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December 7, 2012

Should've, Would've, Could've

When the 78th Heisman Trophy is handed out tomorrow night, history likely will be made in college football  for the first time, a freshman will take home the coveted award.  However, 32 years before there was "Johnny Football," another freshman and a true freshman, at that should've received the trophy, and would've if the same voting mindset, but mostly the voting deadline of today prevailed in 1980.
 
A little over a week ago, I simply shook my head when I heard Kirk Herbstreit's televised plea to Heisman voters: "I keep encouraging everybody, if you’re going to not vote for Johnny [Manziel], if it’s on his ability or his game or his season, that’s fine," said the ESPN college football analyst. "But let’s avoid not voting for him because he’s a freshman. That’s crazy."
 
My, how times have changed.  What is now crazy was once the mindset of many Heisman Trophy voters.  Herschel Walker could've won the Heisman Trophy in 1980 if he had not been a freshman.  However, as declared in the media back then only days leading up to the award's presentation, "because [South Carolina's George] Rogers is a senior he is considered the frontrunner" and "Rogers' status as a senior gives him the edge over Herschel Walker."
 
Notably, what should have given Herschel the edge over Rogers was the fact that when the two faced head-to-head on November 1st, Georgia defeated South Carolina 13-10, while the eventual 3rd-place Heisman finisher outgained the eventual winner 219 rushing yards to 168.  In addition, Rogers lost a critical fumble in Bulldog territory late in the game, costing the Gamecocks a victory.
 
But more so than Walker or Rogers' class status, by Friday, November 28th the day Heisman ballots were due Rogers held the ultimate edge because the senior's regular season was all wrapped up.  Herschel, on the other hand, and his Bulldog teammates still had one game remaining on their regular-season schedule against Georgia Tech the very next day. 
 
Herschel Walker might have won the Heisman in 1980 if all voters felt freely to vote for a freshman, but he most likely would've captured the award if his entire regular season was considered by voters, whether he was a freshman or otherwise.
 
Against the Yellow Jackets, Herschel rushed for 205 yards on 25 carries and three touchdowns in a 38-20 Georgia victory.  With 9:30 remaining in the game, Walker broke off a 65-yard touchdown run — his seventh run of 48 yards or more that season—and in the process, became the NCAA’s all-time leading rusher for freshmen, breaking Tony Dorsett’s record of 1,586 yards set seven years prior.  The outstanding effort was Walker’s third 200-yard rushing performance in Georgia’s last four games — a Heisman-like performance that, fortunately for George Rogers, voters could not take into account because of the absurd deadline to submit ballots.

"If [the Georgia Tech] game had counted in the Heisman Trophy balloting [Walker] would have won it as a freshman," said Coach Vince Dooley after Rogers won the Heisman. "It’s a shame the Heisman voting is done so early. Here’s a back who has gained over 1,600 yards, set all kinds of records, and has played on an undefeated, No. 1-ranked team."

"If that’s not deserving of a Heisman Trophy, I don’t know what is," Dooley added.

This is what Heisman voters had to consider in 1980: South Carolina and Rogers’ regular season was completed on November 22nd. In 11 games, Rogers rushed for 1,781 yards and was instrumental in the Gamecocks achieving an 8-3 record.

For Walker, the last impression of the freshman phenom for Heisman voters was an un-Herschel-like performance against Auburn on November 15th. Walker gained just 77 yards on 27 carries (2.9 average) against the Tigers and did not even lead his own team in rushing.

Personally, if I had a Heisman vote then and had to submit it prior to all of college football's regular season ending, I too probably would’ve voted for Rogers.

Following the Heisman’s presentation to Rogers, John Farrell, the chairman of the Downtown Athletic Club said that if Walker’s performance against Tech had been considered, it probably would have made a difference in the voting but added "we have to stick to our [ballot] deadlines."

In addition, there were several newspaper articles within a few days of the trophy’s ceremony proclaiming Herschel should have won considering his final performance.  A number of  voters even indicated later if the voting was held after the regular season had ended for all teams, they would have voted differently.

On December 18, 1980, Walker was honored as the UPI’s NCAA Back of the Year. The freshman had 47 votes to the second-place Rogers’ 39 votes — voting that had been administered after the regular season had ended.

And, don't even get me started on the two backs' bowl performances...  Too late.  In a 17-10 win over Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl, clinching the national championship for the Bulldogs, Herschel rushed for 150 yards on 36 carries and two touchdowns against the Fighting Irish.  Here's the kicker: not only did the rest of the Georgia team have minus-23 yards of total offense, but Herschel played nearly the entire game with a separate shoulder!

As for Rogers, he was held to 113 yards in a 37-9 loss to Pittsburgh in the Gator Bowl. 
 
The two bowl performances helped prove who really was deserving of the 1980 Heisman Trophy, and who should have been the initial freshman to take home the award.

History has shown repeatedly that one game can make or break an individual’s season. Evidently, one disallowed game kept Herschel from winning the most recognizable and prestigious individual award in sports on two occasions; he should've won the Heisman in 1980 before actually capturing the same award two years later.
 
But, as they say, should've, would've, could've...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Saw your title on dawgbone and thought it was just another rant about how GA should've won the SEC title game. Really refreshing to read a good history lesson, a lesson I had never heard. First time to your site, looks like one I'll definitely visit often. Keep up good work!--Pauley