EXCLUSIVE: Scrawl so Hard Endorses Manti Te’o for Heisman TrophyPosted: December 8, 2012
The Heisman Memorial Trophy annually recognizes the outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity.
These are not my words. These words are taken directly from the mission statement of the Heisman Trust, who will award the most kick-ass looking trophy in sports tonight to Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein, or Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o. According to CBSSports’s historically reliable straw poll*, Manziel is poised to hoist the stiff-arming statuette. This would be an outrage on par with The Godfather Part III, anthrax epidemics, and Rick Astley. Manti Te’o is overqualified for the Heisman, and quite possibly the most deserving candidate of all-time.
*It should be noted that this straw poll only features 11 voters, an incredibly small sample size. Also, don’t get me started the logistical hassle it must be to convene 11 national college football writers just to toss some straws in the wind!
(Disclaimer: From this point forward, we will ignore Klein, the Ralph Nader of the 2012 Heisman Trophy Presentation.)
Pro football’s premier award honors the sport’s most valuable player. Consequently, the NFL MVP race is more predictable than a Cuban presidential election (and I don’t think Nate Silver has an evil twin averaging polls in Havana). The best quarterback will almost always win, because quarterbacks influence a given team’s overall success more than any other position. This is inherently fair, but it also makes for a boring award. By contrast, the Heisman purports to recognize college football’s most outstanding player, ostensibly eliminating positional bias. Theoretically, punters, longsnappers, and super-foxy cheerleaders have the same opportunity for Heisman glory as quarterbacks, running backs, and wide receivers. Sadly, this is not the case.
The fact that an inside linebacker is a Heisman finalist demonstrates how outstanding Manti is. In college football’s modern era, Pittsburgh DE Hugh Green (second in 1980), Nebraska DT Ndamukong Suh (fourth in 2009), and Manti are the only exclusively-defensive players to have been named finalists. Indisputably, a linebacker must be transcendent to finish first or second in the Heisman, whereas a quarterback can lead a field of weak candidates. (See previous winners Troy Smith, Jason White, or Eric Crouch.)
Some will stupidly grouse that Manti isn’t even the best defensive player in the country! While I disagree, the answer is immaterial. You could just as easily argue that Manziel isn’t the best offensive player; perhaps that title belongs to USC’s Marqise Lee or Oregon’s Kenjon Barner. Truth is, there’s much more to the Heisman than being the best player on one side of the ball.
Now let’s look at “whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity.” This particular phrase is the reason why Heisman winners are overwhelmingly the best player on the best team – because guiding a team to a perfect record and number one ranking is the embodiment of pursuing excellence. Manti is undoubtedly #1 Notre Dame’s best player. He’s led a dominant Irish defense – which surrenders a mere 10.3 points per game, the lowest in the nation – in spite of an offense that has scored 22 points or fewer on seven occasions. As The Plain Dealer’s Doug Lesmerises put it, “That’s like [Manziel] winning seven 49-42 games this year.”
Manziel has padded his stats against schools that Gordon Gee would classify as “Little Sisters of the Poor” – dumpster-fire Arkansas, Division 1-AA South Carolina State and Sam Houston State – while struggling against ranked opponents. Meanwhile, Notre Dame is undefeated vs. Top 25 teams (largely because of Manti), and doesn’t stoop to scheduling 1-AA universities.
As for integrity, Manziel was arrested and charged with three misdemeanors for fighting in June. Manti received the Awards and Recognition Association’s National Sportsmanship honor in November, and touchingly comforted the parents of a dying, 12 year-old Notre Dame fan in October.
Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t address the intangible factors that go into Heisman voting. Winners are often cult heroes, transcendent players that have captured the zeitgeist. Recent examples of this include Robert Griffin III, Cam Newton, and Tim Tebow. Many have added Manziel to this esteemed fraternity because of two false premises:
- The “Johnny Football” nickname, one of the most overrated monikers of my lifetime. A kindergartener could come up with something more imaginative than this.
- That he’s a freshman, which he’s not. People gush over Manziel’s precociousness as if he were a fresh-faced 16 year-old, plucked from a nearby driver’s ed class and inserted into A&M’s starting lineup without any practice or knowledge of the playbook. Nonetheless, he’s a redshirt freshman – essentially a sophomore.
Manti, on the other hand, is intriguing and soft-spoken, hailing from the mysterious island of Oahu. A year ago, he eschewed millions of guaranteed dollars to return to South Bend, hoping to play for a BCS National Championship. Pundits and fans scoffed at such a notion, but Manti has achieved just that. He’s been universally lauded for performing valiantly in the wake of tragedy – his grandmother and girlfriend passed away in September – and moved the Midwestern, rural Notre Dame crowd to don leis in a show of support.
Manziel has hoodwinked voters into championing his cause, but Manti is more deserving by the letter of the law. Commenting on his star linebacker’s Heisman candidacy, Notre Dame Head Coach Brian Kelly declared, “If a guy like Manti Te’o isn’t going to win the Heisman, they should just make it an offensive award.” Hell, they might as well get rid of it altogether!
UPDATE: It’s come to my attention that a contingent of anti-Manti propagandists are using Manti’s stats to discredit his case for the Heisman. “But he’s not even in the top 100 in tackles,” they protest. True, when you cause as many 3-and-outs as Notre Dame does, you’ll have fewer opportunities to make tackles**. Fortunately, linebackers (and Heisman winners) aren’t judged by arbitrary stats, provided without context.
**If we took tackles as seriously as these haters claim, D’Qwell Jackson would be a first ballot Hall of Famer.