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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

BASIC BIITTNER : College success vs. pro success

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The 2007 Heisman Trophy winner was name last weekend, and for the first time a sophomore, Florida U's Tim Tebow, was the winner of the trophy, given annually to the nation's "Most Outstanding Player" for that season, as voted on by sportswriters across the nation. Some traditionalists didn't want Tebow to win because he's just a sophomore. Not enough, apparently, though, because he bested last year's runner-up, Arkansas running back Darren McFadden, in a two-man race (there were four finalists invited to the presentation in New York, but the other two received far fewer votes than Tebow and McFadden).

I just finished reading some fascinating stories about the 13", 26# trophy itself, but what I want to discuss today are the players who have won what is arguably the most famous trophy in the world, and what happened to them post-Heisman.

The Heisman was first awarded in 1935 to Jay Berwanger of Chicago University. Since then, only one man has won the award twice - Archie Griffin of THE Ohio State University. The most recent underclassman winner, USC's Matt Leinart, failed to repeat, beaten out by his own USC teammate, Reggie Bush, no less.

A couple of interesting new Heisman factoids could develop in the next couple of years, though I personally doubt either will happen. First, there is the possibility that Tebow could become the first THREE-time Heisman winner, and second, McFadden, who has a year of eligibility remaining, could become the first three-time runner-up. I suspect one or both of the players will leave early for the pros, so I doubt we'll see either scenario develop.

Speaking of turning pro, I'm finally getting to the point of this column - which is, being named the outstanding college player of the year does not necessarily mean the Heisman winner will go on to a successful professional football career.

The very first winner, Berwanger, never even played in the pros - although pro football was in its infant stages then, and would not begin to become what it has become until the 1960s. Iowa's Nile Kinnick, 1939 Heisman winner, also did not play professionally. His life was cut short, of course, in WWII, but many people believe Kinnick's destiny was not the NFL, but rather something more like he White House.

At any rate, the first Heisman winner to have any type of success in the NFL was 1946 winner Glenn "Mr. Outside" Davis of Army, who succeeded his college teammate, Doc "Mr. Inside" Blanchard as a Heisman winner. Davis had some success as a receiver with the L.A. Rams, catching passes from future Hall-of-Famers Bob Waterfield and Norm Van Brocklin in the early 1950s, but Davis did not play many years in the NFL.

Doak Walker, the 1948 Heisman winner from Southern Methodist, was the first of eight Heisman winners to later go on to a Hall-of-Fame pro football career, in his case as a running back with the Detroit Lions. The next was "The Golden Boy," Notre Dame's Paul Hornung, the 1956 winner (and still the only winner from a team with a losing record), who beat Tennessee's Johnny Majors (yes, THAT Johnny Majors) to win his Heisman. Hornung's Hall-of-Fame NFL career, of course, was with Vince Lombardi's Green Bay Packers of the 1960s. 1957 Heisman winner John David Crow (Texas A &M) and 1959 winner Billy Cannon (LSU) both had solid - but not Hall-of-Fame-caliber - NFL careers. 1963 winner Roger Staubach of Navy had a delayed-start NFL career, due to his military commitment, but when he did arrive in the NFL fashioned a Hall-of-Fame career with the Dallas Cowboys. 1965 winner Mike Garrett, like Crow and Cannon, had a solid , but not spectacular, NFL career with the Kansas City Chiefs, and has gone on to become the Athletic Director at his alma mater. 1966 winner Steve Spurrier didn't have a stellar NFL career either, though he has gone on to achieve some success at coaching. 1968 winner O.J. Simpson was, of course, a fantastic Hall-of-Fame running back with the Buffalo Bills - the first NFL player to top the 2000 yard mark for a season. That was then, this is now. We all know what's become of O.J. since he left the pros.

Following O.J., Steve Owens and Jim Plunkett had sporadic success in the NFL and then began a stretch of Heisman pro flops that didn't end until Pittsburgh's Tony Dorsett and Texas' Earl Campbell won their Heismans in 1976 and 1977. Both running backs had Hall-of-Fame careers in the NFL also, as did 1981 winner Marcus Allen. 1982 winner Herschel Walker had an up-and-down pro career, and the only Heisman winner since Allen to earn Pro Football Hall-of-Fame status is Barry Sanders, the 1988 winner from Oklahoma State and professional star with the Detroit Lions. 1995 winner Eddie George had a decent career with Houston, but probably not a Hall of Fame career. The jury is still out on the pro football legacies of winners Charles Woodson, Carson Palmer, Matt Leinart, and Reggie Bush, and the jury's still out, period, on 1998 winner Ricky Williams.

Again, I repeat, winning the Heisman Trophy does not guarantee a Hall-of-Fame NFL career. Just ask Terry Baker, John Huarte, Gary Beban, Pat Sullivan, John Cappelletti, Archie Griffin, Archie Griffin again, Andre Ware, Ty Detmer, Gino Torretta, Eric Crouch, Troy Smith ...

Dan Whitney
Basic Biittner