SI.com college football writer Stewart Mandel shares his commentary, analysis and random tidbits on the latest developments around the country.
12/09/2006 11:15:00 PM
Rising To The Occasion
Troy Smith won the 72nd Heisman by the second-most lopsided vote in the award's history.
Rich Kane/US PRESSWIRE
NEW YORK -- Jim Tressel was checking e-mail on his Blackberry on the ride back to the airport Saturday night when he saw one that moved him to read it to his fellow passengers.
"It was from a foster father in North Dakota whose foster daughter has been having some problems," said the Ohio State coach. "He said he was watching [Saturday night's Heisman presentation] and he could tell what a great influence [I'd had] on Troy.
"It was the icing on the cake on an already special night."
Troy, of course, is Troy Smith, the senior quarterback for Tressel's top-ranked Buckeyes and now officially the 2006 Heisman Trophy winner. Every player who's ever won the Heisman had his own special achievements and took his own unique path, but as anyone who tuned in Saturday night could see, few have led a more inspirational journey than Smith.
Take his own coach. No one in the country plays a better straight-man than Tressel, the buttoned-down, poker-faced guy in the sweater vest, but when Smith turned and hugged his coach shortly after his name was called Saturday night, one could see the hint of tears in Tressel's eyes.
"He stands there in 90 degree weather in a sweater-vest and a tie up to his neck," Smith said Saturday night. "If you can shake and rattle him, you know you've done something."
Tressel wasn't the only person close to Smith to be overcome by emotions. His mother, Tracy, from whom Smith was separated for several years growing up while she struggled to get her life together, let out a yelp and hugged Smith's sister, Brittany. Smith hugged both of them, and then he gave his longest hug of the night to Ted Ginn Sr., the Cleveland Glenville High School coach who became Smith's de facto father figure. Back home in Cleveland, Irvin White, the man who coached Smith's municipal-league pee-wee team and briefly served as his foster dad, was undoubtedly celebrating as well.
While Saturday night was certainly a happy moment for Ohio State fans, Smith's Heisman struck deeper than that. In a touching segment played shortly before his victory, ESPN showed images of the poverty-stricken streets of inner-city Cleveland where Smith was raised. And many of his comments afterward were directed to that community.
Asked by a reporter what he plans to do if the NFL doesn't work out, Smith said, "I'm going to go back to the Cleveland-Glenville area and try to make that place better. My passion for the mean streets of Cleveland runs so deep. I want so badly for there to be change in that community. Who better to start it than a Glenville guy?"
There are no shortage of cynics out there probably rolling their eyes at that quote, who refuse to believe that a guy who got kicked off his high-school basketball team for decking an opponent, and who just two years ago was suspended for allegedly taking benefits from a booster, could really be such a good Samaritan. They will criticize those who hold up Smith as a role model.
It's hard to remain jaded, however, when you see just how many people he's had an impact on. Back in Cleveland right now, there are kids from the worst imaginable neighborhoods, from broken homes and drug-infested families, picking up a football and dreaming of becoming the next Troy Smith. The Heisman now gives his story a tangible symbol.
"[Winning the Heisman] shows that any kid in any situation can do anything he puts his mind to," said Smith.
Smith did not do it alone. He was given a chance -- actually many, many chances -- first by White, then Ginn Sr., then Tressel. Some will argue he shouldn't have gotten that last "second chance," the one after the booster incident, from which he returned to win back the starting job, rack up a 25-2 record and lead his team to the national championship.
Smith acknowledged all those people and more -- even naming each of his starting offensive lineman -- in his Heisman speech Saturday night. It was one of the more touching speeches this ceremony has seen.
It touched a foster dad in North Dakota, for one. Who knows how many others.
Although I'm not from the area that Troy is from in Cleveland, I can say they are rough and it is a true testament to him and those who have been close to him that he is where he is today. I hope he continues to inspire those at Glenville and other parts of inner-city Cleveland to achieve beyond themselves.
Troy Smith loves and want to help Cleveland. Cleveland loves Troy Smith. What better way to help out your community than to be reunited with your community. We would love nothing more than him helping to set the streets straight and for him to pull our football team out of the gutter as well. We all believe in him and failure is not in his vocabulary. Just look at his life he has never given up and he ends with success. This is the man that will be a role model for the city and the captain that will right the titanic that is the Cleveland Browns. It would be about time to get some character on that team!
