March 8, 2016
No regrets here regarding my
Heisman snub of Peyton Manning
By KEITH GAVE
Turns out Monday was the day for people to talk trash about my Heisman Trophy vote in 1997. So I’m here to defend myself and 432 other voters who ranked Michigan’s Charles Woodson first among one of the most talented classes in college football history.
Peyton Manning has retired after one of the most successful and storied careers in NFL history. He’ll go down as one of the greatest quarterbacks ever to play the game, and he earned everything the history books will say about him except for this: Manning wasn’t robbed when he finished second to Woodson in the Heisman balloting.
As a junior defensive back, Woodson played on both sides of the ball, giving the Wolverines another offensive weapon as a wide receiver. He also was the college game’s most dangerous punt returner. He was so dominant at his position that opponents stopped throwing in his direction; they’d rather play with half the field. On offense, he caught 11 passes for 231 yards and a touchdown.
Oh, and his team played 12 games in that junior season of his – and won them all en route to Michigan’s last national championship.
Manning had a fabulous senior season at Tennessee. He completed 287 passes in 477 attempts (more than 60 percent) for 3,819 yards (523 against Kentucky) and 36 touchdowns against just 11 interceptions.
Oh, and Manning’s Vols finished 11-2 that year. They failed to beat Florida in all four of his tries against the perennial SEC Power in those years. And they lost 42-17 in the Orange Bowl to Nebraska, the team that stole a share of the national championship that year when the coaches, in their national poll, gave Huskers’ coach Tom Osborne a lovely parting gift on his retirement.
That’s when the debate about the need of a national title game really got serious.
According to the Heisman Trust Mission Statement: “The Heisman Memorial Trophy annually recognizes the outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity.”
It’s supposed to go to the best college football player in the land, and as good as Peyton Manning was that year the trophy went to the right guy.
Both men have had redoubtable careers in the NFL. Woodson, the fourth overall selection in 1998 by the Oakland Raiders, was the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year. More than 10 years, later, he was the league’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2009. He is one of a select few players
in the history of the league to play in the Pro Bowl in three different decades, the 1990s, 2000s and 2010s. He is among the all-time leaders in interceptions returned for touchdown. And he helped the Green Bay Packers to a Super Bowl title in 2010.
In an emotional farewell Monday in Englewood, Colorado, Manning, 39, said farewell as a player in the NFL. Manning, the first player selected in the 1998 draft, retires as the NFL's all-time passing touchdown leader (539) and passing yards (71,940). He is the first starting quarterback to win two Super Bowls with two different teams. He’s also a five-time MVP.
A better NFL career than Woodson? I’ll defer to Jim Caldwell, the Detroit Lions head coach who worked with Manning for a decade when they were with the Indianapolis Colts.
“There will never be another Peyton Manning,” Caldwell said. “I will forever cherish the 10 years I had with Peyton. His approach and commitment to the game made all of us who coached and played with him better. “While his records, Super Bowls and on-the-field accomplishments speak for themselves, what impressed me most about Peyton was his quest for being the very best. He was as driven and committed as anyone I’ve ever been around. While he obviously had tremendous God-given ability, Peyton’s preparation, dedication and commitment suggested otherwise. It was unparalleled.”
Unparalleled? Hey, I’ll buy that, too. I saw Peyton Manning toy with the Lions and a lot of other teams in a way that made me think of guys like Bobby Layne, Johnny Unitas, Bart Starr and Joe Montana.
The two other Heisman finalists in 1997 were Ryan Leaf, of Washington State, and Randy Moss, of Marshall. Both had amazing seasons that year. Leaf, a junior quarterback, completed more than 55 percent of his passes for 3,968 years and 34 touchdowns against 11 interceptions. In his sophomore season, Moss caught 96 passes for 1,820 yards – an average of 19 yards per catch – and 26 touchdowns. Leaf finished third that year in the Heisman balloting and Moss, who also had an impressive NFL career, a distant fourth.
In all my years covering sports, I’ve had a chance to cast just one Heisman Trophy vote during the year I covered Michigan football for the Detroit Free Press in that memorable season. I had an opportunity to meet Manning at an awards ceremony in Orlando, Florida, during an awards season near the end of that season, coming away with the feeling that there was a guy I’d want my son to embrace if he needed a sports hero.
But I also know this: I got that vote for Charles Woodson right, and so did 432 other voters.