Posted: Tuesday September 14, 2010 6:49PM ; Updated: Wednesday September 15, 2010 9:53AM
Stewart Mandel
Stewart Mandel>INSIDE COLLEGE FOOTBALL

Bush has forever cemented legacy by forfeiting Heisman Trophy

Story Highlights

Reggie Bush announced that he will be forfeiting the Heisman Trophy he won in '05

The NCAA ruled Bush was ineligible in that year for receiving improper benefits

Ultimately, Bush will be remembered as the first winner to give back the trophy

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Reggie Bush
Reggie Bush will be the first winner in the Heisman Trophy's 75-year history to return the award.
Stephen Chernin/Getty Images

In 11 years on this beat, the 2005 season was by far the most memorable I've covered. I'll never forget watching Matt Leinart's 61-yard pass to Dwayne Jarrett from the sideline of Notre Dame Stadium. I'll never forget watching from the press box above the L.A. Coliseum as Reggie Bush ran off 260 yards against UCLA. And of course, I'll never forget watching Vince Young scamper to the end zone literally just a few feet in front of me to clinch the BCS championship.

AP: Bush says he is giving back Heisman Trophy

It's a good thing I have such a sharp memory, too, because one by one, the events of that season are being erased from the record books.

That Leinart sneak to deliver USC victory at Notre Dame? It never happened. Neither did any of the Trojans' other victories that season. And now, five years after the fact, it turns out Bush was not in fact the Heisman Trophy winner in 2005.

Bush's decision Tuesday to forfeit his Heisman -- the first such occurrence in the award's 75-year history -- allowed him to avoid the indignity of having it taken for him. It's no coincidence that Bush's statement came on the same day members of the Heisman Trust met, reportedly to vote on said decision. Bush gets to save face a little by saying he did so to preserve "the dignity of this award," while pledging to "work with the Trustees to establish an educational program which will assist student-athletes and their families avoid some of the mistakes that I made." (Note that he still has yet to specify, admit to, or apologize for any of his alleged "mistakes.")

We knew this day was coming one way or the other. Whether it wanted to or not, there was no way the members of the Heisman Trust could ignore their own published policy that "the recipients must be in compliance with the bylaws defining an NCAA student athlete."

That doesn't make it any less clunky.

I'm not a fan of rewriting history. Bush obviously deserved to pay a price for violating NCAA rules -- certainly more so than the current USC players now being penalized by his actions -- but what happened, happened. Vacating victories and forfeiting trophies five years after the fact does not wash the memories from our brains or the images from YouTube.

Hopefully, the Heisman Trust will not rewrite history even further by making the mistake of handing over Bush's forfeited trophy to someone else. That's not meant to disrespect Young, every bit as dominant a college player as Bush and a deserving runner-up. Had the Heisman vote that year been held after his epic 467-yard Rose Bowl performance, there's little doubt he, not Bush, would have won the award originally.

But it wasn't. And he didn't. And unless we're all going to pile into a DeLorean and travel back to 2005, Bush still won the Heisman Trophy, whether or not it remains in his physical possession. The envelope was opened, his name was called, and he gave a speech. We watched it. We remember it. Boxing the thing up and mailing it to Nashville won't change that.

No less than Young himself agrees. "Reg will continue to be the 2005 Award recipient and I will continue to be honored to have been in the 2005 Heisman campaign with such a talented athlete," he tweeted Tuesday night.

Bush's legacy was tarnished well before Tuesday's news, but this part will ultimately become the most lasting reminder of his scandal. USC will one day recover from its sanctions, but Bush will never get back his trophy. USC will one day return to being a clean, winning program, but Bush will always be the first player in history who had to give back his Heisman.

But he did win it. Not somebody else. The record book may no longer reflect it, but our tarnished memories will.

 
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