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franklin county times

Hasty hype bad for award

By Staff
Paul Finebaum
Sports Columnist
Remember when the Heisman Trophy actually meant something? Remember when it was something more than a visual graphic for ESPN to throw onto the screen during a prime-time blowout when all other topics have been exhausted?
The most prestigious award in sports has become a punch line, filler material for broadcasters, and mostly a way for ESPN to fill time on the first Saturday night since August without live college football.
Mostly, it's ESPN's fault, but if you wanted, you could blame the world-wide leader for practically everything wrong in the world from the BCS to global warming to the current woes with sub-prime mortgages.
One minute, a Heisman candidate is up. The next minute, he has fallen off the face of the earth.
To me, the player who was treated most unfairly this year has been
Arkansas' Darren McFadden. He played for a mediocre team and when things didn't go well, the ESPN pundits immediately took him out of the running. I decided to vote him first on my ballot long ago because he's the most outstanding player in college football. However, when Auburn held him to 43 yards in a 9-7 loss in October, the ESPN Game Day crew and seemingly everyone else within the sound of a microphone sold him out. It took him a couple of monster games down the stretch – including a four-touchdown performance and 206 yards rushing to beat No. 1 LSU – to get everyone noticing him again.
Like many of you, I have been admiring McFadden since the day he first put on an Arkansas uniform. It was midway through his first year when I asked Pat Dye, the former Auburn coach, for his opinion.
"He's the best running I've seen in this league since Bo (Jackson)," said
Dye.
End of discussion.
Just for the record, I went with Florida's Tim Tebow second and Pat White of West Virginia third. Most pundits gave up on White when he was injured against Pittsburgh, which was ridiculous. The quarterback from Daphne carried his team on his back all year, and had he not been injured in the final game, the Mountaineers would have been playing for the national title in a few weeks against Ohio State instead of LSU.
That's pretty valuable.
Instead of looking at the body of work, many of the electors treat this competition as if we're watching Sanjaya on an episode of American Idol. Hit a bad note and you get voted off the show. In this case, you sneeze and you're out of the Heisman race.
The people that vote – it's a collection of sportswriters, broadcasters and former winners totaling 925 electors – get way too carried away with which team is hot and which one is not.
Quick now: Can you name the winner last year?
I had to look it up myself and found Troy Smith of Ohio State. By the way, Mobile's JaMarcus Russell, who was the first pick in the NFL draft, didn't finish in the top 10.
There has been a great debate for years among pundits whether the award really is the most prestigious in sports. Some have argued for the MVP in the majors or the NFL.
But I would say it's clearly the Heisman.
Last year, I happened to find myself having dinner in Birmingham with Pat
Sullivan and Steve Spurrier. All I could think about was being a youngster remembering Spurrier winning the Heisman in 1966 and Sullivan five years later in 1971. I wish I could have made a DVD of that memorable evening listening to these two talk about the night they won and how special it was and remains. Priceless.
So does the award really mean anything? Or like most things, has it been cheapened by excessive hype and commercialization?
To me, it's still the greatest individual award in sports. And I'll watch tonight like millions of others. But there is a silver lining in all of this. At least on Sunday, we'll hopefully be free of Heisman hype until next summer. We all deserve a break.

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