Thursday, December 11, 2008

The 2008 Heisman Goes To...


In November 1968, Yale was charging toward its first perfect season in eight years and only second since ’23, when Thomas Albert Dwight (T.A.D.) Jones was telling his young Eli charges “You are now going to play football against Harvard. Never again in your whole life will you do anything so important.”

The Bulldogs understood fully the gravity of their pending season finale with the Johnnies. Triumph, and immortality would be theirs. Senior quarterback Brian Dowling was particularly intent on winning, since he hadn’t suffered a defeat on the gridiron in a game he had finished since 7th grade, an accomplishment that earned him the nickname, “God,” on the Yale campus and a caricature in Doonesbury a few years later.

For three-plus quarters, God and his teammates kept things under control, rolling to a 29-13 lead. College football fans know what happened next. The Crimson launched one of the most amazing comebacks in football history, scoring 16 points in the final 0:29 to “beat” Yale, 29-29. During those last frantic moments, when everything was unraveling for Dowling and the Eli, he stood on the sideline next to coach Carm Cozza and begged to go in on defense. “Being a quarterback, you know what the other passer is trying to do,” Dowling said. Cozza refused, in part because he couldn’t believe the Crimson would complete its comeback and in part because had Harvard succeeded while Dowling was on the field, Cozza would have faced ridicule. “Don’t think it didn’t enter my mind,” Cozza said. “It did.”

After watching Tim Tebow play for Florida this season, it’s hard to imagine he would have behaved any differently than Dowling, had he found himself in a similar situation. While other quarterbacks might have sat on the sideline stewing but relieved that any misfortune about to befall their school was somebody else’s fault, Tebow would have had his helmet on, asking to be put in at linebacker or safety, the better to end the nonsense. The Gator junior isn’t just a quarterback; he’s a football player. And when it came time for El Hombre to cast his 2008 Heisman Trophy ballot – a whopping two days early this year – Tebow was the choice.

There will be a substantial groundswell for each of the other finalists, Oklahoma statistical machine Sam Bradford and Texas all-purpose phenom Colt McCoy. But since the rules of the Heisman direct voters to choose “the most outstanding college football player in the United States for 2008,” and not the player with the gaudiest numbers, the choice is clearly Tebow.

Selecting Tebow has nothing to do with making him the second back-to-back winner in Heisman history. (Archie Griffin – 1975-75 – from the Horrible School was the first.) It’s more about the evidence that while Bradford was amazing and McCoy indispensable, Tebow had a greater impact on his team’s success and also played the game at a higher and more complete level than anyone else. Ask yourself a question; whom would you rather have to start a team, Tebow or anyone else? If you’re being honest, it’s hard to pick against the Gator.

Back in mid-November, El Hombre asked an SEC defensive coordinator whether he felt Tebow was playing better than he did last year, despite a significant drop in statistics. The answer was yes. He was operating Florida’s offense more completely and lifting the Gator attack to a higher level than he had the previous year. Yes, in Percy Harvin and young speedsters Chris Rainey and Jeffrey Demps, he had some more weapons than in ’07, but while Harvin was an all-purpose sensation, and the others had tremendous big-play talent, none would have achieved anywhere near what he did without Tebow’s facility for the UF system. As the year went on, it also became clear that Tebow’s will to win, especially after the upset loss to Mississippi, was a huge factor in the team’s run to an SEC title and a berth in the BCS “national championship game.”

This is not to disparage Bradford or McCoy. All McCoy did was lead his team to an 11-1 record, including a neutral-site triumph over Oklahoma that apparently didn’t matter in the “every week is a playoff” argument favored by BCS chowderheads. He threw for 3,445 yards and 32 touchdowns, completed an obscene 77.6% of his passes and led Texas with 576 yards rushing (4.5 average). Not too shabby. On the Hombre ballot, McCoy checked in at number two, with only Tebow’s ferocious competitiveness separating the pair.

