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No matter how many "famous" designers spend countless hours crafting new trophies to honor the never-ending parade of manufactured heroes that various sports -- and NASCAR -- try to inject into the Valhalla of athletic accomplishment, they will never touch the Heisman. The old stiff-armed fella remains the most important and famous piece of hardware any athlete can collect.
Oh, sure, it may be a greater accomplishment to be the Super Bowl MVP or to win the Frank Selke Trophy (whatever the heck that is), but you could rain replicas of those babies down on sports fans everywhere, and they would have no idea with what they are being pelted.
But the Heisman? It has instant recognition power -- at least in the sports world. There's no telling whether Oprah's Book Club would have any idea what it is, but you get the picture. It's the heavyweight cham-peen.
No wonder El Hombre was so pleased and honored to cast his first Heisman ballot this year. As he filled out the form, he thought about previous voters, who had helped select stalwarts like Doc Blanchard, Alan Ameche, Paul Hornung and Billy Sims for the honor. OK, so maybe those ballots weren't sent to the scions of the Downtown Athletic Club via e-mail, but the sense of history was no less palpable.
You get three choices on a Heisman ballot. The top selection gets three points, second gets two and third gets one. With a total of 923 votes (870 media, 52 living Heisman winners, 1 "fan" through a national contest), there's a fairly representative collection of selectors handling this important job. Oh, there is still the old bias against linemen and receivers firmly in place. And not all of the voters are playing it straight. Take Bengals QB Carson Palmer. He won the Heisman in '02 as a USC senior and voted this time for three Trojans, including freshman wideout Dwayne Jarrett, a fine player (50 receptions, 12 TDs) but hardly a legitimate candidate. Palmer's reasoning? He didn't want to support a contender from another school, because it might hurt current Trojan QB Matt Leinart's chances. What a knucklehead.
But enough about small minds and on to El Hombre's ballot. After careful consideration and enough down-to-the-wire hand-wringing to warrant a threatening phone call from the state Heisman overlord -- "Don't [mess] this up." -- the final list went like this:
1st -- Reggie Bush, USC 2nd -- Adrian Peterson, Oklahoma 3rd -- J.J. Arrington, California
Granted, this is something of a throwback ballot, since there are no quarterbacks to be found, but this award is supposed to be given to the best player in college football, not the best signal-caller. With four straight passers (OK, Nebraska's Eric Crouch was more like a single-wing tailback) having won the trophy, there's a need to remind everybody there are other positions on a football team, too.
But why Bush? Quite simply, he had the largest, most electric impact on a football team of any player in the nation this year. His numbers are evidence enough of his influence. He rushed for 833 yards (6.1 average) and scored six times. He reached the end zone seven times on 41 receptions and averaged 11.7 yards/catch, unheard of for a running back. He scored twice on punt returns and averaged 16.0 yards/return and brought back 19 kicks for 26.4 yards each. That's all fantastic stuff. But if you just went by numbers, Texas Tech gunslinger Sonny Cumbie and his 4,222 passing yards would be your winner. Bush gets the vote here because he allowed the USC offense to continue operating at a high level while its receiving corps shaped up and its line matured. Sure, Leinart was strong this year, but the ability to split Bush out and send him upfield eased defensive congestion for Leinart. Without Bush, the Trojans don't beat Virginia Tech. All he did in the season opener was score three touchdowns by abusing just about every Hokie defender out there.
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His 65-yard TD on a punt return broke open the Fog Bowl in Corvallis against Oregon State. Final: USC 28, Beavers 20. And while many people said that Leinart had clinched the Heisman with a five-TD performance a week earlier against Notre Dame, like torching the dismal Irish counts for anything anymore (Memo to America: ND isn't a powerhouse), Bush won the UCLA game by rushing for 204 yards -- including TD runs of 65 and 81 -- and catching six passes for 73 yards.
Peterson and Arrington were great. Leinart and Oklahoma quarterback Jason White had big years, too. But none of them tops Bush for pure across-the-board production and overall impact. If there is indeed justice in the world of sports, Reggie Bush wins the great trophy.
El Hombre Sez
Even though MasterCard doesn't want to sponsor the Barry Bonds home run tour this season, it's a good bet Major League Baseball will still try to find some company to underwrite the celebration. It's up to Americans to do more than just tune out the hype. There must be a boycott of any product -- even if it's oxygen or water -- that dares to associate with the sham of Bonds' pursuit of Hank Aaron's record. ...
What a shocker! Kobe Bryant is having trouble getting along with Karl Malone. Well, at least he can fall back on his club's fourth-place status in the NBA Pacific -- behind the Clippers. He's quite the leader, that Kobe.
And Another Thing
So, outgoing Notre Dame president Rev. Edward "Monk" Malloy is "embarrassed" about the firing of Tyrone Willingham. Nice of him to speak up -- about a week late. By playing Pontius Pilate and turfing the decision on Willingham's fate to his successor and heavy-hitting trustees, Malloy helped create the distasteful situation. Had he exercised some leadership and looked out for the good of the university, Notre Dame might still have its good name in tact. Instead, the university is regarded as a sanctimonious hypocrite that bloviates about its "standards" but traffics in Machiavellian methods. Embarrassing indeed.