The 2014 Heisman Trophy will be awarded Saturday to a humble, soft-spoken college graduate whose acceptance speech figures to make Russell Wilson’s next “we’ve gotta take each game one at a time” assurance sound like a Kanye West rant.
Unless Marcus Mariota is on a football field, throwing darts and running for daylight and generally compiling statistics as gaudy as his flavor-of-the-week uniform, the Oregon quarterback’s style is no style. Although ESPN will attempt to leaven its broadcast by contriving some suspense before the statue is presented to the all-but-official winner, the network’s hourlong show Saturday could be reduced to the few minutes Mariota must endure a spotlight he’s never aspired to face.
The announcement of Mariota’s first-place finish — it’s anticipated he’ll win by a landslide margin — won’t be must-see TV, but what’s bad for television is good for the Heisman Trophy Foundation. For the folks associated with the most prestigious individual award in American sports, there’s such a thing as too much drama.
In 2010, Auburn’s Cam Newton won amid a storm of questions about his collegiate eligibility. At 6-feet-6 and 250 pounds, Newton was a transcendent talent with the body of a defensive end and the agility of a running back. He combined the gifts and became a cutting-edge quarterback, but some voters — and I was among them — couldn’t ignore the eligibility issue.
In 2012, the trophy went to Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, a second-year freshman who practically embodied the word “fresh.” Manziel accepted the award and, almost overnight, decided to parlay it into a celebrity tour that took him to casinos and golf resorts and tropical-climate swimming pools where umbrella drinks are served under umbrellas
Johnny Football committed no crimes, aside from the fact he caused millions of us envy the lifestyle of a college freshman.
The runner-up that year? Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o, he of the Internet hoax involving the dearly departed girlfriend who never lived.
Too much drama, as I was saying, and just when the smoke cleared from 2012, Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston took home the trophy despite accusations he committed sexual assault. No charges were pressed, but the saga was murky, and suspicions lingered.
Of the 900 voters who participated in the Heisman Trophy election last year, 115 left Winston off their ballot. Between a subsequent citation for shoplifting, and the half-game suspension he served this season for shouting profanities in the FSU student union, Winston scuttled any chance to join Ohio State running back Archie Griffin as the Heisman Trophy’s only two-time recipients.
Given the controversies swirling around the recent Heisman winners, Marcus Mariota is a godsend: An actual student-athlete whose only flaw might be his genteel nature. Spit and vinegar are regarded as essential components of an NFL quarterback's makeup, and Mariota’s milquetoast diet calls for neither.
It’s difficult for a guy to conjure a persona of perpetual outrage when he’s throwing for 3,783 yards and 38 touchdowns, and rushing for 669 yards and 14 touchdowns, and catching a pass for still another touchdown — all while leading his team to a No. 2 seed berth in the College Football Playoff, via the Rose Bowl.
Mariota’s Heisman Trophy will sustain a trend of voters recognizing modern dual-threat quarterbacks, which began with the 2010 choice of Newton and was followed by Baylor’s Robert Griffin III election in 2011.
Newton, Griffin, Manziel, Winston, Mariota … It’s easy to connect the dots.
And yet Mariota’s award will be historic: He looms as the first Heisman recipient from Hawaii, the first Heisman recipient of Samoan descent, and only the second Heisman recipient associated with a school in the Pacific Northwest.
It took voters 27 years before they selected a winner from the this region — Oregon State quarterback Terry Baker, in 1962 — and the 52-year gap between Baker and Mariota has been almost twice as long.
Pacific Northwest football fans have a reason to stand proud. When Mariota acknowledges applause Saturday, our backyard will be home to as many Heisman Trophy winners as Yale.
Voters are prohibited from revealing their ballots before the trophy presentation, so I can’t offer full disclosure on the three players whose names I submitted. I can’t even offer semi-full disclosure.
What I can offer is my memory of voting in 2013. I waited, literally, until the 11th hour, hoping for resolution in the apparently bungled assault case against Winston. There was no resolution and no charge, so I chose Jameis Winston as college football’s most outstanding player.
Mixed emotions? That’s one way of putting it. A more accurate way of putting it is that I held my nose, and closed my eyes, and pushed the send key on a laptop.
What a difference a year makes.