Sunday, December 14, 2003

No exposure, no big honor

Roethlisberger never had a shot

Where have you Ben? Sitting in the Barcalounger, probably, watching highlights. Listening to Mark May on ESPN chat up Pitt wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald like Larry was Jerry Rice's idol.

Taking it all in, feeling informed, filling out that Heisman Trophy ballot. Sending it in before last weekend's conference title games. Oops. was Miami University's modest attempt at promoting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for the Heisman. It wasn't intended to be a serious question by the second week of December. Only, it is.

Since Miami isn't a big place with big promotional bucks and big TV appearances, we can tell you where you haven't Ben: Watching Roethlisberger throw 26 touchdowns and three interceptions in Miami's last nine games, all wins.

They awarded the Heisman last night, to someone. I didn't watch. It's a silly award. The process it uses to determine a champion makes the BCS look like the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace.

A decade ago, I wrote that everything goofy about the Heisman process could be summed up in one word:


I had a vote. I went to two or three college games a year, and watched fewer than that on TV. (Ever try to watch an entire college football game on television? They last longer than 12-hour nasal spray.)

"You described 98.6 percent of the voters," said Danny Sheridan, sports analyst for USA Today. "Most of them are lazy, incompetent or both."

For that little bit of honesty, they yanked my vote. It was the last sensible thing the Heisman people did. For some reason, they gave it back to me three years ago. I'm back inflicting my intelligence on the process.

I voted for Ben Roethlisberger.

I voted for Roethlisberger because, unlike the other 921 voters, I've seen him play in person. I voted for him because I like my vote to be validated by a player's pro potential. Ben Roethlisberger might not be Dan Marino. He'll never be Ty Detmer.

I voted for him because, just once, it'd be good to have Mr. Heisman be from someplace other than Football U. The last Heisman winner who wasn't assembled at a large university with a large promotions budget, whose team was on TV more than car ads, was Roger Staubach. He won it at Navy several hundred years ago.

Actually, the voters honored Staubach in 1963, pre-ESPN I, II and III. Don't ask me how. Maybe Oklahoma, Michigan, Ohio State, Notre Dame and Southern Cal didn't play football on TV that year.

Miami has been very good at sports for a very long time. But at the end of the day, it's still Miami ... of Ohio. Schools with Heisman winners don't need the additional qualifier. Ladies and gentlemen, your 2003 Heisman Memorial Award Winner is Larry Fitzgerald of Pittsburgh of Pennsylvania.

"An uphill battle," Miami sports publicist Mike Harris said.

It's not helped by allowing every mammal on the planet a vote. There really are 922 of us, including newspaper writers, TV hacks, former Heisman winners, Avon ladies and Wal-Mart greeters. Most of us wouldn't know Matt Leinart if he appeared on our doorstep selling Girl Scout cookies.

If the Heisman folks wanted to be fair, they'd have waited another week before announcing the winner. That would have hurt the TV rating, however. Yesterday was dead. Next Saturday features NFL games. Some of the illustrious 922 sent in their ballots before Oklahoma QB Jason White tanked last week against Kansas State (0 TDs, two interceptions, 35-7 loss) and before Roethlisberger threw for 440 yards, four scores and no picks in Miami's rout of Bowling Green.

The best player on the OU-KSU field last Saturday was Kansas State's Darren Sproles, who had 317 total yards, giving him 2,230 for the year. But K-State lost three straight midway through the year and wasn't on TV much, so the illustrious 922 nodded off on him a long time ago.

Harris said, "It has never been a goal of Ben's or ours" to win the Heisman. But it was, of course. A smaller school can't buy that sort of publicity. Regardless, Miami will get a second chance next year, if Roethlisberger doesn't leave early.

He'll lose then, too. Barcalounger evaluations favor those who star on the wide screen.



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