With the recent naming of Dwayne Wade as SI Sportsman of the Year, you have to wonder: Why did Ted Ginn Sr not get any consideration? This guys is the definition of a man who is there to help anybody who needs it. His bus tour for underexposed high school talent is amazing, netting many kids scholarships that would otherwise never be seen. He puts his neck out there for the betterment of the youth of the Midwest and now he has a shining example to point to. Congratulations to you Troy Smith, you will always be an icon in Buckeye Nation. And a bigger congratulations to you Mr. Ginn for being a Sportsman truly worthy of honor!
Troy Smith is the story of the American Dream. On the field, he's a leader and always the toughest man on the field. Off the field, he's shown that people deserve a second chance, and with patience greatness can be achieved.
Troy Smith's story is exactly what Cleveland inner city parents needed. The City of Cleveland nor the State of Ohio help these children, but now they have someone to look up to and something to hope for.
The Heisman Trophy, once the most revered award in all of sports has become an absolute joke. The politics, the endless parade of season-long "Heisman Watches," the bias against certain players and programs, the ever-shifting criteria which makes it oh-so convenient for the mindless media members to justify that year's vote and selection it has become a travesty. If the Downtown Athletic Club wants to take back control of THEIR award and return it to prominence then they should limit the voting to members of the club and the former winners of the award. Get the media and the sponsors and ESPN out of it. When a model citizen and outstanding STUDENT-athlete like Brady Quinn finishes THIRD - something is amiss. Shame on the voters for taking this once proud trophy and turning it into a junior high popularity contest.
Troy Smith, I'm a big fan of and have the upmost respect for and I don't even know the guy. Cleveland definitely needs help and Troy will do that. Yes, he will play in the NFL as long as he wants and make alot of money. Do your thang homey, my community is pulling for u also. Keep your head up, the fun has just begun. Take care.
I just don't get how self righteous people want to judge a man tht they've never met for something like taking money to help pay his mothers cell phone bill. I mean, it's easy to condemn when you've never had any of your mistakes aired out in public over, and over, and over again. Unless you are without flaw or sin you shouldn't cast stones from a glass house. This guy is an absolute rolemodel for the way he has rebounded from his humility to become the man that he is today. Shame on you for casting such a judgmental eye on such a remarkable young man!
I clearly remember two years ago sitting down to watch the evening news and saw Troy Smith had been suspended for taking $500 from a booster. My first thought was "oh great, just what we need, another Clarett." But over these past two years, Troy has taken the second chance so kindly given to him and has proved to be one of the classiest guys both on and off the field. He is a role model not only for the city of Cleveland and the state of Ohio, but the whole country. He made some pretty big mistakes, but thanks to Jim Tressel and Ted Ginn Sr. as well as many other players and role models, he has turned his life around. I have utmost respect for Brady Quinn, earning a double degree is a difficult task, and being the starting QB for Notre Dame on top of that is unimagineable. But even Notre Dame fans need to face it-this is the year of Troy Smith.
I was a Foster Child, and I can truly appreciate the heart and the hard work of the White's, as well as that of Mr Ginn. Congrat's to them. I think that also the great inspiration and influence of the former Buckeye's, like Eddie George, Archie Griffin, Chris Spellman, and so many others should be cheered. They have come back and helped these young guy's, like Troy, to offer small buy imprtant words of advice that help to convince them that they can overcome these troubles, and that they have a type of family that wants to be there to help them grow into something special. I was formerly from Ohio and Mr Tressel proved at YSU that he is something very special at steadying these young men and seeing the potential. Even he admits when he makes mistakes such as slightly favoring Clarett. But we are never too old to grow, and what he has done with Troy Smith in giving him that 2nd chance because of the root reasons for Troy's failure is commendable. Tressel has done a lot for other members of the squad, adn you see it in their extra effort in the summers, etc. Troy, that is a great job of overcoming, and keep that lesson you have learned about humility, team, and seizing the opportunities. Best of luck to Troy, and all of this truly very special Buckeyes team in the National Championship Game. When tehy win they will have completed a great great job of continuous work ethic, diligence, and goal execution that they can remember for all their life, and be remembered as one of the truly great college teams to have ever laced on their football cleats.