rent like champion

December 15, 2014

When It Was More So Should've... Than Would've

Watching the Heisman Trophy ceremony the other night, realizing all three finalists were juniors heading to the NFL, I thought back to Georgia's Heisman winner from 32 years agoa then-junior who turned pro early, as well. However, more so than Herschel Walker's 1982 campaign, I recalled his first season as a Bulldog, and the debate involving the coveted trophy which still lingers after more than three decades.

I hear the argument every so often; in fact, it was declared just a few days ago on local sports-talk radio: Herschel should've won the Heisman Trophy in 1980, but didn't because he was a freshman.

Call it a slight pet peeve of minea claim I've argued against here on a couple of occasionswhere the Heisman voters from back then actually deserve some credit, but the voting structure of the time does not. Regardless of what the claim is called, the assertion that Herschel didn't win the Heisman in '80 because he was a freshman is more so a fallacy than an accuracy.

That season, Walker finished third in the Heisman balloting, not even coming close to winning (683 total points, 107 first-place votes), finishing behind winner George Rogers of South Carolina (1,128, 216) and Pittsburgh’s Hugh Green (861, 179). And, common belief is Walker did not win the award solely because he was a freshman, whereas Rogers was a senior. This assumption, although maybe slightly accurate, does not fully reveal why Herschel was not honored.

More so than Walker or Rogers' class status, by Friday, November 28ththe day Heisman ballots were dueRogers 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 (but I seriously doubt it) 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, the freshman phenom 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 before. 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," Coach Vince Dooley said at the time. "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."


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, his last impression for Heisman voters was an un-Herschel-like performance against Auburn on November 15th, gaining just 77 yards on 27 carries (2.9 average) against the Tigers while not even leading his own team in rushing.
Much more so than his class status, this
disallowed performance against Tech kept
freshman Herschel from the Heisman in '80.  

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.

Notably, 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 Georgia's regular season had ended.

And, don't even get me started on the two backs' bowl performances...  Oh, well, 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. And, 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 blowout loss to Pittsburgh in the Gator Bowl.


The two bowl performances helped prove who really was deserving of the 1980 Heisman Trophy and, prior to "Johnny Football" two years ago, who should've been the very first freshman to take home the award.

History has repeatedly shown 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...

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