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A Heisman primary yields no early leader

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By GARY SHELTON, Times Sports Columnist

© St. Petersburg Times
published September 8, 2002


GAINESVILLE -- The game began with thoughts of the Heisman Trophy. It ended that way, too.

Today, for instance, it is possible to imagine the hallowed trophy, strong and determined, with one arm cradling the football and the other stretched out to ward off any competition.

Then you imagine the Heisman Trophy dropping the ball, reaching both hands to its face and covering its eyes.

This just in from the Heisman committee: Never mind.

In the first primary in the race for college football's grandest individual award, Miami's Ken Dorsey was below average, and Florida's Rex Grossman was worse than that. This was disappointing. And even more disappointing. The world expected fireworks. It got implosions.

In the end, Dorsey's Miami team won big against Florida, 41-16, but that was more of a tribute to a program than a player. The Hurricanes are a great team, and they have an okay quarterback.

But the Heisman? The award for the best player in the country?

Come on.

Face it. Miami is a great team and if Saturday was any indication, it has reloaded every chamber. Before the year is over this team might be as good as last year's, which might have been as good as any UM team. So if the academy insists on presenting a Heisman to the 'Canes, there are a lot of places you can put it.

Give it to tailback Willis McGahee, for instance, who is a newborn star. Or to brutish tackle Vernon Carey, who could block Mount McKinley if ever there is an avalanche. Or linebacker Jonathan Vilma. Or you could just toss it in the middle of that defensive line and, once the growling is complete, let the survivor keep it.

Dorsey? The guy looks good with a winning scoreboard over his shoulder. National championship rings look good on his hand. And he's been at the wheel for 28 victories in 29 starts.

But is Dorsey the best player in the country?

Heck, is he the best player on his team?

This was supposed to be the game in which Dorsey or Grossman surged to the early lead in the Heisman race. After all, Grossman was second last year, Dorsey third. It was supposed to be one of those high-noon, middle-of-the-street showdowns. Instead, one gunslinger shot the barkeep and the school marm, and the other shot the kindly doc and the blacksmith.

Grossman, harassed and pounded by the UM defensive line for much of the night, hit 19 of 45 passes for 191 yards and no touchdowns. Dorsey was slightly better, hitting 16 of 32 for 202 yards. Dorsey threw three interceptions. Grossman threw two and had a third nullified by penalty.

Then there was this: At a point in the game when Miami was threatening to run away with it, Dorsey had an interception returned for a touchdown.

A few minutes later, when Florida had a chance to get back in the game, Grossman had an interception returned for a touchdown.

"I made a few errors that cost us in our comeback, and I take full blame for it," Grossman said.

Dorsey made some mistakes too. At times, he looks awkward and unsettled. At times, he seems to be carried by his team, rather than the other way around. Even his coach, Larry Coker, talked about Dorsey making atypical judgment errors.

"I played well enough to win," Dorsey said.

And that's the point. Dorsey did play well enough to win. Again. He is a remarkable calming presence to his team, and he has a knack for making the big play. He did throw for four touchdowns against the Gators. But the Heisman?

Look, Dorsey wins too much to rip. But it isn't really a knock to suggest someone isn't the finest player in America. The guy is steady. He keeps the keel even. But is that enough for a Heisman?

The thing is, that's the way the Heisman works. There seems to be some sort of agreement that the quarterback on a great team is an automatic leader, whether he is the key component to his team or just one of the sprockets. It's a flawed system that sometimes gives its award to a flawed player. (See: Torretta, Gino).

Perhaps the Heisman committee should give its award to Miami center Brett Romberg. Or at least ask him what he thinks of the race after Saturday's game.

Romberg hesitates, then says: "Who are the other contenders?"

Good question. Who is there to challenge Dorsey? Byron Leftwich at Marshall? Can you win the Heisman from Marshall? Jason Gesser at Washington State? Will anyone see him? Chris Simms at Texas? Will his team win enough? Grossman? Can his team rebound?

That's why, despite this night, Dorsey still has a chance. The Heisman is like that. It rewards the glory positions at the glory schools. If Miami wins at Tennessee, at FSU, against Virginia Tech, then Dorsey will emerge as the safe choice.

And if the voters decide he doesn't deserve it?

Then he'll just have to settle for another national championship trophy. Poor guy.

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