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Monday, July 10, 2006

A Look Back at the '97 Heisman Race

Heismanpundit is doing a series called Great Heisman Injustice? where he looks back at past Heisman Trophy winners to debate if the winner really should have been the winner. In his third and latest installment, he debates the '97 Heisman race that came down to the winner, Charles Woodson, and the runner-up, Peyton Manning.

While I disagree with some of his analysis about why it came down the way it did, his conclusion is that, there was no injustice saying, "While I certainly think that Manning was worthy of the Heisman, I don't think that Woodson was unworthy of the trophy by comparison. Either would have been a good pick."

Interestingly, he claims that if the two swapped teams, Manning would have won that year. That I really disagree with. Because had they swapped teams, no way Michigan would have gone undefeated. Remember - winning titles is forbidden for Manning.

And then Phil Fulmer couldn't have screwed Michigan over with his final Coach's Poll ballot either.


Can't spell Lloyd without 2 "L's" said...

I remember thinking at that time that Woodson absolutely deserved to win, watched all the games. However, under no circumstances did I actually expect him to win, and I was really surprised by the margin of the vote. Woodson was the best player on the best team, and I agree, if he's not on the team, they don't go undefeated.

Cool Hand Mike said...

Indiana 2-9, Baylor 2-9, Minnesota 3-9. As much as it pains me to utter these words, I think Peyton got screwed. There, I said it... I think I'm gonna hurl.

Benny Friedman said...

Cool Hand Mike, what's your point? That Michigan played an easier schedule than Tennessee? Check all the teams. The opponents are pretty comparable.
Don't forget Tennessee played 4-7 Alabama, 4-7 Arkansas, and 3-8 Vanderbilt.

Cool Hand Mike said...

Thanks Benny. This is what happens to Bama fans before thier 14th cup of coffee. We start typing shit like Tenn = Good. I knew something felt wrong.

The King said...

In 1997-98 our schedule was ranked the most difficult in the country. And that was AFTER the season was completed.

Cool Hand Mike said...

If you look at my blog, you'll see that I'm far from a Tenn lover, but I refuse to wear "Crimson-tinted glasses". Hell, I always thought Bo Jackson was the greatest athlete I ever saw even though he was from the Barn. Thanks for the info and not railing on me too hard.

BaggyPantsDevil said...

I think HP lets Peyton Manning off too easily. Sure, he’s an excellent athlete, good student and seems like a decent human who compiled a nice bunch of stats while Tennessee’s quarterback, but Manning’s teams lose the games that really matter. The stats are all a means to an end—winning—not an end unto themselves. I think Manning gets the benefit of the doubt because he’s a nice guy.

Charles Woodson, on the other hand, made some of his greatest plays when it was most important and the pressure was at its highest. Manning’s record setting 523 yards of passing game came against a 5-6 Kentucky team that surrendered an average of 32 points per game. Woodson’s amazing performance against Ohio State came against, well, Ohio State, Michigan’s greatest rival and the number 4 team in the country at the time.

I think the assertion that Woodson benefited from greater exposure is lame. Woodson got better exposure because Michigan played a tough schedule and when everyone was watching the important games, Woodson dialed up the already exceptional quality of his play. That fact that he also played on offense and special teams simply means Michigan’s coaches knew he was a fantastic athlete and wanted him on the field as much as possible. If there’s one Heisman Trophy award in recent years that is NOT controversial, this one is it.

Also, Woodson is at a disadvantage statistics-wise as a defensive player since there’s no real way to quantify opposing teams not throwing to his side of the field or running the ball when they would prefer to pass because of his presence.

It’s also interesting to note what happened to Michigan and Tennessee after these athletes departed. Michigan’s defense lost only two starters the following year—one was Woodson and the other Glen Steele—and lost their first two games and game up, on average, twice as many points per game. They also lost to Ohio State later in the season. Tennessee went undefeated and won that mythical national championship. Without Woodson, Michigan’s defense just wasn’t the same. Without Manning, Tennessee’s offense just wasn’t the same, either, but it was in a good way.

