Sam McKewon of the Nebraska State Paper makes his case here for why defensive players should be considered for the Heisman.
It’s a well-thought-out piece and the author appears to be familiar with the arguments offered on this site.
The question we’re posing here – not that it’s new, and not that someone else, somewhere else isn’t making it right at this moment – is this: Why won’t any of them have a prayer of winning the Heisman? Hell, forget winning it: Why do none of them have a prayer of even being invited to New York?
It’s really an easy question. Defensive players don’t have a chance because football is all about the ball. Foot-ball. Without the ball, it’d just be ‘foot’ and we’d have a bunch of guys running around kicking each other in the shins.
The fate of the ball determines which team wins the game, so people naturally obsess over that. Who’s got the ball? What’s he doing with it? Wow, he threw the ball so far!
People who don’t know football at least know to follow the ball. They are not as impressed by those trying to stop the ball. If they are so good, why aren’t they carrying the ball?
A quarterback touches the ball on almost every down. Running backs can be involved in maybe half a team’s plays in a given game, if not more. Receivers and returners can change a game in an instant (though they are easier to shut down). That’s why these positions get all the attention–they control the ball and, hence, control the outcome of the game. The more you have the ball, the better your odds of doing something to recognizably help your team.
The Heisman Trophy itself has a football tucked under its arm. He is trying to keep the defender away from him with his stiff arm. The defender is the enemy!
Heisman voters take their responsibility seriously and want to be able to quantify a player’s contribution to his team. At some point, you can’t spin numbers. It’s easy to quantify the output of quarterbacks, running backs, receivers and returners. Not so with defensive players. Everyone knows that rushing for 2,000 yards is a big accomplishment. How many sacks should a defensive end have? Beats me.
A great defensive player can finish a game with one tackle and affect the game by influencing how the offense calls its plays. Maybe they run away from him 90 percent of the time. Maybe he fills his assignments perfectly. Maybe he takes up double teams. But it isn’t easy to justify to average observers the notion that the player had an outstanding game despite having only one tackle to his credit.
Furthermore, those defensive players who do put up gaudy numbers invariably become victims of their own success. A cornerback who starts a season with 7 interceptions in 7 games, for instance, will probably not have many balls thrown his way during the remainder of the schedule. A defensive end rolling up the sacks will find them hard to come by once offenses scheme around him.
Until some creative sports information director or media member finds a new way to track defensive output, it will remain an uphill climb for defenders when it comes to competing for the Heisman.
Luckily, we have all those other cool awards like the Outland and Thorpe to recognize these players and their importance to the game.