5. 1971 – Pat Sullivan over Ed Marinaro and Greg Pruitt
Auburn’s Pat Sullivan won the Heisman Trophy in 1971 by throwing for 2,012 yards and 20 touchdowns, beating Cornell’s Ed Marinaro and Oklahoma’s Greg Pruitt.
Sullivan went on to play a few years in the NFL, but he never had the kind of success he did at Auburn. He did color commentary for the Tigers for five years before going into coaching. In 1992, Sullivan became head coach at TCU, where perhaps his most notable achievement was recruiting the aforementioned Heisman snub LaDainian Tomlinson.
Marinaro’s numbers were spectacular (1,881 yards rushing, 24 touchdowns) at Cornell, as he set many NCAA and Ivy League records, but the level of competition he faced bumped him to a second-place finish. He did become a pretty accomplished actor, though, starring on Hill Street Blues.
Greg Pruitt, the third-place finisher, proved to have the best football career of the three finalists. In 1971, Pruitt ran all over the Big 8, amassing 1,665 yards rushing on only 178 carries (9.4 ypc). He racked up 17 touchdowns as well.
Pruitt’s jerseys also led to a rules change to outlaw tear-away jerseys, which were considered to give the runner an advantage against tackling.
After another year with the Sooners, Pruitt went to the NFL where he made 5 Pro Bowls with the Browns and Raiders. He also won a Super Bowl with the Raiders after the 1983 season.
I give the nod to Pruitt, as his stats were incredible, he played for a powerhouse in a prestigious conference, and he was able to continue his level of play in the NFL. Plus, he inspired a rules change in football and, for better or worse, not many guys can say that.
4. 1997 – Charles Woodson over Peyton Manning and Randy Moss
Full disclosure: I am a huge Michigan fan and a huge Oakland Raiders fan (weird, I know, but that’s a story for another day). Naturally, I love Charles Woodson.
Just because I like Woodson so much doesn’t mean he deserved the 1997 Heisman Trophy.
Defensive players aren’t often in the conversation for the Heisman (Woodson was the first primarily defensive player to win the award), so for one to win you would think there would have either have to be a shortage of strong offensive candidates or the defender would have be once-in-a-generation good.
1997 had plenty of offensive firepower, and while Woodson was great, I don’t think he was great enough to beat out the following two players.
Tennessee’s Peyton Manning – maybe you’ve heard of him – came in second in the Heisman vote after passing for 3,819 and 36 touchdowns. After a great college career, Manning went on to be drafted first overall by the Indianapolis Colts.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that Manning is still racking up big numbers in the pros for the Denver Broncos. By any measure, Manning is considered one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time. He will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer selection, and he has a chance to break many career passing records in the NFL.
Not bad for a guy who lost the Heisman Trophy to a defensive back.
A mercurial wide receiver from Marshall finished 4th in the voting that year. Randy Moss gave us a sneak peek at the future by catching 90 passes for 1,647 yards and 25 touchdowns as a sophomore. He helped lead the Thundering Herd to a conference title in their first year as a Division 1-A football program.
Moss was a unique receiving threat, boasting world-class speed and optimum size, which led to immediate success in the NFL. But Moss had his share of problems in the NFL, namely his diva-like disposition and reputation as a malcontent.
Looking at his career as a whole, however, you can’t deny he is one of the greatest wide receivers to ever play football. Moss ranks 2nd in career touchdown receptions, 6th in receiving yards, and 10th in receptions. Considering that he is still active (if not as productive as years’ past), he has a chance to improve on those numbers yet.
As much as I am happy that Woodson won the award, I credit it more to the style points he received by making huge plays in rivalry games and to Michigan winning the national championship that year. The unbiased part of me knows that this should have been Peyton’s Heisman.
3. 1975 – Archie Griffin over Chuck Muncie and Tony Dorsett
College football has only ever had one player win two Heisman Trophies. In my opinion, and with the benefit of hindsight, there should have been one man to win two Heisman Trophies, but that man is not Archie Griffin (more on that at #1).
Ohio State’s Griffin was definitely a great college running back, but when you stack up his stats (1,357 yards, 5.5 ypc, 4 touchdowns) against those of Cal’s Muncie (1,460 yards, 6.4 ypc, 13 touchdowns) and Pitt’s Dorsett (1,544 yards, 6.8 ypc, 11 touchdowns), it’s tough to say he should have won the Heisman in 1975.