Cool Hand Mike said...

i always thought that if Indianapolis couldn't win the Super Bowl, they should hire Tee Martin. Worked for Tennessee.

Can't spell Lloyd without 2 "L's" said...


Yes, this is a much overlooked case of the Ewing Theory playing out to perfection.

Yost said...

Ewing Theory, LOL!

surrounded in columbus said...

here’s the part that always makes me scratch my head- when was the last time you heard the sports talk show guys discuss a Heisman candidate’s academic qualifications? no one ever really discusses the players’ off the field accomplishments (unless they’re really negative). all the focus is at their “on field” playing. what they did, when, and the stats.

yet, whenever someone brings up Manning, they inevitably cite his “great grades” and how he didn’t leave for the NFL early. even Heismanpundit throws in the “good student” comment, almost 10 years after the fact. did anyone anywhere talk about Reggie Bush or Vince Young’s GPA last fall?

it’s the Heisman trophy debate equivalent to the blind date description of “she’s got a great personality”. you really can’t cite his single season stats as making him some sort of prohibitive favorite, he lost to FLA (again), and he had a number of dog games that they won anyway. so, to bolster the argument, they throw in the “and he was a real good student, too”, because they can’t come up w/ any real reasons he should have won the trophy.

Cool Hand Mike said...

Gettin Poon Average? Reggie and Vince probably surpassed Peyton in middle school.

BaggyPantsDevil said...


You bring up the other Peyton Manning "achievement,” he returned to play his senior year even though he’d already earned a degree. My feeling is that this is the source of the whole “Peyton Got Screwed!” controversy.

He came back to play as the Heisman Trophy frontrunner and everyone involved with him figured it was a lock. He probably expected to win it, too. When he didn’t win it, his supporters were so shocked and disappointed a “controversy” was born.

Had it been any other player with a similar performance, there’d be no controversy at all. Manning led the Tennessee Volunteers to an 11-2 record and threw for 3819 yards and 36 touchdowns with 11 interceptions. Ryan Leaf led the Washington State Cougars to a 10-2 record and threw for 3968 yards and 34 touchdowns with 11 interceptions. I don’t hear anyone crying that Ryan Leaf got robbed.

At least Vince Young turned his Heisman Trophy disappointment into a magnificent Rose Bowl performance.

Tom said...

Hey guys, speaking of applying the Ewing Theory to college football, last season I took a look at teams winning national championships after losing star quarterbacks (calling it the Manning Theory and using it as justification for picking Georgia to finish highly).


Although the sample only went about 11 years back, it looks to be coincidence at best with only USC and Tennesee winning titles after losing a star qb.

BuckeyeJohn said...

What about Andy Katzenmoyer?? He had monsterous defensive stats, much greater than Woodson. The committee wanted a defensive player that year, Peyton could've put up GOD like numbers and it wouldn't have mattered. Most of the talk going into the vote was about getting a defensive guy since the D class was so strong. IF the bucks win that game, Katz gets the trophy. He still deserved it.

BTW-I changed my NCAA 2006 PS2 game cover to Ted Ginn Jr. I can't believe EA would disgrace such a great game with the WORST cover of all time

Heisman Pundit said...

The difference is that if you play for Michigan, you don't need to go undefeated to win the Heisman. See Desmond Howard.

If you play for Tennessee, you better damn sure win the title if you want to win the Heisman.

BaggyPantsDevil said...


Michigan does not have a monopoly on having its athletes win the Heisman Trophy when the team has a loss. Over the past 20 years, 15 Heisman Trophy winners played for teams with at least one loss at the time of balloting. Sure, some are perennial football powerhouses like Florida State, Nebraska, and Ohio State, but there’s also Houston, Oklahoma State, and Wisconsin.

