When he first saw artist Frank Elisu's sculpture for the trophy that would bear his name, the ever-gracious John Heisman—who as coach at Clemson in 1901 ran up a 122-0 score on Guilford—insisted that the smile be wiped off its face and be replaced with a more gridiron-appropriate grimace. That is precisely the expression that crosses our faces when talk of the Heisman "race" heats up every August. Intended to go to college football's "most outstanding" player, this homely, 66-year-old doorjamb almost unfailingly goes instead to the best running back or quarterback from a major conference or Notre Dame. One would hope that being selected as the country's most outstanding collegian would be an indication of future NFL success. That's what Andre Ware, Gino Torretta, Rashaan Salaam and Danny Wuerffel were hoping as well.
This is an overrated trophy named for an overrated coach, a man renowned for inventing, among other things, the center snap and the handoff-innovations that don't exactly shout, "Genius a work!"
Almost as annoying as the Heisman Trophy is the self-important group that gives it out, the smug Downtown Athletic Club. For a bunch of guys who hand out what is essentially a lumpy monument to herd mentality and mass marketing—and a reverse barometer for success in pro football—these guys take themselves awfully seriously.
In addition to doing some serious headhunting last season as a linebacker for The College of Wooster, Seth Duerr volunteered at a recycling center, worked at a shelter for battered women and completed an independent-study project titled "Determination of Nitrate Concentrations in Selected Surface Water Areas of Tuscarawas County, Ohio." Duerr was one of 10 finalists for the Gagliardi Award, given annually to the Division III football player of the year. Candidates are judged not only on their football ability but also on academic achievement and community service.
Duerr lost out to Pacific Lutheran quarterback Chad Johnson, who, along with putting up ridiculous numbers in his Lutes career, spent four years on the dean's list and somehow found time to serve in the campus ministry, mentor students and serve meals to the homeless. To read through the list of Gagliardi finalists and their qualifications is to realize that football needs guys like these more than guys like these need football.
This little-known hunk of hardware is named for John Gagliardi (right), coach of Division III St. John's of Minnesota, whose 377 career victories lead all active NCAA coaches and serve as gaudy vindication of his unorthodox style. Gagliardi's players do not hit during practice. They do not have playbooks, are not given film grades. They practice for an hour a day—unless the gnats on the field are too thick, in which case the coach has been known to send them in early. Gags's blithe disregard for football's hidebound traditions has not exactly hurt him: He's won three national championships and last year came within a gnat's eyelash of a fourth. No wonder someone said, eight years ago, Let's name a trophy after this guy.