Legends of the fall
Ivan Maisel of ESPN.com has compiled a list of eight “faces of the game” for college football. The four players and four coaches who have “defied the ravages of time.”
It’s an impossible task, really. You might be able to work up a reasonable list of four coaches more epic than others, but four players? Forty players would be a massive undertaking.
But if you go only four deep, the list had better be pristine. The quartet had better be unassailable. And I don’t think this one is.
Maisel’s coaches are Notre Dame’s Knute Rockne, Alabama’s Bear Bryant, Penn State’s Joe Paterno and Florida State’s Bobby Bowden. You can argue that others deserve to be on the list, but I’ve got no beef with any of them. Rockne began the Notre Dame tradition. Bryant elevated college football into the Southern monster it is today. Paterno and Bowden have been coaching since John Quincy Adams was in the White House and both might get to 400 wins.
The players? Well, I have only one complaint.
It’s not Red Grange, Illinois’ Galloping Ghost who was a mythical star in the 1920s. Babe Ruth, Jack Dempsey, Bobby Jones, Bill Tilden, Red Grange. Those were the American superstars of the day, and there really hasn’t been a college football rise to such status since.
Maisel picked Herschel Walker, and again, I can’t disagree. Walker quite likely was the best college tailback of all time. Marcus Dupree who didn’t get homesick. Adrian Peterson who didn’t get hurt. Eric Dickerson who didn’t have to share time with Craig James. Earl Campbell who was fed the ball from the day he stepped on campus.
Maisel also chose Tommie Frazier, Nebraska’s optioneer from the 1990s, and that’s quite an intriguing choice. The option is one of the quirky charms of college football; not so much now but most definitely in the ’90s and before. Frazier was a fantastic option quarterback. Better than Jack Mildren. Better than Turner Gill. Better than them all. And Frazier’s Nebraska teams were spectacularly dominant. Frazier’s junior year, the Huskers ended their bowl jinx with an upset of Miami in the Orange Bowl. His senior year, the Huskers blasted Florida 62-24 in the Fiesta Bowl (and you thought only Oklahoma and Ohio State got rolled in national title games). I might never have thought of Frazier for such an exclusive list, so salute Maisel for an inspired pick.
But I can’t buy his final face of college football. Ohio State’s Archie Griffin. The Buckeye tailback won back-to-back Heisman Trophys, 1974 and 1975, and that’s the sum total of his campaign for this list. Was he spectacular? No. He was solid. Very solid. Unbelievably solid. But this is not a solid list. Was Griffin groundbreaking in any way? A trailblazer? No. Did he win big? No. Ohio State had zero national championships in his career. Did Griffin come up huge in big games? Probably, in games huge to Ohio State and Michigan, but not on any kind of national scale. The truth is, Griffin is on this list solely because of the Heisman Trophy, and while the Heisman, like the option, is one of those quirky charms of college football, it’s time we quit taking it so seriously. The voters from 1974 and 1975 were no more qualified to rank the sport’s best players than the voters of today. In fact, they were far less qualified. Heisman voting is FAO; for amusement only. It’s a little piece of evidence we can use, but only a little.
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