We like big numbers. Long distances. Free runs. Skydiving? Who cares. Skydiving from space? Wow.
In football, those things are all captured beautifully on "SportsCenter," or are all categorized, documented and filed in scoring summaries. The number zero doesn’t really do it for us. That’s the only reason I can come up with for why the obvious midseason choice for Heisman Trophy is not No. 1 on anyone’s list.
Manti Te’o should be the big leader now for the Heisman. Big leader. Te’o, the Notre Dame linebacker, is the most important, best, most outstanding, least flawed, most dominant, most valuable player on a major college football field anywhere.
How many touchdowns does he have? Zero. But more importantly, how many touchdowns has anyone scored against Notre Dame’s defense in the past month?
Open your minds, Heisman voters. Decades and decades of handing over the biggest college award to the top quarterback or running back has not only been wrong, but also hypocritical.
In all these years, guess how many defense-only players have won the Heisman. Zero. Charles Woodson was the closest, the Michigan safety. He won it in 1997, but also caught passes and returned punts for touchdowns.
The thing is, coaches always talk about putting their best athlete on defense. We tell kids that defense wins in sports, and then give nearly all the glory to the offense. Big hits on defense can get attention, too, but now are seen as the path to concussions.
We reward making things happen because it provides a wow factor. But it’s even more important to not allow things to happen.
For once, Notre Dame is the perfect anti-Heisman team. Te’o is leading an incredible defense, and covering for an offense that doesn’t have a quarterback. The Irish are No. 5 in the BCS poll, and are in the national championship picture again.
Again: Without a quarterback. They are not a great team. But Te’o has kept the offense from being exposed.
It’s time for a player on defense to win. It isn’t likely to happen, though, because Heisman voters treat defense not only as the wrong side of the ball, but maybe even the wrong side of the tracks.
Voters are swayed by ESPN highlights just as much as any fan. But there are just so many voters that it’s hard to see how they all fall in line.
This should be the moment for defense. Nearly all the other Heisman favorites are flawed now. West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith was everyone’s favorite, but it’s hard to get past a 35-point loss to Texas Tech. Smith didn’t throw any touchdowns.
Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein has a shot if the Wildcats stay undefeated. He’ll become a serious candidate if he beats Smith at West Virginia this week. Other favorites are Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller, Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, Texas Tech quarterback Seth Doege.
Come on: Every single one is a quarterback? I agree that the quarterback is the usually the most important player on the field. But not at Notre Dame, not this year.
If anyone can break through, it’s Te’o. All of his games are on national TV, and typically, voters are looking for a Notre Dame player if one is credible. With each passing week, Notre Dame becomes a bigger national story. And Te’o has such a compelling personal story:
His grandmother and his girlfriend died a few weeks ago, but he continued to lead. He is going to graduate in December. He is an Eagle Scout.
“Unquestionably, as a leader, there has not been anybody in my 22 years (as a coach) who has been a better leader both on and off the field, and represent the kind of ideals you want in college football,’’ Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. “And I don’t think it’s close.’’
Now, Kelly was acting as a salesman there. And every time we put an athlete on too high of a pedestal, it burns us.
So let’s just say Te’o seems, for now, to be exactly what we are looking for in college sports, exactly the model we want for our kids to see.
Maybe some of those things shouldn’t matter in determining the best player. But they do seem to stand for our ideals — our supposed ideals, anyway – and they definitely will get Te’o some attention.
But the Irish are going to have to stay undefeated for Te’o, meaning wins over Oklahoma, USC and a BCS bowl opponent. I actually think Te’o should win the Heisman, assuming he keeps playing the way he has, even if Notre Dame loses one.
If this team, with that offense, can get to a BCS game, then that’s outstanding enough. The defense will be the reason; Te’o will be the reason.
Four straight games without give up a touchdown on defense, against Michigan State, Michigan, Miami and Stanford.
For once, let the power of zero stand for something.