Two schools with vastly different Heisman traditions go head to head on Saturday.
Notre Dame, of course, is the all-time Heisman leader for points scored in the Heisman vote and its seven trophies ties it with Ohio State (and, technically, USC) for the school with the most Heisman wins.
Texas A&M’s history with the award is a bit more modest, as the Aggies are ranked 11th among SEC schools for Heisman points scored.
However, in the last 25 years, the difference between the two programs has not been that great. The Irish haven’t had a Heisman winners since Tim Brown in 1987 and Manti Te’o is just the third Notre Dame finalist in that span.
The most recent Irish finalist was Brady Quinn in 2006. The quarterback entered the year as the Heisman favorite and he responded with 3,246 passing yards and 37 touchdowns that season. But blowout losses to Michigan and USC soured voters on Quinn and Ohio State’s Troy Smith ran away with the Heisman. Quinn finished a distant third to Smith, with Arkansas running back Darren McFadden sandwiched between.
Quinn also finished fourth in 2005, behind Reggie Bush, Vince Young and Matt Leinart, but he was not one of the finalists in New York. Of course, with that year’s award vacated, perhaps this is the year that shall not be named.
Before Quinn, you have to go all the way back to 1992 to find a Notre Dame player who shows up in the Heisman vote. Tailback Reggie Brooks finished fifth that year behind Gino Torretta thanks to a 1,458-yard, 13-touchdown season.
In 1990, junior wide receiver Raghib Ismail was the Heisman runner up to BYU’s Ty Detmer. Ismail was one of the most electrifying players in college football history and he acquitted himself quite well in the final vote, finishing 305 votes behind Detmer while finishing second in every region but one. ‘The Rocket’ rushed for 537 yards, caught 33 passes for 699 more and was extremely dangerous as a return man. A 9-3 Irish record and the record-breaking exploits of Detmer was perhaps what did him in.
Brown’s 1987 Heisman triumph was also due to an effective all-around game. Brown easily beat out Syracuse quarterback Don McPherson and Holy Cross two-way player Gordie Lockbaum to win his school’s record (at the time) seventh trophy. The Irish were just 8-3 in the regular season but were much improved in their second year under Lou Holtz. A couple punt return touchdowns against Michigan State in game two set the tone for his campaign and elevated him to front runner status. Brown caught 39 passes for 846 yards at his primary position, but he also performed well as a running back and return man. Still, his seven total touchdowns put him on the low end of modern Heisman production.
Notre Dame’s Heisman history before 1987 is too rich and varied to recount here. Suffice it to say that the Irish dominated the 1940s and 1950s, producing three winners in the former, two in the latter and plenty of candidates. The day Notre Dame hits a renewed level of offensive proficiency, we’re likely to see more trophies emerge from this storied program.
Texas A&M’s tradition with the Heisman is a bit more sparse to say the least.
The first Aggie to show up in the Heisman vote was running back John Kimbrough, who finished second to Tom Harmon in 1940. There wasn’t another A&M player in the final tally until running back John David Crow won the trophy in 1957 under coach Paul ‘Bear’ Bryant.
Crow was one of the legendary players of the 1950s. He won the trophy despite missing almost three full games that year. He rushed for 562 yards and six touchdowns, caught two passes and threw five touchdown passes. On defense, he had five interceptions. He won the Heisman handily over Alex Karras of Iowa and Walter Kowalczyk of Michigan State. Crow was the only player to win a Heisman for Bryant.
Texas A&M didn’t have a player place in the Heisman vote again until 1990, when tailback Darren Lewis tied for eighth after rushing for 1,795 yards and 20 touchdowns. The next year, dual-threat quarterback Bucky Richardson finished 10th.
Since Richardson, no Aggies have been a factor in the Heisman, which makes Johnny Manziel’s run at the trophy all the more special.