I Still Love The Heisman


Tonight’s the night some — not all; it’s never all — of college football’s best don formal wear, grin politely at corny jokes, and wait a few hours for the presentation of the Heisman Trophy.

The recipient is often a foregone conclusion, as appears to be the case this time around. Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson captured the nation’s imagination in the first half of September. Even a few disappointing performances in November — often the juncture in any season when the Heisman’s decided — won’t be enough to deny him.

Like one of his dazzling touchdown runs, Lamar Jackson is going into this end zone standing up.

For the other finalists, nomination as a Heisman finalist is an award in and of itself. It’s a trip to New York City and recognition as one of the game’s best.

The Heisman has its faults, like any facet of college football. CFB Huddle’s Heisman Top 10 attempts to track voter trends throughout the season through voters and publications that willingly tout their rankings.

Otherwise, transparency in the finalist selection process is seriously flawed. Metrics are wholly arbitrary, right down to the number of finalists invited to the Downtown Athletic Club any given year.

Last season, for example, Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds should have been part of the ceremony. Reynolds embodied everything the Heisman is supposed to represent. And he would have been a finalist, too, had five honorees been invited, as was the case this season.

Obstinance and a lack of creativity define the vote in most seasons. Only stat sheet-stuffing quarterbacks or running backs — usually quarterbacks — playing for winning teams need apply. Tough luck if you excel at wide receiver, on defense or, heaven forbid, blocking for those quarterbacks and running backs to get the glory.

Hype also plays too much of a role. Michigan’s Jabrill Peppers had it all season, certainly more so than USC’s Adoree’ Jackson. Peppers is in New York tonight as a result, despite Jackson excelling all season at corner and generating a Heisman push late with highlight-reel plays in November.

Jackson’s this year’s egregious omission. There’s always at least one, and this year has a few more with San Diego State’s Donnel Pumphrey, Alabama’s Jonathan Allen and Florida State’s Dalvin Cook also contending for that “honor.”

Cook’s now a two-time Heisman snub, having last year deserved an invite. Unlike 2016 finalist Baker Mayfield, the Trust did not rectify the error with a mulligan.

Nevertheless, for all its flaws, the Heisman Trophy remains a cornerstone symbol of college football; an icon of the game’s history and its pageantry that invokes fond memories.

I’m taking back to my childhood and my initial days discovering the sport, spending autumn Saturdays next to my dad in the living room as we watched Marshall Faulk in 1992 and Charlie Ward in 1993.

Ward’s run to the ’93 Heisman remains a personal favorite season from any college football player. In recent years, he’s had competition as I have viewed the sport from a new perspective.

Covering college football professionally has given me the privilege of witnessing Marcus Mariota’s Heisman-sealing performance in the 2014 Pac-12 Championship Game up close.

Christian McCaffrey punched his ticket to New York a year later in the same location, Levi’s Stadium, with a performance that ranks as one of the three best, individual showings I’ve seen live. McCaffrey boasts one of the other two, book-ending his Heisman runner-up season with a one-man decimation of Iowa in January’s Rose Bowl.

The third is Adoree’ Jackson’s season finale against Notre Dame a few weeks ago.

And, yes, I am more than willing to acknowledge my own proximity to Jackson’s season fuels some (much?) of my indignation over his omission from tonight’s ceremony.

To that end, the Heisman is indeed a collection of the experiences hundreds have throughout a college football season. It’s a campaign-long snapshot of the autumn’s best. It’s never going to be perfect. And yet, imperfection is what makes college football so damn fun.

If following this game was merely about seeing peak execution in all phases, we would spend Saturdays running household errands to free up Sundays for the NFL. But the imperfections that give college football its identity make the sport beautiful.

The same is true of the Heisman.