Rarely will you find defensive players who can possibly fill the bill for winning a Heisman Trophy. This has been proven annually throughout the history of college football. Today I’ve brought along a few All-Americans from Aggieland who were with me in the Seventies. Why the Seventies? It’s when the game changed forever. Right after the Jets won Super Bowl III in 1969, the lights also came on with the college football scene.
Each of these guys I’ll introduce had wonderfully exciting credentials that, if we’d had any real street cred in those days, could have had cases made for them for winning a Heisman.
Let’s start with middle linebacker Robert Jackson, who was a consensus All-American as a senior in 1976 and a finalist for the Lombardi Award. Robert led the team in tackles with 143 while sitting out the season finale against Texas. He also led the Aggies to two bowl games and the first consecutive 10-win seasons in A&M history. He was the Front Seven catalyst for the “Mad Dog” Defense that led the nation in both total defense and rushing defense in 1975, while the team ranked No. 4 nationally in total defense in 1976. We played only D-1 schools, by the way. Robert was a first-round draft pick of the Cleveland Browns in 1977.
I don’t want to mention any names here, but there’s a linebacker wearing Blue and Gold (and sometimes Green) who is up for the Heisman this year. In 12 games he has 103 tackles. Sure, he has another game to play, but we’re still looking for a track record even close to what our very own Robert Jackson had.
How about the tremendous defensive back, Lester Hayes? Lester the Molester earned All-American laurels as a senior in 1976 after intercepting eight passes and breaking up six others while leading A&M to a No. 7 A.P. national ranking. He picked off three in his final game against Texas. Lester’s 14 career interceptions were an all-time school record and currently rank him second in A&M history. A&M led the Southwest Conference in total defense throughout his career and ranked in the top four nationally from 1974-76. Lester also played in a couple of Super Bowls and was known as Mr. Stickem while with the Oakland Raiders.
Linebacker Ed Simonini was a consensus All-American choice as a senior in
1975 after being selected the Southwest Conference’s defensive player of the
year. A three-time All-SWC pick, Simonini led the team in tackles for three
straight years while compiling 425 career stops. His 98 tackles recorded in 1972 is still a freshman record at A&M. The Aggies led the nation in total
defense in 1975 and finished the year with a 10-2 record.
Defensive back Pat Thomas was named All-American as a junior in 1974 and a consensus All-American as a senior in 1975. Pat intercepted three passes as a senior after picking off six as a junior. His 13 career interceptions ranked him first at the time and he is still third in A&M history.
Linebacker Garth Ten Napel was an All-American pick as a senior in 1975 after helping the Aggies lead the nation in total defense by allowing just 183.8 yards per game.
These are just a few of the outstanding players who played for the all-time
greatest defense in Aggieland’s history coached by Melvin “Mad Dog” Robertson. I’d have to wonder where any of them ranked in the Heisman Trophy balloting, owever.
Please remember, freshmen were only allowed to begin playing at the “Varsity” level in the season of 1972 when I was a senior in high school. The Heisman Trophy had been awarded for years and always went to quarterbacks or running backs. Defensive players didn’t really figure in the equation and neither did freshmen, although their eligibility to participate was never questioned. I’m sure the “thinking” was it would be ‘sacrilegious’ to allow freshmen to play and then suddenly hand a Heisman Trophy over to one of them. What would that do to the integrity of the game?
Hey, let’s look on the defensive side of the ball!
No, this wouldn’t be good.
Perhaps freshmen should just be glad to step on the field with the “big
boys,” possibly even start, and rarely would you find one who was a first or
second team All-Conference pick – or, perish the thought, All-Americans.
Surely you jest.
These were the days when African-American players were first beginning to
join some major college football teams. This was when FOOTBALL went MODERN. Leather helmets were gone, mouthpieces were in, players were speed demons and games were filmed from the press boxes in color. TV games were in color.
ESPN wasn’t around yet and neither was USA Today, and local print media was still the primary vehicle for getting your Heisman campaigns going. As a rule, A&M never pushed anyone for the Heisman and Notre Dame never played in bowl games — it’s just the way things were.
Every now and then you could catch an O.J. Simpson or a Joe Theisman on a
Saturday afternoon, but these sightings were rare. I hardly ever saw Archie
Griffin of Ohio State play and he won two Heisman trophies. If a team was lucky and good, it might play a couple of regionally-telecast games a year and if it was REALLY good, it would get to play on national TV once or twice a year.
We were good enough to get these calls and a couple of times even changed
scheduled dates for season finales to be played after the traditional Thanksgiving Game with Texas. These were agreed to in order to set up what the TV execs thought would be winner-take-all scenarios. This was exactly what happened when we all watched Texas and Arkansas play in the 1969 Big Shootout and also when the country watched A&M take an Agg-Whippin’ over in Little Rock in ‘75.
Earlier in my career I’d been voted by the coaches the first U.P.I. Southwest
Conference Offensive Freshman of the Year for Texas A&M in 1973. I was 17
throughout the season and didn’t turn 18 until the Christmas Holidays. I figured my best days were ahead of me.
It was the last media award I would win until my ‘redshirt’ senior season
when I was given an SWC Offensive Player of the Week Award after a 37-21
comeback victory over SMU. I rushed for 182 yards which is still an all-time
record for a quarterback at the school. You may recall that Johnny Manziel
picked up 181 yards rushing against La. Tech this season, surpassing Mike Mosley by a yard but leaving me unscathed, but breathless. Whew!
Of course, I was really proud of this Outstanding Player of the Week award I
earned as a senior in my 31st start for the school, having played mostly in anonymity while running the triple option Wishbone attack that was in vogue back in the day. Having lost only one home game in my entire career as a starter (freshman season vs. Texas) , this was one of those “Heisman” moments for me…wait; it was THE Heisman moment for me.
