It is a belief commonly held by Florida fans that Rex Grossman deserved the Heisman Trophy in 2001, as much or more than Nebraska's Eric Crouch and more than Ken Dorsey, the steward of that year's unstoppable Miami squad. The 7th Floor sort of demonstrated that much with facts and statistics earlier this week.
But the Heisman is not an award given for the best stats in college football in a given season; many players who did not win Heisman Trophies would have them if it were. Instead, as Barking Carnival notes, it's more like an Academy Award, given subjectively for best performance, and often to completely undeserving players. Here's the story of how Paul Hornung won the 1956 Heisman Trophy:
Paul Hornung - captain of a 2-8 Notre Dame football team - wins a close victory over a group of notables including Johnny Majors of Tennessee, OU's sensational Tommy McDonald (he never lost a game at OU), and Syracuse's Jim Brown. Yeah, THAT Jim Brown. Brown placed 5th overall despite finishing 1st in the country in rushing yards per game, setting the NCAA record for points in game with 43, acting as the team's placekicker, and setting the school record for yards per carry. He also led the basketball team in scoring and was an All-American in lacrosse. He placed first in the Eastern Region voting, but wasn't in the Top 5 in any other region in America. Apparently, his last name was a helpful warning for voters - we wouldn't get our first black Heisman trophy winner until 1961 (another Syracuse RB who wore #44 - Ernie Davis).
Aside from highlighting clear racial injustice, there were at least a dozen players more deserving than Hornung. Probably the greatest Heisman fraud of all time. During the year Hornung ran for 420 yards, averaging 4.5 yards per carry and threw for 917. On a team that won 20% of its games. There are no words.
With that in mind, I think Grossman lost his Heisman on two plays in 2001. And only one featured him.
This is the first one, Black 41 Flash Reverse. Warning: This video features a Nebraska quarterback doing a thing.
Eric Crouch's 63-yard touchdown catch was the most memorable play of his 2001 campaign, and maybe of the 2001 season. It lifted Nebraska to the 20-10 win the Cornhuskers got against Oklahoma in the year's biggest regular season game, was by far his best play on the day (Oklahoma held Crouch to 21 rushing yards, his lowest-ever output on the ground as a starter, and he threw for a typically pedestrian 102 yards and one touchdown), and crystallized who Crouch was as a player: A versatile, resilient playmaker who would get Nebraska a victory no matter what.
Crouch had his share of other highlight plays in 2001 — his 95-yard touchdown run against Missouri is maybe the finest single offensive play in Nebraska history, and more impressive than the catch against Oklahoma, but it came a) against Missouri and b) in September — but that touchdown catch is the one I remember getting replayed endlessly.
Grossman couldn't match that. Though his own highlight reel is impressive, he's doing a lot more beautiful touch passing than the Brett Favre-style slinging he's more remembered for, doing it to wide open receivers more often than not, and benefiting from a fair few catch-and-runs. The latter two things were benefits to playing in Steve Spurrier's offense, and with the caliber of players Spurrier recruited after Danny Wuerffel did the same things and won a deserved Heisman that doubled as a lifetime achievement award in 1996, but it didn't necessarily help Grossman's Heisman candidacy.
Here's what killed it, though.
I know it's sort of unfair to blame Darnell Dockett illegally wrenching Earnest Graham's knee for Florida's loss to Tennessee the next week, but Graham at full strength probably helps the Gators get past that Tennessee team and to the SEC Championship Game. And Graham never getting his knee wrenched would have meant the story that week wasn't Spurrier taking up for him, but instead the profound weirdness of a terrorist attack moving the Florida-Tennessee game to December and Grossman's incredible season.
If Florida had beaten Tennessee in that game, those Gators would probably have played for the national title: They were No. 2 in the BCS standings heading into that week, thanks to Colorado dropping an avalanche on Nebraska in a 62-36 barn-burner two weeks prior, and the LSU team that upset the Vols in the 2001 SEC Championship Game was one that Florida gutted, 44-15, earlier in the year, with Grossman setting a school record with 464 passing yards.
Grossman would, at least, have topped 4,000 yards on the season before a bowl game, and maybe threatened Wuerffel's school record of 39 passing touchdowns that season. And so Heisman voters would have had to pick between the record-setting quarterback of the No. 2 team in the country, the very good but unspectacular quarterback of the No. 1 team, and the thrilling field general of a team that didn't even win its conference — and they might have had to take the extraordinary step of postponing the vote, given that Grossman would have been playing in the SEC Championship Game on the day the award was handed out.
I know which player I would have picked.
In reality, on Saturday, December 8, 2001 the Heisman voters picked Crouch over Grossman, leaving many scratching their heads and chalking the loss up to Grossman's status as a sophomore.
Six years later, Tim Tebow would become the first sophomore to win the Heisman Trophy.
He should have been the second.
This post was sponsored by EA Sports' NCAA Football 13. Check out the video for the game below.
EA SPORTS NCAA Football 13 TV: "Son" (via EASPORTS)