Cook: Heisman voters got it right
Share with others:
NEW YORK -- Sorry, Pittsburgh, but the Heisman Trophy voters got it right.
No matter how much you might have wanted Larry Fitzgerald to win -- because he's a terrific player, because he's a better person and, perhaps most of all, because he plays at Pitt -- it would have been an injustice if Oklahoma quarterback Jason White hadn't won last night.
That's why my ballot had White first, Fitzgerald second and Michigan running back Chris Perry third.
To me, at least, it came down to a quarterback who touched the ball every play and had a marvelous season for a team that will play for the national championship vs. a wide receiver who got 7.25 touches a game and had a marvelous season for a team that's headed to the Continental Tire Bowl.
Set aside your provincialism and look at it objectively.
The choice had to be White.
He had a greater impact on a better team against stiffer competition.
That's the same reason I didn't have Penn State's Larry Johnson on my ballot last season even though he ran for 2,000 yards. Willis McGahee, winner Carson Palmer and Brad Banks did just as much, if not more, for better teams.
That's the best way I know to separate great players, virtually equal players.
It's a tribute to Fitzgerald that he was able to overcome a couple of built-in voter biases to finish a strong second behind White. He beat the sophomore bias; no sophomore has won the Heisman in its 69-year history. He also beat the wide receiver bias; Johnny Rodgers, Tim Brown and Desmond Howard are the only receivers to win and each also returned kicks.
But, in the end, Fitzgerald couldn't overcome Pitt's four losses. No one has won the Heisman on a team with more than three losses since Notre Dame's Brown in 1987.
"All the guys sitting up there tonight played on teams with great records and are getting ready to play in a big bowl," Fitzgerald said. "I think the losses probably hurt me the most."
Don't get the wrong idea here. This isn't about Fitzgerald losing the Heisman. To insinuate that would be insulting to him. You don't put up the numbers and make the fabulous catches that he did and lose anything.
This is about White winning the award. To say he didn't earn it would be equally insulting to him. His numbers were staggering. A passer efficiency rating of 167.99, best in the country. An almost unbelievable touchdown-to-interception ratio of 40 to 8. At least two touchdown passes in 12 of Oklahoma's 13 games. A total of 17 completions for 40 yards or more. A 17-of-21, 290-yard, four-touchdown day in the Sooners' rout of Texas, their biggest win.
You could argue White was a dud in the Big 12 Conference championship game against Kansas State and you would be right. But Fitzgerald had one of those games in Pitt's blowout home loss to Miami. Actually, he had two if you count the second half of Pitt's home loss to Notre Dame and the second half of its blowout loss at West Virginia.
There's no shame for Fitzgerald in finishing second to White.
"I was hoping they would read my name, but I'm genuinely happy for Jason," said Fitzgerald, poised, classy and a gentleman to the end.
"I got to hang with him the past couple of days. He's a tremendous guy and I have great respect for him. He's overcome so much adversity" -- two major knee injuries -- "in terms of his health.
"He deserves it."
It would be wonderful to say Fitzgerald will use his high Heisman finish as a springboard for an even better season next year, but that seems so unlikely. He refused to discuss his future again last night -- "I'm only thinking about playing Virginia in the Tire Bowl" -- but he can, should and will challenge the system to try to become eligible for the NFL draft next spring. He is more than ready to be a pro. He's going to have a great career.
Yes, a better career than White, who, it's fairly safe to say, won't be as successful in the NFL as Mississippi quarterback Eli Manning, who finished third in the Heisman voting.
But the Heisman isn't about the player who projects as the best pro. If that were the case, there would be no need for any voting. They could just present it to the player who is taken No. 1 in the NFL draft.
The Heisman is about the guy who was the most dominant college player that particular season.
This year, that was White.
First Published December 14, 2003 12:00 am