Don't tug on Superman's cape. (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
The Heisman Memorial trophy has developed a reputation as an award that goes not to the most outstanding player in college football during the regular season but rather to the player who is most effectively publicized by his athletic department and ESPN. Much of the blame for this reputation can be heaped upon the inability of several Heisman winners to put up half decent showings in the National Championship games that have followed their pre-mature coronations (here's looking at you Jason White).
However, for the most part, one can argue that every recent winner of the Heisman had at least a legitimate stake to a claim as the nation's most outstanding player. Most Texas fans will argue vehemently against this notion, branding me a liar, a traitor, or, even worse, a Californian. I won't argue the first two, but, so help me God, don't put the burden of the third on these shoulders. Thus, instead of the standard stat-filled piece we have all seen far too many times, I am simply going to try to put into words what Vince Young meant to me as a fan and how I perceive his impact on the Texas football program, which, in my opinion, is the strongest argument anyone can make for his deserving of the Heisman trophy.
The first five years of the Mack Brown era at Texas were incredibly frustrating from the fans' standpoint. We finally had a coach who was willing to utilize the innate advantages that come with being the flagship university of the biggest recruiting hotbed in the nation, a coach whose hail-fellow-well-met persona had re-awakened a fanbase that had been beaten and abused for far too long. Yet it seemed for all the recruiting accolades and flashes of promise, the Longhorns would be nothing more than perennial contenders for the Holiday/Cotton Bowl championships. Commentators, sports journalists, and the drunk mid-30s ex-frat rat, who stood behind my father and me at games and still rocked flowing Bama bangs despite his rapidly expanding bald patch, began to label us with such adjectives as "soft," "spoiled," and "weak-willed." By the end of the 2003 season, it seemed we would be able to consistently out-talent the lesser opponents on the schedule, but the chin-less mastermind in Norman had Mack's number and would soon put the final nail in the coffin of his career at Texas.
Vince Young blew all of this out of the water. While Vince's career through the first half of his sophomore year featured a few mistakes, some bad games and several calls for him to be moved to receiver by the message board gurus/idiots, the talent was clearly there, and it was developing quickly. More importantly, he brought a dynamism and attitude to the QB position that extended beyond his ability to cover 20 yards in a few strides or escape pressure in the pocket when you had already turned away from the TV grimacing at what seemed a sure sack. In 2005, Vince Young was the first QB at the University of Texas that ever had me thoroughly convinced that we would win every game we played. I was never able to say that previously, and I'm not sure if I ever will again.
Think about the games Texas won in 2005. The 2005 Ohio State team was very, very good. Teams from earlier in the Mack Brown era probably not only lose that game but lose it in very ugly fashion. The pre-VY teams didn't come back from being down 28-12 at halftime in Stillwater, but, when your 6'5 QB can spring for 80-yard TD runs at any moment, your ability to erase deficits becomes a little easier.
Since this article is supposed to discuss the Heisman, the magic of the Rose Bowl doesn't enter into the equation. Vince probably lost any shot at the Heisman with his pedestrian performance against A&M the day after Thanksgiving when he finally had a chance to be highlighted on Sportscenter without immediately being followed by Bush's latest unnecessary flip into the endzone. The truth of the matter is he probably never had a real shot at the award as long as USC went through the regular season undefeated. ESPN had already decided they were one of the greatest teams of all time, and the best player in the nation has to play on the best team. Thankfully, the Longhorns were given the chance to prove it on the field, and we were all treated to the best individual performance in college football history.
Did Vince Young deserve the Heisman? Absolutely, but, in the end, the exploits of Vince Young will be remembered for far longer than those of Eric Crouch, Gino Torretta, Jason White and, even, Reggie Bush. He was the best player to ever wear burnt orange, and Mack is very, very thankful he did. So am I.
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