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Legends and, um, Lattner

By Tom Jones
Published December 9, 2006


Today, the Heisman Trophy, the most prestigious award in college football, will be handed out in New York, most likely to Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith. The award dates to 1935. So now is the time to look back at the history of the Heisman. Who was the most deserving winner? The least deserving? Who gave the best acceptance speech? Get our picks and a few bits of trivia as Times staff writer Tom Jones look back at the best and worst of the Heisman Trophy.

Five most undeserving Heisman winners

Gary Beban, 1967: The UCLA quarterback threw for less than 1,400 yards and he had the same number of touchdowns - eight - as interceptions. He did run for 11 TDs but only gained 227 yards on the ground.

Johnny Lattner, 1953. The halfback from Notre Dame was a great all-around player but didn't even lead the Irish in passing, rushing, receiving or scoring. In one of the most controversial Heismans ever, he nudged out Minnesota's Paul Giel.

Paul Hornung, 1956. Hornung was a good player, for sure. And while statistics aren't a true indicator on how good he was, he still rushed for 420 yards and had 1,337 yards of total offense. Worse yet, the Irish were awful. They went 2-8 that season.

John David Crow, 1957. The Texas A&M running back had a good season - when he played. Injuries limited him to just seven games, in which he rushed for 562 yards and only six touchdowns.

Gino Torretta, 1992. It's not that Torretta had a bad season. He did, after all, throw for 19 touchdowns and more than 3,000 yards. But this was the prime example of a guy winning the Heisman because there was no one else worth voting for. In most other seasons, the Miami QB would've been lucky to finish in the top five.

Closest Heisman races

1985: Bo Jackson (Auburn) over Chuck Long (Iowa) by 45 points.

1961: Ernie Davis (Syracuse) over Bob Ferguson (Ohio State) by 53.

1953: Johnny Lattner (Notre Dame) over Paul Giel (Minnesota) by 56.

1989: Andre Ware (Houston) over Anthony Thompson (Indiana) by 70.

1956: Paul Hornung (Notre Dame) over Johnny Majors (Tennessee) by 72.

Barry Sanders, 1988: The Oklahoma State running back rushed for - get this - 2,850 yards and scored 44 touchdowns that season, including the bowl game.

Marcus Allen, 1981: USC's tailback became the NCAA's first 2,000-yard rusher that season with 2,427 yards. He had five consecutive games of 200 yards rushing or more. Throw in 34 receptions and 23 touchdowns.

Tony Dorsett, 1976: The Pitt back fell just 52 yards short of 2,000 yards for the season. He averaged 215 yards a game for the final seven games.

Danny Wuerffel, 1996. The Gator had a QB rating of 170.6 as Florida rolled up an average of 46 points per game in its national championship season.

Mike Rozier, 1983. The Nebraska back rushed for more than 100 yards in all 11 regular-season games. He averaged 7.8 yards per carry and ended up with 2,148 yards on the ground and 29 touchdowns.

Five best Heisman seasons

Five Heisman winners who had best NFL careers

Roger Staubach Navy, 1964

O.J. Simpson USC, 1968

Tony Dorsett Pitt, 1976

Marcus Allen SC, 1981 Barry Sanders Oklahoma State, 1988

 

By the numbers

40 Running backs who have won the award

23 Quarterbacks who have won the award

20 Defensive players who have finished on the top five in voting

17 Heisman winners who were selected first overall in the NFL draft

1 Defensive player who has won the Heisman (Charles Woodson, Michigan, 1991)

Most lopsided Heisman races

1968

O.J. Simpson (USC) over Leroy Keyes (Purdue) by 1,750 points.

1993

Charlie Ward (FSU) over Heath Shuler (Tennessee) by 1,622 points.

1991

Desmond Howard (Michigan) over Casey Weldon (FSU) by 1,574 points.

1998

Ricky Williams (Texas) over Michael Bishop (Kansas St.) by 1,563 points.

1986

Vinny Testaverde (Miami) over Paul Palmer (Temple) by 1,541 points.

Schools with the most winners

7 Notre Dame, Southern Cal

6 Ohio State

4 Oklahoma

3 Army, Nebraska Michigan

NOTE: Archie Griffin won the award twice and Troy Smith is expected to win today, which would tie Ohio State with Notre Dame and USC with the most Heisman winners.

Five players who should've won the Heisman

Hugh Green, 1980. The Pitt defensive end was the most dominant player in college football. But this was back when defensive players had no chance to win the award. The soon-to-be Buc was second to South Carolina RB George Rogers.

Rex Grossman, 2001. Bottom line is the Florida QB lost because he was a sophomore and the winner, QB Eric Crouch of Nebraska, was a senior. Grossman threw for more than 300 yards in every game but one - when he threw for 290.

Dick Butkus, 1964. Defensive players never had a chance, but the Illinois linebacker deserved the award instead of Notre Dame QB John Huarte.

Jim Brown, 1956. Simply astounding that Brown never won a Heisman. The Syracuse running back should've won in 1956 instead of Paul Hornung. In fact, he finished fifth, and it's clear racism played a role. Journalist Dick Schaap was so outraged over the decision, he boycotted the Heisman voting for more than two decades.

O.J. Simpson, 1967. The only reason he didn't win was because he was a junior. The USC running back lost to UCLA quarterback Gary Beban. When the teams played that season, Simpson was the star in the Trojans victory. Simpson got his Heisman the next season.