to address the kickers, who routinely are flamboyant loose cannons and are considered football players only if the definition is broad. They don't block, tackle, study their plays, cope with

injuries or much of anything else that real players do. Coaches have no understanding of them so, for the most part, they ignore them. Kickers don't even look like players. But the one thing they do is win or lose games for their teams.

Since the Heisman was established in 1935, only twice in 63 times has a lineman won and both were ends, Yale's Larry Kelley in 1936 and Notre Dame's Leon Hart in 1949. And just one defensive player - well, quasi-defensive player - has been selected, Michigan's Charles Woodson, in 1997. He mainly was deployed as a cornerback but also was a receiver, punt returner, and all-around star. Since defensive players are on the field roughly half the time, it seems one of them might be apt to win roughly half the time. Three wide receivers won.

But in 57 other years, it has been a quarterback or running back. Does it make sense that the best football player in college is always someone who gets his hands on the ball regularly when about 16 of the 22 playing at one time seldom or never do?

Over the years, there have been hundreds of players who were marvelous candidates for the Heisman. Their problems were two: They didn't touch the ball and therefore were deemed unworthy.

A classic example: Hugh Green, a University of Pittsburgh defensive end. Green didn't get the award in 1980 when South Carolina running back George Rogers did. The point is not who was better - Rogers led the nation in rushing, Green was so dominant opposing teams didn't want to get near him - but that there is no way to compare them.

In 1994, Colorado running back Rashaan Salaam won. Said Salaam, "Without my offensive linemen, I would not have been honored with the greatest award in amateur athletics." If we take Salaam at his word, sounds like an offensive lineman should have won.

But face it. With all the confusion on a football field, even the best observers find it impossible to know what all the players are doing. So they watch the ball.

That's why this year, Wisconsin's Ron Dayne, the all-time leading collegiate career rusher, will win. He's fine. But the best in the college game this year? Penn State's LaVar Arrington and Kansas State's Mark Simoneau, both linebackers, are as good as there is; Virginia Tech defensive end Corey Moore is way out there in excellence; Florida State wide receiver Peter Warrick, a big-game and big-play whiz, caught 71 passes for 934 yards this year but he was suspended for two games after his name made an appearance on the police blotter.

And, frankly, the player arguably most crucial to Florida State getting a chance in the national championship game Jan. 4 is kicker Sebastian Janikowski, the nation's third-leading scorer. He's the right Heisman stuff, too.

So who's better: Dayne who runs with the ball; Arrington, Simoneau, and Moore, who chase it; Warrick who catches it; or Janikowski who kicks it?

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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