Huarte, now president of the Arizona Tile Co., in Tempe, jokes about his supposedly "lackluster" career. The contest for the Heisman, he says, "is like the real world in that odd things happen. But you have to remember that football is also fantasy, fool's gold. It's simply entertainment."
For Beban the path to the Heisman was somewhat different. His numbers at UCLA were good but not great. In 1967 he completed 87 of 156 passes for 1,359 yards and eight touchdowns. He thinks a big factor in his favor was the Bruins' national schedule, which included road games against Penn State, Pitt, Syracuse, Michigan State and Tennessee. In addition, UCLA finished fourth in the AP poll in '65 and fifth in '66 and began '67 by winning its first six games and climbing to No. 3 in the poll. Such lofty rankings burned into voters' minds the idea that Beban was a star on a starry team. He was also aided by the liabilities of the other top candidates. O.J. Simpson, who finished second to him, was a junior at USC in '67. (O.J. would win the next year.) Ditto halfback Leroy Keyes of Purdue. So could a good case be made for Beban? Yup.
Much of the controversy surrounding the Heisman is fueled by the fact that the winners tend to be judged later on the basis of their pro careers. But it's irrelevant that in a horrid 10-year pro career with six teams in three leagues, Huarte spent most of his time on taxi squads. The same goes for Beban's four undistinguished seasons with the Washington Redskins and Denver Broncos. Conversely, the fact that four of the Heisman winners—Simpson, Paul Hornung, Doak Walker and Roger Staubach—are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame does not add to the luster of their collegiate achievement.
The player whose reputation has perhaps suffered the most because of a less than sterling pro career is quarterback Terry Baker, who won in 1962. Baker spent three seasons with the Los Angeles Rams, who tried to turn him into a running back after giving up on his arm. People forget that in three years at Oregon State, Baker passed for 3,476 yards and 23 touchdowns. As a senior in '62, he led the nation in total offense and directed the often woeful Beavers to a 9-2 record. Baker won all manner of other player of the year awards as well and was SI's Sportsman of the Year. Just for good measure, he was also an academic All-America and a standout guard on Oregon State's basketball team, which reached the NCAA Final Four.
In years ahead, Doug Flutie of Boston College, the '84 winner, may become another alleged Heisman mistake, unless his recent success with the New England Patriots revives his flagging pro career. But Flutie was a wonderfully exciting college player, a textbook example of towering school spirit. So, too, were Auburn quarterback Pat Sullivan ('71) and Navy running back Joe Bellino ('60), both of whom often appear in sentences that contain the word flop. The bottom line is that a sound argument can be made that the Heisman has consistently gone to the nation's best collegiate player—with one possible exception.
Rarely does a player on an average or below-average team get the brass ring. A notable aberration was Hornung, who quarterbacked a 2-8 Notre Dame team in 1956. There's no disputing that Hornung was a marvelous, multitalented collegiate player. As a senior, he was undoubtedly a worthy Heisman candidate, finishing second to Stanford's John Brodie in total offense with 1,337 yards.
Still, even the most ardent defender of the Heisman selections would have to concede that the voters erred that year because '56 was also the senior season of Syracuse's Jim Brown, perhaps the finest running back in history. That year Brown broke the NCAA record for most points in a single game by scoring 43 against Colgate and averaged a nation-high 123 yards rushing per game. In spite of these accomplishments, he finished only fifth in the voting. Brown has no doubt as to why he didn't fare better. "Back then, black folks were not allowed to win," he says. "And I happened to be black. Plus there was the conception that Eastern schools didn't play tough football."
Five years later, in a move many saw as an attempt by the Heisman voters to make up for having snubbed Brown, Ernie Davis, another great running back from Syracuse, became the first black to receive the award. During his career Davis rushed for 2,386 yards and 35 touchdowns to surpass Brown's totals in both categories. In 1961, Davis averaged 5.49 yards per carry, nearly a yard more than Ohio State fullback Bob Ferguson, who came in second in the voting.
To say that a case can be made for most every selection does not mean that other choices would have been wrong. For example, John David Crow of Texas A & M won in '57, and Iowa defensive lineman Alex Karras was second. Crow is easily defended; Karras could have been. In 1980 Pitt defensive end Hugh Green finished second to South Carolina running back George Rogers. Anybody who saw Green play can understand what a strong candidate he was.
In 1982, Herschel Walker won and John Elway didn't; that was a coin toss. Just last year SI published a story (A Touch of Class, Dec. 14) saying Syracuse quarterback Don McPherson should have won instead of Notre Dame's Brown. In fact, either would have made an excellent choice. In Brown's defense, he dominated games from his wide receiver position—despite weak Irish passing arms—and was a threat to score on every kickoff and punt return. And Notre Dame's schedule was much more demanding than that of the Orange.