Bradford’s stats are even more jaw-dropping. The OU sophomore threw for 4,464 yards and 48 touchdowns while completing 68.3% of his throws. He led the Sooners to an unprecedented five straight 60-point orgies (and four others that topped 50), a staggering assault on the scoreboard that made some of Barry Switzer’s old Oklahoma wishbone carnivals look like grind-it-out operations. The one check against Bradford in the ultimate ledger is the Sooner ground game, which aided him immensely. Two OU backs, DeMarco Murray and Chris Brown, rushed for at least 1,000 yards, and the pair combined for 34 touchdowns. It makes one wonder whether Bradford would have had the same level of success without such tremendous balance.

As for Texas Tech’s Graham Harrell, who was a victim of “politics,” according to Red Raider coach Mike Leach – yeah, right – consider that a bulk of his prodigious passing total came against overwhelmed opponents (including two I-AA clubs) and in the biggest game in school history, he and his frightened teammates performed with the same valor of the French army in the path of advancing panzer divisions back in ‘40.

So, the choice is Tebow, and not because he’s going to be a great pro or has the biggest numeric resume. It’s because when one looks for the “most outstanding football player” around, it’s best to pick the man who would be willing and able to do things beyond his job description to help his team win. Had Carm Cozza let Dowling loose against Harvard in ’68, he might have quelled the uprising. Forty years later, Tebow has the same talent and drive. That’s certainly worth another trophy.

* * *

EL HOMBRE SEZ: The Yankees made quite a splash by promising to pay C.C. Sabathia an average of $23 million for each of the next seven seasons. When will these teams learn that spending that much on starting pitching is a huge risk? First off, Sabathia had to be convinced to play in New York, so a tabloid-induced meltdown is possible. Secondly, the lessons of Kevin Brown, Barry Zito and others are apparently lost on the Yanks. It looks great now, but check back in a couple years…The jurisprudence department has been busy lately, what with Quick Draw Burress and O.J. Simpson’s making headlines. The real sin of O.J.’s pending incarceration is that he will now lose nine years of prime investigating time to look for the real killers…China has admitted that 36 players in its professional basketball league are older than they claimed, a shocking revelation in the wake of the Olympics, when women were spotted breast-feeding some of the Chinese female gymnasts…Creditors have objected to Michael Vick’s bankruptcy statement, citing large, unspecified cash advances – in the millions – over the past couple years and wondering if that dough has been stashed somewhere. From here, it looks completely reasonable. After all, it costs a lot of money to take care of dogs, what with the food, shelter, grooming, electric cattle prods, teeth sharpening…

* * *

YOU GOT A PROBLEM WITH THAT? Last night’s loss to the Cavaliers once again revealed the Sixers’ inability to play defense and amplified the team’s offensive confusion. But at least the team learned the Andre Iguodala is better suited at small forward than shooting guard. What a revelation! Everybody in the city knew that, except the team’s management, which lavished a fat contract on Iguodala during the off-season, despite having a budding young star – Thaddeus Young – at the position as well. Now that the two guard experiment is over with A.I. Jr., the Sixers are faced with a glut of talent at one spot and inadequate forces at the pivot and the two. They are up against the cap and in danger of losing point man Andre Miller after the season. Oh, and don’t go looking for any passion from the team, because it’s not there. What began as such a promising season for the team is threatening to crash and burn. Plenty of time remains, but things are getting scary.

* * *

AND ANOTHER THING: Researchers continue to zero in on an accurate urine test that will reveal whether athletes used HGH. Talk about a bonanza. Let’s hope the various professional sporting organizations across the world have saved specimens properly, in order to test them down the road, once the scientists perfect the process. The most pressing need for the test is in Majoke League Baseball, where steroid cheats have been outed – sort of – but the HGH users remain at large, with a few exceptions. Since a few years of samples remain, the possibility that plenty more cheaters can be identified is reason for optimism. Give those guys as much money and whatever resources they need, so they can get the job done.


No comments: