Is there anything in sports more over-hyped, outmoded and unnecessary than the hullabaloo each fall over the Heisman Trophy? The hype will never be drained from the process because the cast of (almost literally) a thousand who decide who'll get college football's stiff-arm statuette want to believe their duty is sacred, and thus they're complicit in stoking the hype. Of the 920 voters, many haven't seen the top candidates play in person and are thus more susceptible to the influence of innumerable eye-glazing Heisman Updates and the tacky promotional gewgaws sent out by college p.r. types. The apples-and-oranges business of comparing linemen to quarterbacks to kick returners seems pointless once again this year, as the winner appears to be preordained to fit the usual profile, i.e., a player at a skill position for a major power.
Since the Heisman was introduced in 1935 to honor the nation's "outstanding" player, college football has turned into an ungainly, impossible-to-monitor sprawl. Scholarship reductions have sent terrific players to unexpected places with starkly different styles and systems, and there's no foolproof way to ferret them all out, let alone weigh one against another. The fact is, Alcorn State's Steve McNair (page 85) could throw for 800 yards every Saturday, and someone would still cavil about his facing "inferior competition." Likewise, Nebraska tackle Zach Wiegert could throw the key block on every Cornhusker touchdown, and the Heisman balloters would still rather honor the player who sauntered through that opening.
College basketball's player of the year awards pass with little notice precisely because that sport offers the fan something far more meaningful to concentrate on—a postseason tournament. If college football had the playoff system it should have, the Heisman would become exactly what it deserves to be: a nice dinner, a nice piece of hardware for someone's trophy case and nothing more.
Keepers of the Name
In its quest to bring home the gold, the U.S. Olympic Committee apparently believes it must send out several thousand letters every year implying that it will take legal action against businesses using, in their name or logo, the word Olympic or the interlocking rings (SI Olympic Preview, September 1988 et seq.), to which a 1978 federal law grants the USOC exclusive rights. This is a petty and merciless job, but the Lords of the Rings evidently feel somebody has to do it. There may be a popular rebellion brewing, however. When Manhattanites recently got word that one of the cease-and-desist missives had reached Spiros Nakos, the Greek immigrant owner of a restaurant called Olympic, some started a petition drive, and two lawyers offered their services pro bono. On Nov. 11, after two weeks of negotiations, Nakos agreed to remove the five interlocking rings from the sign above his establishment, though he won't have to change the restaurant's name.
The USOC emphasizes that it has not granted Nakos "permission" to use the word, and reserves the right to take action at some later date. USOC interim executive director John Krimsky Jr. says Nakos's 10-table coffee shop infringes on the rights of McDonald's, which has paid more than $40 million to be the official restaurant sponsor of the USOC. Says Krimsky, "What would McDonald's say if I don't protect its rights?"
One would hope that McDonald's would have the good p.r. sense—which the USOC apparently lacks—to say nothing. In the state of Washington, where a peninsula, a mountain range and 72 businesses in the Seattle phone book share the O-word, news of Nakos's plight has left people spoiling for a fight, lest they receive a letter in the future. "The mountains have been here since before their Games, you know," says Jeff Hutchinson, office manager at Olympic Fuel Injection in the Emerald City. Adds Dan Nelson, a physician and owner of Seattle's Olympic Spinal Care, "The general provincial attitude around here is: Screw 'em."
A source at Little, Brown and Company assures us that the USOC hasn't yet insisted that future editions of Edith Hamilton's definitive Mythology refer to Zeus' home as "the mountain in the north of Thessaly."