“What does the Heisman mean to you?”
It’s an extremely open-ended question. I didn’t want to steer any player in one direction or another. I wanted the honest truth.
What does the Heisman mean to college football players? Especially the ones not up for the award.
As I finished the question, Brown laughed at me.
He must have thought I was joking. I wasn’t.
“Everybody wants to win the Heisman,” Brown said. “That’s probably one of the biggest awards.”
Brown’s right. I’ve never seen a football player trying to not win the Heisman and take his team from title contention. I have seen flat out poorly executed ball, though.
But I still didn’t feel like he answered the question. It was a gloss-over answer that could shoo me away. So I tried again.
‘Well sure, but what’s the award for?’
“The best player,” Brown responded.
We were getting nowhere.
So then I flat out asked the offensive player the offensive question.
“Do you feel like the award has gone to mainly running backs and quarterbacks?”
After all, it has been since 1997 that cornerback Charles Woodson won it while playing for Michigan. He is the first and only defensive guy to have won what the Heisman committee calls “the most prestigious award in college football.”
“I don’t know,” Brown said, clearly irritated. “I’m not the guy on the committee. You’ve got to talk to them.
“You’re asking me too many difficult questions and you’re asking the wrong guy. I think it goes to the best player.”
So I took my difficult questions to the defense. There, I found some answers.
What does the Heisman mean to you?
Defensive tackle Casey Walker said told The Oklahoman this, “Apparently I’m not gonna win it, so it don’t do nothing for me.”
Defensive captain David King called it “mainly an offensive award,” but he had a solution. Give two Heismans. One for offense and one for defense.
“It’s the whole ‘offense sells tickets, defensive wins games.’” King said. “People are obviously going to look at the highlight plays of big passes, big runs.
“A lot of times, defense does get overlooked. It’s just part of the game, how the game is. Everything’s centered around the offense.”
Defensive end R.J. Washington felt the same way.
“What do I think? Offense,” Washington said. “I mean, that’s what I think. It’s for offensive players, and if you’re on defense, you better have a lot of turnovers and play on special teams.”
Washington and King both said they hoped Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o would become the 2012 Heisman winner. Walker didn’t realize how few defensive players had won the award until The Oklahoman told him.
“I guess Te’o, his chances are slim to none,” Walker said. “I don’t know. He’s good, but, you know, defensive guy winning it is so rare since only one has done it. Whoever wins it, I’ve got much love for him.”
The general attitude among the defense, especially King, was that if a guy like Te’o can’t win the award this year, then the Heisman committee should just go ahead and name it an offensive award.
But both King and Washington said they believe defensive players get overlooked because fewer people understand the schemes, and number-wise, it’s easier to track a offensive players’ success versus what a defensive player can do.
“It’s easy to watch offense and know what’s going on, especially when you hear the crowd yelling, ‘Throw the ball! Run the ball! Now run it outside’ They don’t get that it takes plays to get it outside,” Washington said. “Defensive players have always had to run under the radar because everyone wants to just watch the offense.”
So after I understood how they felt, I asked the defensive guys one last question.
Why did you say Manti Te’o should win the Heisman?
“Nobody thought Notre Dame would be in the position they’re in now,” King said. “The way that he’s done a good job leading the team. He’s a great player, an outstanding guy from the features they do on him and he’s done a great job of being the backbone of that team.
“That’s what you want. He’s a great player, a great person, a team leader, his team’s undefeated. Why not give it to him?”