I won’t dispute Griffin’s 1974 Heisman win, but consider that in 1975 he had the lowest yardage total, yards per carry, and touchdown total of all four finalists (USC’s Ricky Bell led the nation in rushing with 1,875 yards and finished third in the voting, ahead of Dorsett).
Further, in the NFL, Griffin played 7 mostly mediocre seasons, while Muncie was a Pro-Bowler three times and tied the (then) NFL record for touchdowns in a season. Drug problems contributed to an early exit from the NFL for Muncie, but his pro legacy was a strong one.
Dorsett, meanwhile, is 8th on the NFL’s career rushing list, has a Super Bowl ring, made 4 Pro Bowls and scored 92 total touchdowns in his career. Combine the fact that his numbers far outshadowed Griffin’s in 1975, and my after-the-fact Heisman vote goes to Tony Dorsett.
2. 1992 – Gino Torretta over Marshall Faulk and Garrison Hearst
Gino Toretta and the Miami Hurricanes were very good in 1992. Almost good enough to win the national championship (they were beaten by Alabama in the Sugar Bowl). Toretta threw for 3,060 yards and 19 touchdowns in his final season with the Hurricanes, enough to earn him the Heisman Trophy.
Unfortunately for Gino, he never became much of an NFL player. He languished on the benches of a few pro teams before calling it quits after the 1997 season.
San Diego State’s Marshall Faulk was turning heads with the absurd stats he was posting against WAC teams. As a sophomore, Faulk ran for 1,630 yards and 15 touchdowns. Impressive numbers, albeit against notably lesser competition than Torretta faced.
What is most notable, though, is the havoc Faulk would wreak on the NFL as part of the St. Louis Rams’ vaunted “Greatest Show on Turf.” Faulk would go on to become a top-ten career NFL rusher, a 7-time Pro-Bowler, an NFL Rookie of the Year, NFL MVP, Super Bowl champion, and he would have his jersey retired by the Rams.
Garrison Hearst played for Georgia, so his profile was much more prominent than Faulk’s. Hearst gained 1,871 yards from scrimmage and scored 21 touchdowns for the Bulldogs in 1992, fantastic numbers against quality competition. If I had a Heisman vote in 1992 (which would have been absurd – I was 11) I would have voted for Hearst.
Of course, since this is a list to look at things in hindsight, it should be mentioned that Hearst ran for almost 8,000 yards in the NFL, despite battling an ankle injury that derailed his career and forced him to miss two years of football. Miraculously, Hearst returned for 3 more good seasons before retiring.
1. 1967 – Gary Beban over O.J. Simpson
Remember when I said there was only one player deserving of two Heisman Trophies? That player was O.J. Simpson.
Though passing wasn’t a huge part of UCLA’s game back then, Beban only threw for 1,359 yards and 8 touchdowns (while also throwing 8 interceptions). Simpson ran for 1,415 yards, but what the race really came down to was the head-to-head matchup between Beban’s Bruins and Simpson’s Trojans. And therein lies my confusion as to why Beban was given the Heisman Trophy.
Besides just being a battle for Los Angeles supremacy, a Rose Bowl berth was on the line for the two teams. That meant that a chance at the national championship was also at stake, as UCLA entered #1 and USC #4 in the nation.
In the game, Beban had his ribs brutally battered, but he still managed to throw for 301 yards (of his 1,359 total for the season, mind you). He also threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown.
Simpson ended up running for 177 yards and two scores, including his game-winning 64 yard dash in the 4th quarter. The Trojans went on to win 21-20, and won the national championship as well.
What’s interesting to note here is that Beban had less impressive stats and lost head to head against Simpson’s Trojans. O.J.’s team won the national championship and he was clearly the best player on the team, however it was said that Beban received the Heisman because he was a senior and O.J. a junior, meaning Simpson would have another chance the following year (in which he did win the award). A travesty, I say.
Never mind that O.J. went on to become one of the best running backs in NFL history (we’ll leave his much publicized personal and legal problems out of this) and Beban was a backup for a couple years before quitting football. Simpson deserved to win the award n 1967, and in hindsight that is even more apparent.
Now it’s your turn.
Which of these snubs do you think was the most egregious? Which snubs did we leave out?