Heisman winner was a given, so
show lacked television pizazz

Dec 12, 2006 5:24 AM

They threw fruit at the producers of the Heisman Award show on ESPN last Saturday night, and the boys in the back room who edit the tape made fruit salad out of it. The show was a mishmash that must have taken weeks to throw together, the final product reflecting day and night editing to provide some semblance of continuity.

The worst kept secret in America was that Troy Smith of Ohio State would romp, so how do you maintain suspense? Under those circumstances, you punt and pray.

For one thing, you open with schmaltz, the usual ESPN football conglomeration of guys getting their heads knocked off, landing upside down, getting sacked by defensive locomotives, the stuff that now is standard football fare on television.

Then you get 25 or so former winners of the Heisman, aging fast, and you cover them somehow, with huge blowups of them surrounding the festivities.

Add Chris Fowler, burdened with a florid script that kept his head bobbing up and down, and — thank goodness — a minor role for a subdued Lee Corso, restrained for once from pointing a pencil and bullying viewers with know-it-all arrogance.

Fowler, pleasant and amiable as always, was "one of the guys." Everyone in the room was "a guy" to him”¦.the three candidates, the past winners, the whole sports crowd.

All this may not have made for award-winning television, but it was a glitzy job, combining heavy duty editing of pre-shot interviews with live ones on the spot, creating a dizzying array of "the guys" on and off the stage. There was the usual narrative of growing-up-under-difficult-circumtances, and a successful effort of making a once bad boy look like a Sunday school standout.

Smith handled his role well. He was humble, although humility is difficult to convey when you’re wearing the Hope diamond as an earring in your left ear.

If anyone in the crowd was surprised, it might have been the hero of the Fighting Irish, Brady Quinn. A handsome, wholesome prototype of how Notre Dame heroes are expected to look, he conveyed the impression that he thought he might win this one coming from behind, as he and Notre Dame teams have done since Knute Rockne implored them to "win one for the Gipper." Quinn finished third behind Arkansas running back Darren McFadden, who seemed almost sullen through the proceedings, perhaps dazzled by his visit to New York, which Fowler reminded all was still "The Big Apple."

The landslide victory for the bad boy turned good was exceeded only once in Heisman history, by the good boy turned bad. That was O. J. Simpson, who won the Heisman 38 years ago — is that possible? — by 1,750 votes. Smith won by 1,662, almost everyone agreeing with the decision.

One who did not was sportswriter Ryan Finley, who argued in the Arizona Daily Star, under a huge headline reading Success vs. Statistics, that Smith was not the right man for the Heisman.

His candidate was Colt Brennan, quarterback of Hawaii, who finished sixth in the Heisman balloting. Finley wrote that Brennan overshadowed Smith in every respect except hype. He passed for almost twice as much yardage — 4,990 to 2,507; threw for 53 touchdowns to Smith’s 30, and had a 182.8 rating against Smith’s 167.9. Not, of course, against the same opponents.

If you haven’t heard of Brennan, Finley wrote, "you have not been staying up late enough." Hawaii was a midnight staple on TV, he noted, and "like any late-night HBO or Cinemax movie, the Warriors had the action, flash, and, yes, sex appeal to keep us from spinning the dials or dozing off."

Colt Brennan is a junior. If he stays in school, Finley thinks "he will finish as the most prolific passer in the history of the sport." As a horse guy, I can’t wait. A Colt winning the Heisman. Now there’s a show.