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You sure you want the Heisman, QBs?
Godspeed to you, Andrew Luck. May you have a wonderful trip to New York for Saturday’s Heisman Trophy ceremony. May you accept the plaudits for your impressive college career at Stanford before you head to surefire stardom in the NFL.
And may you return from New York empty-handed.
And you, Robert Griffin III. Congratulations for single-handedly bringing the Baylor Bears from obscurity to the 12th-ranked team in the nation. May you take your dominating season, your gaudy stats and your awesome potential to New York and enjoy the national exposure at the 77th annual Heisman ceremony. And may you also return home without a 25-pound hunk of sculpted bronze in tow.
I say this for your own good, gentlemen. Because – despite the recent NFL success of Heisman-winning quarterbacks Cam Newton, Sam Bradford and Tim Tebow – a Heisman Trophy rarely equals a winning NFL career for a quarterback. In fact, the Curse of the Heisman might even presage a pro career that’s quite the opposite.
Think a couple years of scattered Newton-Bradford-Tebow successes in the NFL disproves the Heisman curse? Be wary, young Jedis. Doubt the quarterback curse and you could end up like 2004 winner Matt Leinart, now an injured backup for the Houston Texans. (Second in Heisman voting that year? A man named Adrian Peterson.) Worse, your pro football story could go like that of Jason White, the Oklahoma quarterback who beat out Larry Fitzgerald and Eli Manning for the 2003 Heisman, then went undrafted and never played a down in the NFL. Or Chris Weinke, the 2000 Heisman winner for Florida State over Drew Brees, LaDainian Toimlinson and Michael Vick. Weinke’s NFL career started with a 1-15 rookie year as the Carolina Panthers quarterback – and went downhill from there.
There could be something at work here aside from a cosmic force that dooms the future of Heisman-winning quarterbacks. Winning an award is one thing, but truly being the best is quite another. As much as we want to think of it as the ultimate judge of a college football player, the Heisman Trophy is often no more than a popularity contest. It involves politicking and lobbying and getting the right buzz at the right time. Consider the case of Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden, who went from front-runner a few weeks ago to absolutely, positively not a chance after one double-overtime upset loss to Iowa State. The criteria for winning the Heisman Memorial Trophy involves the “pursuit of excellence with integrity ... combined with diligence, perseverance, and hard work.” It might as well read, “the player who had a great nationally televised game late in the season and got the media in a tizzy.”
It's been a rough 30 years for Heisman-winning QBs. Jim Plunkett won the Heisman Trophy as a quarterback in 1970. He went on to a memorable pro career, winning two Super Bowls with the Oakland Raiders. But since then, 17 other quarterbacks have won the Heisman. Those 17 have combined for zero Super Bowl appearances, two playoff wins and five total Pro Bowl bids. Only Doug Flutie (38-28) and Tebow (7-3) currently have winning career records. One of them (Charlie Ward) chose to pursue an NBA career instead. Two others (Crouch and White) never played a down in the NFL.
Clearly, the Heisman is as reliable of a gauge for the best football player in the country as a Pulitzer Prize is a reliable gauge for the best journalism. Sometimes, the awards are dead-on. But often times, they as much reflect lobbying on behalf of a powerful, popular institution as they do excellence or integrity. (For a stomach-churning look at this, check out the Pulitzer Prize awarded at the end of the greatest television show of all time, “The Wire.”)
There’s a different Heisman Curse that’s talked about more. It involves a shadow over the game played right after the Heisman is awarded. Heisman winners are 2-6 in the BCS National Championship Game. They’re 4-7 in bowl games since 2000, 12-17 since 1980. That’s the curse that the two Heisman finalists playing in this year’s national championship game should pay attention to: Alabama junior running back Trent Richardson and LSU sophomore cornerback Tyrann Mathieu.
So maybe, if it’s a superstitious crowd on stage at the Heisman presentation, they’ll band together and pull for the one finalist for whom neither curse applies: Wisconsin junior running back Montee Ball.
Because Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III have bright futures ahead of them. Let’s hope we’re not someday talking about them in the same breath as Gino Torretta, or Danny Wuerffel, or Andre Ware. And let’s hope their quarterbacking career leads them to brighter lights than the Omaha Nighthawks of the struggling United Football League. That was the most recent stop for Eric Crouch (2001 Heisman winner for Nebraska) and Troy Smith (2006 winner for Ohio State.)
You can follow Reid Forgrave on Twitter @reidforgrave, become a fan on Facebook or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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