“The Heisman Memorial Trophy annually recognizes the outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity.” That’s how the Heisman Trust describes the award it bestows on “the outstanding football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity.” The only qualification they place upon the phrase “outstanding football player” is that he “best exhibit the pursuit of excellence with integrity.” Thus, the player can theoretically be an offensive or defensive player. I say theoretically because only one defensive player, Charles Woodson, has won the Heisman Trophy in the last fourteen years. This Saturday, we will learn whether or not Manti Te’o becomes the second in fifteen years. Comparing the two, he certainly should.
That’s a pretty sick catch, no doubt. In 1997, Charles Woodson put up a monster year and was a true dual-threat player: 44 tackles (27 solo), 5 Tackles For Loss, 1 sack and 7 interceptions. I confess that I was unable to find how many passes he broke up or how many times he hurried the quarterback. But, on the offensive side of the ball, Woodson had 12 receptions for 238 yards and 2 TD’s and carried the ball five times for 41 yards and one touchdown. On special teams, he had 36 kick returns for 301 yards (which is 300 yards more than the 2012 Fighting Irish) including one return for a touchdown of 78 yards. This one (if any Michigan is too much Michigan, skip to 1:10 for Woodson’s run):
So how does Manti stack up alongside the only “defensive” player to win the award? Blows him out of the water: 103 tackles (52 solo), 7 interceptions, 1.5 sacks, 5.5 Tackles For Loss, 1 fumble recovery, 4 defensed passes and 4 QB hurries. Te’o had 8 more solo tackles than Woodson had total tackles. Same number of INT’s, half a Tackle For Loss less, half a sack more. Both took home the Bednarik and Nagurski tophies. (Te’o's stats courtesy of cfbstats.com)
To add some context, let’s look at last year’s defensive Heisman finalist, The Honeybadger. Tyrann Mathieu was the latest and last defensive player to lose the trophy, watching it go to RGIII in 2011. Defensively, Mathieu had 76 total tackles (59 solo), 7.5 Tackles For Loss, 1.5 sacks, 2 INT’s, 1 QB hurry, 6 forced fumbles (dude could RIP), and 2 defensed passes. On the offensive side of the ball, Honeybadger ran two punts back for TD’s and amassed 421 total punt return yards. Again, Te’o has far more tackles. He has five more interceptions. And Manti shows no sign of pissing his career and talent away for the tree. (Mathieu’s 2011 stats courtesy of cfbstats.com).
But Bayou, who did Woodson beat out? If the Trophy went to a “defensive” player that year, surely it’s because the offensive choices were, erm, offensive, right? Wrong! The Heisman runner up in 1997 was none other than New Orleans’ own, Peyton Manning. That’s right, Cooper‘s brother. In 1997, Peyton QB’d the 11-1 Tennessee Volunteers, leading them to an Orange Bowl berth. He threw for 3819 yards and 36 TD’s on 11 INT’s. He had a 60.7% completion rate (287/477).
So how does Peyton stack up against Johnny Freaking Football? Well, Manziel has “only” thrown 400 passes, completing 273 of them for a percentage of 68.3. He’s thrown for exactly 400 yards less than Peyton did (3419) and 12 fewer TD’s. Manziel’s got Peyton beat on INT’s though, throwing 3 less. BECAUSE HE’S THROWN 77 LESS PASSES.
And then you get into the whole excellence and integrity thing. Unless it’s b.s., and unless I am sorely mistaken, the Heisman HAS to go to Manti given his documented awesomeness this year. If the only thing Manti did this year was write kind, comforting words to the parents of a dying child while in the throes of his own greiving process, that would be enough. But it’s not. Manti has been the leader, the soul and engine of this championship team. Relevance personafied, Manti’s decency, spirituality, humility and ferocity have provided sorely needed balance to a ledger that had trended to the difficult, terrible and tragic.
Whatever happens on Saturday, Manti has already won more than any number of earthly treasure.