Now, let’s talk about this business with Johnny Football. I’ll tell you right
now how tenuous a career and starting position can be. I was in the stadium
Saturday night when Johnny got twisted up awkwardly during a tackle and stayed down. I was in the third deck and could have heard Reveille moaning quietly in horror on the far sidelines. It was so very silent. I mean, I watched a referee succumb to a fatal heart attack at a high school all-star game and didn’t see this kind of reaction. The collective sigh of relief when Johnny stood up and walked to the sidelines was also noticeable — and then the cheers.
Johnny cannot go down, y’all.
This is part of what makes this award so different and yet, so important. We
have for the first time a redshirt freshman leading the charge for the Heisman. He first showed up in the betting circles the week of the LSU game after throwing 59 points up against La. Tech. Even then he was an after-thought, but still a possibility. He was on the board.
In case you’re not aware, the wise guys normally recognize talent when they
see it. Then the LSU game knocked him down from 12/1 to 20/1 and everyone figured he was finished. There were still 5 or 6 guys rated better than Johnny and this is when I decided not to take a trip out to the desert and take advantage of those odds. Oh me of little faith.
Well, lo and behold, after traveling to Auburn and Mississippi State and
blowing those guys away, he and the Aggies made their third trip in a row, this time to none other than Tuscaloosa, Alabama for a date with Godzilla himself. The Alabama quarterback was now a front-runner in the Heisman race after his great drive a week earlier that had beaten the LSU Tigers.
The odds were not in Johnny’s favor but he suddenly had the Aggies ahead 20-0 before the first quarter had ended, and with a “goal line stand for the Ages” (Brent, don’t you just love that statement?) against the unflappable A.J. McCarron, they came away with possibly the most unlikely victory on the road against a No. 1 team in modern college football history. Heisman possibilities were suddenly back in gear out on the track.
Still, although he is No. 2 in the USA in total offense and his football team
has only been beaten by what are now the No. 4 and No. 7 teams around, Johnny was stuck behind a great kid at Kansas State who’s also a quarterback and was leading the new No. 1 team. All this QB had to do to win the trophy, being a senior and all, was win out. Then Baylor shocked K-St. and made this quarterback look rather pedestrian in the process, and BOOM; Up Flies Manziel! Up Flies Manziel!
All season long it was like being on the cover of Sports Illustrated for
these Heisman hopefuls, from Geno Smith to A.J. McCarron to Collin Klein, and now on to Johnny Manziel. None of them could hang.
Johnny never flinched.
Johnny flourished, as he has in every game since LSU, including that stretch
of 5 of 6 straight games as visitors. The guy went 6-0 on the road…as a freshman!
Then back inside 12th Man Stadium against Missouri, Johnny had his
hands on the ball for 10 different drives and came away with 8 touchdowns and a field goal. They were long 70 and 80 yard drives, too — the kind we like here! It’s why we fair-catch punts back inside our 10 yard line! We love our length-of-the-field touchdown drives at A&M!
Oh, and for the meticulous ones among us, I’m not counting the one-play
kneel-down just before the half as a possession, but there are probably Heisman voters out there who are.
Let’s talk a little perspective now. Johnny is 19 and turns 20 in December,
just as I did when I was a JUNIOR. If someone had told me I was too YOUNG to win the Heisman as a Junior, well, I’d have asked them to show me their eligibility requirements. When I was growing up nobody could play as freshmen, but no one had a problem voting a Sophomore the Heisman Trophy. If you played, guess what; you were eligible.
Johnny will be participating in his third spring training in April. He has
already had two college football seasons under his belt, although like the
freshmen who played when I was growing up, he sat out all the Varsity games his first year. He practiced and went to class and watched Tannehill play the
I’m not sure when the first coach came up with the idea of redshirting
freshmen but it’s a great idea if your team can afford it. In my situation at
A&M I became the starter as a freshman when I proved on the field I was the
best at A&M and the best freshman football player in the conference. Johnny
has proven in his redshirt freshman year that he’s the best and most exciting player in the country. You can forget the statistics; just watch him play. There’s not a running back or receiver who comes close, much less a quarterback. As Charlie Daniels tweeted recently, there’s no reason a freshman shouldn’t be allowed to win it.
‘Cuz he’s the best there’s ever been…well, Charlie didn’t say that, but he’s
easily the best A&M has ever seen.
And we’re talking about a “linebacker” in this conversation? Really?
With this linebacker’s stats, many would agree there have been hundreds ahead of him who have deserved to win the Heisman more than he does. Either way, on the night of December 8, 2012, history will be made. Five freshmen in the past have garnered enough votes to make the top 5, but there’s never been a winner. Johnny Manziel is no less than the first “redshirt” freshman to be voted into the top 5. You know, like all the SOPHOMORES who came before him. We’re just tickled to death that Johnny has an additional senior year of eligibility!
There’s one more thing about this quarterback you might want to know. He has played almost 600 official minutes this season, which is the equivalent of 10 games. Time-wise, he sat out two full games (120 minutes). Most teams have a game or two where they get to sit their starters but Johnny sat out eight full quarters. If Johnny’s 4600 yards are an all-time SEC total offense record, how do 5,530 yards sound for a regular season, before he’s even played a conference championship game or a bowl game? This would be Johnny’s numbers had he played 60 minutes in all 12 games; 5,530 total yards.
These are phenomenal numbers, but the real ones are quite impressive, as
well…especially for a second-year Rookie.
Look out America! It’s looking like the 12th Shall Be First!