Let’s get this straight right off the top: The Heisman Trophy is not awarded to the best pro prospect in college football. It goes to the most outstanding college football player in the United States.
Now that we’re all clear on that fact, let’s be honest about something else.
If someone truly is the “most outstanding college football player,” chances are he’s going to have a pretty good pro career, given that the NFL is made up of only the best players to come out of the college ranks.
Consider the 2005 Heisman vote, which received a lot of attention in recent weeks.
Vince Young thought at the time that he deserved it, but the voters overwhelmingly awarded it to Reggie Bush. Neither has been an unqualified success on the pro level, but each has been a solid performer in his own right. And there’s no denying that each was truly outstanding during his last season as a college player.
That makes some of the recent Heisman selections — Chris Weinke (2000), Eric Crouch (2001), Jason White (2003) and Matt Leinart (2004), for example — more than a little dubious. It also casts something of a shadow on the credibility of what used to be one of the most prestigious individual awards in all of American sport.
Whatever the merits of those particular winners, the most discussed and debated Heisman vote ever in this part of the country remains 1997 — the year Charles Woodson got the nod over Peyton Manning.
Many believe that — just like in 2005 — there was no way voters could have gone wrong with either one. Woodson was a triple threat who made big plays on offense, defense and special teams as he lifted Michigan to a national championship. Manning, quite simply, had one of the most productive seasons ever by a college quarterback and put up numbers that dwarfed those of Heisman winners who preceded and followed.
Thirteen years later, though, the Orange Nation has not softened its stance that the voters got it wrong. And that brings us back to the idea of the Heisman going to a player who has solid pro potential.
If Manning’s supporters were holding out hope that the professional careers of Manning and Woodson ultimately would provide them with the validation they needed to prove their point, they were wrong.
A little more than a week ago, Woodson signed a new contract with the Green Bay Packers for five years and $55 million. The deal ensures Woodson the opportunity to continue plying until he’s almost 40 at a position (cornerback) where most don’t make it much past 30, if at all.
He has made the Pro Bowl in six of his 12 NFL seasons. He was the league’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2009 (at 33 years old). He has intercepted seven or more passes in three of the last four seasons and has set Green Bay’s record for career defensive touchdowns with eight.
At this point, he’s a sure-fire Hall of Famer, just like Manning, whose pro career includes four NFL Most Valuable Player awards and 10 Pro Bowl selections.
The best thing that can happen now is for the two of them to retire at the same time so they can be inducted the same year.
Manning is the most dominant NFL offensive player of his generation. Woodson is the most dominant defensive player of his generation. Based on what they’ve accomplished in the professional ranks, it’s clear now that the Heisman voters truly could not have gone wrong back in 1997.
Then again, that depends on whom you ask.