Bizarre voting robs Grossman of Heisman TrophyPosted: Saturday December 08, 2001 10:39 PM
Updated: Saturday December 08, 2001 10:51 PM
By Albert Lin, CNNSI.com
NEW YORK -- The awards ceremony for college football's highest individual honor devolved Saturday night into something straight out of Bizarro World.
In one of the most up-for-grabs years in recent memory, the voting criteria for the Heisman Trophy once again was debated on a national scale. Is it for the most outstanding player in the country? The top pro prospect? The player who had the best statistical season? The No. 1 team's MVP?
Obviously, the voters had their own thoughts. When the ballots were counted, Nebraska senior Eric Crouch finished 62 points ahead of Florida sophomore Rex Grossman to win the trophy. The margin, the fourth smallest in history, ironically matched the number of points scored by Colorado in Nebraska's sole loss, which many felt had killed Crouch's candidacy. Crouch becomes the third Cornhusker to capture the award, joining all-time greats Johnny Rodgers (1972) and Mike Rozier (1983).
Even the finalists didn't seem to understand how the voting broke down.
"What made this year so special is that no one can really explain what made one guy separate from the others," said Miami junior Ken Dorsey, the third-place finisher.
"Obviously, this year the award was interpreted as being the 'most valuable player to his team,'" said Oregon senior Joey Harrington, fourth behind Dorsey.
So many things were out of place, starting with the ceremony itself, held at the Times Square Marriott Marquis rather than the Downtown Athletic Club, mere blocks from the site of the World Trade Center.
Though the four finalists were all quarterbacks, it was the option QB rather than any of the pure pocket passers who finished first.
The relatively starless quartet was so anonymous that when Harrington, who finished fourth, stepped to the podium following the announcement for his news conference, a reporter addressed him as "Eric" and begin asking about the Colorado loss.
Grossman later referred to the four QBs as "contestants" before correcting himself to "candidates."
The Heisman Trophy race has turned into college football's version of Hollywood Squares, with players presenting their best cases on the field and then voters deciding whether to believe them or not. Unfortunately, many times off-the-field factors carry more weight.
In any other year, Grossman probably would have taken the honor. He completed 65.6 percent of his passes for 3,896 yards and 34 touchdowns (against 12 interceptions), far surpassing the numbers of the remaining finalists. His 55 TD passes through his sophomore season are the most in NCAA history.
Yet that also seemed to be the primary problem, that Grossman is a sophomore. In the final weeks before the voting deadline, more than one voter remarked that a sophomore probably couldn't (shouldn't?) win the award.
"If I was a senior, who knows?" Grossman said.
To his credit, the Bloomington, Ind., native remained ever gracious. He said that finishing second in this situation didn't hurt nearly as badly as finishing second in -- i.e., losing -- a game. He credited Crouch for being an outstanding player and a winner. He kept saying that he doesn't focus on individual hardware.
"In the back of my mind I thought it was possible for me to win, but everything told me Eric Crouch was going to win," Grossman said. "I think anytime you have a career [for people to look back at], voters feel more confident voting for you. Next year, I'll be old enough to have a career."
Much is made of the obstacles Crouch overcame -- he nearly quit the team when Bobby Newcombe beat him out for the starting job a couple years ago -- to be where he is today. Yet what Grossman has accomplished seemingly is overlooked. Grossman practically had to sell himself to Florida coach Steve Spurrier, showing up on an unofficial visit with a highlight reel before he was offered a scholarship. After a stellar redshirt freshman campaign in 2000, Grossman had to fight off one-time USA Today offensive player of the year Brock Berlin to retain his first-string status. And despite playing for a coach with a quick hook and knowing that his backup could start for any other program in the country, Grossman improved throughout the year and never gave Spurrier reason to pull him.
In the 67 years the Heisman has been handed out, only 13 times has a junior topped the voting. The remaining 54 winners were in their final season of eligibility. The only other sophomores to finish runner-up are Angelo Bertelli (1941), Glenn Davis (1944), Herschel Walker (1981) and Marshall Faulk (1992).
With the number of college stars who depart early for the NFL these days and the lack of a true standout this college season, it's too bad the electorate couldn't put aside its bias against underclassmen.
To the end, Grossman refused to criticize voters.
"I think so much attention was brought to the fact that I was a sophomore, it probably gave me a few votes here and there," he said. "So it probably all evened out."
The Gators' accomplishments remained foremost on Grossman's mind: "The biggest thing is hopefully next year we're in the position that Ken Dorsey is in."
That would be playing for the national championship. If Grossman repeats his stellar numbers next fall and gets Florida to the Fiesta Bowl, he likely will be accompanied by a pretty heavy trophy.