The Heisman Trophy is Irrelevant

By Mark Nagi

Back in 1997, some 25 years ago, Peyton Manning was favored to win the Heisman Trophy.

He threw for 3819 yards (3rd in the nation) and 36 passing touchdowns (4th in the nation). He had led Tennessee to the SEC title.

Manning was capping off a legendary college career and expected to become the first Tennessee player to win the Heisman.

It didn’t happen.

In a shocking development, Michigan’s Charles Woodson became the first primarily defensive player to win the award. Hadn’t happened before. Hasn’t happened since. And the final vote wasn’t even that close, with Woodson getting 272 points more than Manning. The South was the only region to favor Manning.

For the fourth time, a Tennessee player would be the runner up. Hank Lauricella, Johnny Majors, Heath Shuler and now Manning. The Majors decision from 1956 is especially galling, as he lost to Paul Hornung, whose Notre Dame squad went 2-8 that year.

Many Vols fans stopped caring about the award from that day. The Heisman became known as the “Heistman.”

Since then, there hasn’t been a Tennessee player that has been anyplace close to earning a trip to Manhattan for the award ceremony.

Fast forward to 2022. Unexpectedly, the Vols have returned to the national college football conversation and the biggest reason why (other than head coach Josh Heupel) is quarterback Hendon Hooker.

The 6th year senior was the on and off-the-field leader that the Tennessee Volunteers football program has been sorely lacking for many years. This season Hooker threw for 3135 yards and 27 touchdowns, all while throwing only two interceptions and completing nearly 70% of his passes. He also rushed for 430 yards and 5 scores.

Hooker’s Tennessee legacy was set on October 15 when the Vols hosted Alabama. Hooker threw for 385 yards and 5 touchdowns, each one to Biletnikoff Award winner Jalin Hyatt. Hooker also rushed for 56 yards. His passes to Ramel Keyton and Bru McCoy that put the Vols into game-winning field goal range will be remembered as fondly as Manning’s bootleg against Alabama in 1995 or any Al Wilson forced fumble against Florida in 1998.

Tennessee’s 52-49 victory snapped a 15-game losing streak to the Crimson Tide, in one of the greatest college football games ever played.

Hooker led the Vols to a win over Florida, only UT’s second since 2004. He also led the Vols to a win at LSU, snapping a 5-game losing streak to the Tigers.

He tore his ACL in the South Carolina game, ending his college career with one game to go. But there’s no way that Tennessee goes 10-2 without him.

Off the field, Hendon and his brother Alston, a quarterback at North Carolina A&T, wrote a book, “The ABC’s of Scripture for Athletes.”

Hendon Hooker is a tremendous ambassador for the University that would be a worthy recipient of the award that is supposed to go to college football’s best player.

And Hooker won’t win the award. In fact, he wasn’t even named as a finalist.

I’m not going to take anything away from the four players that were sent to New York City (the award was handed out last Saturday night). They are all terrific.

But Hooker getting left out is a joke.

If a player of Hooker’s caliber, the best offensive player on the best offense in the country, isn’t even a finalist for the award that is supposed to recognize the best player in the game, how are we to take said award seriously?

We aren’t.

I’m of the mindset that a Tennessee player will never win the Heisman Trophy.

From what we’ve seen, that’s no great tragedy.