Initially, I was going to use this post to argue fervently for some poor, unjustly un-Heisman'd footballer from the year 2001. I was going to do this because the actual Heisman Trophy winner in 2001 was Eric Crouch, who played for Nebraska. I was going to rail against Mr. Crouch because one, screw Nebraska and two, Crouch really was a pretty crappy Heisman winner (an opinion evidently shared by Heisman voters, since he got just 28% of the vote that year, the lowest total for a Heisman winner since Oklahoma's Billy Sims won the award in 1978 with 26% of the vote). But when you look at the field in 2001, you start to understand why Crouch was able to eke out the most votes -- it wasn't exactly a spectacular crew that year.
The leading rushers in 2001 were Chance Kretschmer of Nevada (1732 yards, 15 TDs) and Luke Staley of BYU (1582 yards, 24 TDs) -- not exactly household names. The leading receiver of 2001 was Ashley Lelie of Hawaii (1713 yards, 19 TDs). And the leading passers of 2001 were David Carr of Fresno State (4299 yards, 42/7 TD/INT, 65% completion) and Byron Leftwich (4132 yards, 38/7 TD/INT, 67% completion). Granted, you can construct a solid case for Leftwich -- he was a damn good quarterback, his team went 11-2 (although they got massacred by Florida in their only game against BCS competition and didn't even actually win the MAC), and he played in one of the greatest bowl games ever played, which was highlighted by this memorable sequence.
Of course, none of those guys were the actual runners-up to Crouch that year -- that would have been Rex Grossman (Florida QB), Ken Dorsey (Miami QB), and Joey Harrington (Oregon QB). Grossman had the most spectacular numbers of that crew (3896 yards, 34/12 TD/INT, 66%) and if his team had won the SEC Championship Game (and gone on to play in the National Title Game against Miami), he probably would have won it. Instead, Florida lost that game and Nebraska was able to back their way into the title game, despite getting eviscerated by Colorado, 62-36, in their final game of the regular season. (Grossman's candidacy was also hurt by the fact that he was a sophomore back in the days when the Heisman was the exclusive property of juniors and seniors; that notion seems downright quaint now after sophomores won three in a row from 2007-2009.)
I also considered writing about Ndamukong Suh, one of the most dominant defensive players I've ever seen and who was screwed out of a Heisman in 2009 in favor of Mark Ingram (a running back who had fewer yards and TDs than Shonn Green amassed a year earlier -- a year in which Greene didn't even get a courtesy invite to New York), but that screwjob is still fresh enough in our headmeats that I decided we probably didn't need a refresher course. I considered writing about Vince Young, one of the most breathtaking athletes I've ever seen in college football, or Troy Davis, who somehow put together back-to-back 2000-rushing yard seasons despite playing on two of the most offensively crippled and talent-bereft teams in memory. Also, all of those guys played for teams who have eloquent bloggers of their own... and on teams that I can't really stand.
Instead, I'm going to write about Chuck Long and the Heisman screwjob of 1985.
Please trust me when I tell you that this is not an easy post for me to write.
It's not because I have anything against Chuck Long (the player). No, like any good and true Iowa fan, I worship Chuck Long (the player) and have incredible respect and admiration for his accomplishments in black and gold. Chuck was awesome. The problem isn't Chuck.
The problem is Bo.
Growing up, there were two athletes that captivated me, two athletes that I adored: Michael Jordan... and Bo Jackson. My bedroom walls were adorned with posters and pennants -- and most of those posters featured MJ and Bo. They were amazing. Incredible. Spectacular. Uncanny.
Bo was a freak in the best possible way, an absurdly big man able to run at impossibly fast speeds. Watching him play football was like watching a video game with the cheat mode turned on all the time. The fact that he won the Heisman didn't bother me -- really, how could a freak of nature like him not win the Heisman? It didn't even really bother me that he won it at the expense of Chuck Long.
(Sidenote: In the interests of full disclosure, I should note that my opinions on the 1985 Heisman Trophy race were formed well after the fact, many years later. I was three when Bo narrowly beat Long for the Heisman and I suspect I was more interested in playing with my brothers' old Star Wars action figures than in figuring out which college football player was winning a big trophy. In fact, I fell in love with Bo first, thanks to his short-but-memorable NFL career with the Los Angeles Raiders. I would probably feel very differently if I had been old enough to appreciate Long in the actual moment of his greatness.)
But as my Iowa fandom grew, so too did my appreciation for Chuck Long, in particular his excellent season in 1985. I may not have been able to experience Long's brilliant first-hand (if only Chuck Long had been a Transformer... although that probably would have been an NCAA violation, really), but I was able to appreciate it vicariously through video and the host of glowing accounts written about his Iowa days. And the more I found out about Long -- and the more I became an Iowa fan -- the more I got upset that he didn't win the Heisman in 1985. That said, I never resented -- and still don't resent -- Bo Jackson for winning the Heisman that year... I just felt like Chuck Long should have won. (Thank God for humanity's ability to reconcile wholly contradictory viewpoints in one brain.)
I'm not going to list reasons why Bo Jackson shouldn't have won the Heisman that year -- again, perfectly happy with my conflicting viewpoints. But I will extoll the virtues of Chuck Long. Chuck Long threw for 2978 yards in 1985. In some ways, those numbers seem a little pedestrian compared to today, particularly in defense-allergic leagues like Conference USA and the Big XII. But at the time? They were pretty revolutionary.
We often talk about how Hayden Fry changed the Big Ten, how he led the league's transformation away from the gritty, dusty, pound-it-up-the-gut mindset that ossified during The Ten Year War, how he proved that teams not named "Michigan" and "Ohio State" could win -- and win big -- in the Big Ten. Well, Fry -- and Iowa -- don't do either one of those things without Chuck Long being Chuck Long and Chuck Long was never more Chuck Long-y than he was in 1985. (Please do not attempt to parse that sentence if you value your sanity.)
Chuck Long's stats in 1985 weren't blow-your-doors off amazing -- 231/351, 2978 yards, 26 TD/15 INT. Hell, three quarterbacks who finished behind Long in the Heisman voting had better numbers, including BYU's Robbie Bosco, Miami's Vinny Testaverde, and Purdue's Jim Everett. But Long wasn't all stats and numbers. He was the on-field leader of an Iowa team that was ranked #1 for part of the season and lodged near the top of the rankings all year. He was the guy who did things like this:
Or led game-winning drives in impossibly pressure-packed situations like this:
Come on, he was Chuck freakin' Long! He deserved to win the Heisman in 1985. (Sorry, Bo.)
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