The five winners whose teams were undefeated when they won come from three schools, Southern Califonia, Miami, and Michigan. Although being a part of an undefeated team surely can’t hurt an athlete’s Heisman prospects, it’s obviously not a necessity, either.

As mentioned previously, had Michigan had Peyton Manning instead of Charles Woodson in 1997, they would not have been undefeated.

robert paulson said...

HP has never let logic get in the way of making a dumb point, this is no exception. The only possible case Peyton Manning has for "deserving" the Heisman over Woodson in 1997 is based on his career acheivements. Unfortunately, the Heisman is a single season award and his 1997 could not compare to Woodson's.

Heisman Pundit said...

That's not my point, Baggypantsdevil.

My point was not that Manning the Wolverine would need to go undefeated to win the Heisman. Had he played for Michigan, he could have gone 10-2 and won the Heisman. I know that an undefeated season is not necessary to win the Heisman, but Manning of Tennessee was not going to win the Heisman against a player from Michigan unless he went undefeated.

The Heisman winners from Houston and Wisconsin, for instance, did not have prime competition from traditional powers. Ware's main competition was Anthony Thompson, from Indiana, while Dayne's was Joe Hamilton of Ga. Tech. Meanwhile, Barry Sanders' year was the best year in history for a back and he was not going to be denied regardless.

That ends that Heisman tutorial.

Anyway, I said that there was no Heisman injustice and that Woodson deserved to win. But had he not, it's not like he would have been 'screwed', since his winning was sort of a precedent anyway. I really don't know why anyone is arguing the point.

Heisman Pundit said...

Oh and as for you, Paulson, I merely refer you to your profile, where you state that 'you don't know much of anything.'

I agree.

BaggyPantsDevil said...


Not really arguing, just discussing. It’s the offseason and I’m missing college football right now.

If I did have an argument or an issue with this topic, it’s that 1997 is even brought up as a possible case of Heisman injustice since I don’t really see it as even being close.

I suppose the Heisman Trophy itself is problematic for several reasons. First, it’s an individual award for a team sport so how much of that award is truly for the individual’s performance and how much really belongs to his teammates.

Second, since every position theoretically competes for the trophy, you’ve got these bizarre apples to oranges comparisons going on. That pretty much guarantees that any discussion of Heisman winners becomes an argument.

As you mentioned, not all Heismans are equal. The competition is weak in some years and pretty much just goes by default to the quarterback with the most passing yards. In other years, there are several athletes who could justifiably be given it. I think 1997 was one of those years. To me, it’s not so much that Peyton Manning deserved the award as much as Charles Woodson, but that he seems more deserving than Gino Torretta or Jason White.

Then, there’s that the trophy is for the “most outstanding college football player.” That’s also very subjective. What the hell does “most outstanding” mean? If an athlete sets a new record for his position does that mean he’s automatically the “most outstanding?” Could that be interpreted as the player who is the most valuable to his team? Do more intangible traits such as leadership factor into this or is it simply based on physical performance?

There’s also the problem that the Heisman Trophy is really for the “most outstanding” quarterback, running back, or wide receiver in college football. Hell, John W. Heisman himself wouldn’t even be considered for his own trophy these days. It doesn’t matter how dominating an offensive lineman is, he can be the best there ever was and ever will be and he’s still not getting a Heisman. So the trophy itself is tainted by the fact that it’s mostly reserved for the highlight reel boys.

And I don’t think playing for Michigan confers any special advantage for winning a Heisman. Army has as many players who’ve won it as Michigan has.

surrounded in columbus said...

your point about it being mid summer and starved for football is well taken. personally, i'll confess to a more selfish motive- in the 9 years since the '97 season, i've never grown tired of kicking Fulmer & Manning in the head on this one. they made such a big deal of not winning, i always enjoy reading/discussing all the reasons they were wrong.

and every year when Wonder Boy racks up big stats in the regular season only to choke in the play offs/big game, again and again and again, i enjoy it a little more.

robert paulson said...

It always helps to know your limitations, perhaps you should give it a try.