For those of you that aren’t aware, I spent the better part of six years living in the Southeast region of our fine country. Two years in Florida, four in Georgia. I loved my time there. The people were great, the food is and will always be my favorite and everybody is amicable and welcoming.
Until college football season starts.
One of the first lessons that I learned is that you don’t even try to argue with anyone about the SEC or any of their member teams. When it comes down to it, you can’t spell “supremacy” without S,E or C, and I’m a pretty strong believer of that (on the whole.) Top to bottom, the Southeastern Conference is a ridiculous mess of teams who can take each other out on any given Saturday, but who will also be almost guaranteed to send their conference champion to the BCS title game. It’s a fact and we all just need to get on board with that.
But sometimes that pride and entitlement gets taken a bit too far. Combine that with any one of the fan bases that feels like they have been “screwed over” in the last 20 years, and all of a sudden the hard feelings show up and the venom starts flowing. What’s the point of all of this? Glad you asked.
Over at ESPN.com, SEC blogger Chris Low posted a piece about the effort that is underway in Knoxville to hype up Eric Berry for the Heisman trophy this year. Nothing wrong with that. Berry’s a baller, but unless his team is better than everyone thinks, he’s going to have to have an OUTSTANDING season to make a real charge for the hardware. Anyways, in the midst of Low’s discussion of Berry, he decided to start launching salvos across the better part of a decade at Charles Woodson’s 1997 Heisman run.
The Heisman Trophy has been a dirty word on Rocky Top ever since Peyton Manning was jobbed of college football’s most prestigious individual award back in 1997.
I’m not one of those conspiracy theorists, but there sure seemed to be a movement by some in 1997 to keep Manning from winning the award. Part of it was his being forced down everybody’s throats for four years, and part of it was the fact that he was winless against Florida.
Never mind that he delivered Tennessee its first SEC championship since the advent of the league championship game, was the driving force behind the Vols’ remarkable 45-5 run from 1995-98 and threw for 3,819 yards and 36 touchdowns his senior season.
He was saddled with the label of not being able to win the big one — and despite his enormous talents — became that guy some voters took glee in voting against.
How else do you explain 93 of the 921 electors that year not even having Manning on their ballots?
OK, before we go through this, let’s go ahead and just toss out the “it’s been 12 years and it’s time to move on” argument. I’ve highlighted above that SEC fans can hold a grudge longer than eternity, so I won’t waste my breath on that. With that out of the way, let’s get down to it.
First of all, I LOVE that this slam of Woodson is cleverly hidden inside of an article that is supposedly highlighting the efforts of the University of Tennessee to promote a star player. Those efforts garner a whopping 5 SENTENCES in this piece. The Manning/Woodson argument? Double that. Hey Low, next time you want to piss and moan about one of your sore spots, maybe you should think about backing it up with more than just “feelings”. According to Low, Peyton got “jobbed” out of the award, even thought the winner is determined by handing ballots to live human beings to vote for the most deserving player. It’s not like there was some magical BCS formula where Woodson, Manning, Ryan Leaf and Randy Moss’ stats were tossed into a computer, and after some complex calculations were finished, the winner’s name was spit out on a piece of paper. And if you want to tell me that hundreds of coaches, former players and media members got together in some sort of secret “cabal” to vote against Manning, then I want to tell you that there’s a job at the National Enquirer that you would be perfect for. People voted. Woodson won. Deal with it.
But for the sake of this discussion, let’s look at Low’s reasoning for the so-called “Manning conspiracy”.
“Part of it was the fact that he was winless against Florida…He was saddled with the label of not being able to win the big one.”
I’m sorry, Chris, but give us a break. Woodson cemented his name on that trophy with an incredible performance against Michigan’s biggest opponent in the biggest game in over 50 years for the Wolverines. With a conference title, and undefeated regular season and a shot at a national championship hanging in the balance, all Woodson did was set up Michigan’s first touchdown with a long catch, return a punt for a TD and make a key interception to preserve the Wolverines’ lead. Manning against Florida? Two interceptions (one an 89 yard “pick six”) and a 33-14 hole that was all but insurmountable in an eventual loss. Yes, Manning added some garbage stats at the end of the game, but on the biggest stage against their biggest opponents, one player dominated and the other choked. Low wants you to forget that fact and side with him because of Manning’s 3,819 yards and 36 touchdowns through the air. And while those are great numbers, they didn’t translate into a crucial win over Florida, where the play of Woodson did over Ohio State. Woodson delivered. Manning didn’t. Deal with it.
OK Chris, what’s the point of the the reference to the 1998 season? I’m sorry, but did Peyton Manning lead that team to a national title? No. It was Tee Martin, lest we forget. So the whole “laid the groundwork” for that team’s success may be true in a sense, but has NOTHING to do with the 1997 Heisman voting. That is, unless the voters had a time machine to go into the future, see Tennessee win it all, and then say “OHHHH, better give Peyton the trophy since he paved the way for this title.”
After laying out such a thoughtful and well crafted argument, Low decides to slam home his point by giving you a (questionable, at best) statistic about Manning being left off of 92 of the 921 voter ballots, therefore confirming a conspiracy was in the works all along. That’s great Chris. But a closer look shows that while Manning was actually left off of 97 ballots, Woodson was left off of 75 ballots as well. Might this be an argument if the voting was closer? Maaaybe. But Woodson cleaned house, locking up 5 of the 6 regions and coming in second in the (you guessed it) South. But even in the South, Woodson finished only 79 points behind Manning, whereas Manning was the runner-up in the Midwest to Woodson, but by a whopping 137 points. Even in Manning’s back yard, voters knew that Woodson was the real deal, and Peyton couldn’t do enough to rally voters.
Yes, Tennessee fans will continue to whine and complain and declare Woodson’s win a “fraud.” Whatever. That’s mostly the pride of a great state with a great player on their team. This argument will live on in bars and pool halls for another 50 years more than likely, but that’s exactly where it should live. Not on the SEC blog on ESPN.com. Low: If you want to enlighten us on how the school plans to promote a great player, feel free to do so. But if you want to piss and moan about Manning’s loss, head to your nearest watering hole, grab a frosty beverage (your choice), turn to the nearest local in a Vols hat and let ‘er rip. But spare the rest of us. We’ve moved on.