It arrived innocently enough, between a renew-your- subscription notice from Sports Illustrated and a letter from a girl who wanted Boris Becker’s home phone number. White envelope. Red lettering. THIS IS YOUR OFFICIAL HEISMAN TROPHY BALLOT.
I don’t remember feeling any shivers, but then, maybe I did. This was my first Heisman ballot. There should have been some reaction. I now had . . . a say.
(By the way, I am not sure why I never received a ballot before. Nor am I sure why I received one now. Maybe someone put in a good word for me somewhere. Maybe the other ones are under my desk somewhere.)
But there it was. A chance to choose the “Best College Football Player In the Nation” from amongst a mere 60,000 candidates. It makes you feel . . . special. Now, when the man at the hardware store says, “Hey, who you think’s gonna win the Heisman this year?” you can scratch your head, thoughtfully, maybe take a drag on your cigaret — or a pipe, yeah, a pipe would be better
— and say, “Well, I’m not sure. But I know who I’d vote for. . . . ” But who deserves to win?
Only that’s the whole problem. I have no idea who to vote for. How do you choose?
I remember once talking with Don Shula, the Miami Dolphins coach, about a player who was a walk-on, a little guy who never should have been at a pro camp. But he carried a football around wherever he went, slept with it, ate with it. And he played his heart out. In the end, he made the team over many others. When I asked Shula why he had chosen him, he said, “I liked what I saw.”
That makes sense. Only the problem in Heisman selecting is that you hardly see anything. Most sports writers who are asked to vote (and again, don’t ask me how you get to do it) are almost certainly not spending their Saturday afternoons in some satellite-dish bar in front of 14 simultaneously blasting TV screens, taking notes. More likely, they are in a press box, chewing hot dogs and watching a game in which neither team may have a single guy worthy of a Heisman, or even a Golden Globe, or an Obie.
Let’s talk Bo Jackson. Everybody is talking Bo Jackson. From the start of this season, I’ve been reading about “Bo Jackson and his race for the Heisman.” But I have not seen Bo Jackson live all year. What I have seen is a series of seven-second film clips of his best runs (but then, would they show us his worst runs?) and lots of pictures in USA Today.
The same thing holds for Robbie Bosco of Brigham Young, Kerwin Bell of Florida, Allen Pinkett of Notre Dame and most of those other big Heisman candidates. They loom large, like floats in a parade. But just how much hot air is keeping them up there?
A player wants the Heisman to show his folks, his agent wants it so he can demand another zillion dollars from whoever drafts the kid, and the school wants it so their recruiter can wave it in front of that big ol’ running back downstate, who would one day love to win the Heisman himself, so he can show his folks.
The fact is, the recipe for this award is one part talent and five parts hype. How can anyone choose the best college player in the nation? How can you compare nose tackle to wide receiver? You can’t.
So exposure is everything. You want to know why the Heisman goes to a running back or a quarterback almost every year? Think about who you see on those seven-second film clips. Very few players named Bubba. All hype and hoopla
So everytime I sit down with this ballot, I keep thinking about Bill Fralic.
He was some ball player. A lineman for Pitt, pretty clearly the best in the nation at his position. And if you ask me, it takes a lot more to play lineman in college than quarterback because 1) you have to beat up on people all day, and 2) you don’t get as many dates.
Pitt decided to push Fralic for the Heisman in typical fashion. For six weeks, he was posed and photographed in assorted silly situations, which included flipping pancakes and looking earnestly at a Pennsylvania highway sign (“The Road to the Heisman.”) These photos were sent out across the country. Interviews were arranged with everyone from the Sporting News to Popular Mechanics.
It didn’t help, partly because he was, after all, a lineman, and partly because Pitt lost most of its games, a small but important detail. I visited Fralic late in the season and asked him how he felt about the whole Heisman thing. “You know,” he said, biting his lip, “it really made me feel stupid. I felt like a piece of meat. “
I doubt old John Heisman had that in mind for his little statue.
So how will I vote? I don’t know. There’s a nose tackle for Boston College
who wants to be a priest, who carries his crippled mother to church every Sunday, who doesn’t want a zillion dollars. He’s a pretty good nose tackle, and I’m kinda thinking about this kid. Best in the nation? Hard to say. But I liked what I saw.