published Sunday, December 9th, 2012

Wiedmer: Manziel saves Heisman from a linebacker

  • photo
    In this photo supplied by the Heisman Trust, Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M holds the Heisman Trophy after becoming the first freshman to win the award Saturday in New York.
    Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Whew!

That was close. For 78 years I've been awarded late each autumn to the single college football player who is supposed to be the outstanding player in the United States by the Heisman Trophy Trust.

It even says so on my bronze base. But up until this year, I'd always felt pretty comfortable in the notion that I would wind up in the hands of an offensive player.

After all, I am a running back. I stiff-arm. I carry the pigskin. I'm a glamour guy, all 25 softly glistening pounds of me.

And perhaps because each of the past 77 Heisman winners played at least a little bit of offense -- even 1997 winner Charles Woodson left the Michigan Wolverines' secondary long enough to return kicks and catch a pass or two now and then -- it's really no surprise that I went to Texas A&M redshirt freshman quarterback Johnny "Football" Manziel on Saturday night.

Of course, Manziel winning me is historic in its own right, since no freshman previously had won the award.

Nor should anyone argue with this result. The guy threw for 24 touchdowns, ran for 19 more, piled up 4,600 yards of offense to top 2010 winner Cam Newton's single-season Southeastern Conference total yardage mark and led the Aggies to a 10-2 record and upset of then-No.1 Alabama in the program's first SEC season.

Moreover, the kid's just plain cool. Less than a minute after I was handed to him, he told all those folks gathered in the Big Apple and millions more watching ESPN that this was a long way from "running around in the back yard pretending to be [1984 Heisman winner] Doug Flutie throwing Hail Marys to my dad."

It was also a wonderful touch to thank his grandmother back home in Texas and apologize for "all the things we broke in your house."

This is definitely a guy whose name you're proud to have connected to you, and that's a good thing because he's probably about to join 1974 and 1975 winner Archie Griffin as the only folks to win it twice.

But even though he outpointed runner-up Manti Te'o of Notre Dame by more than 300 points nationwide -- 2,029 to 1,706 -- I was worried for my safety there for a few minutes.

Especially when ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit said, "[Te'o] embodies the intangibles more than anyone we saw this year."

But it was the tangibles that terrified me. Did you see any of Te'o's 100-plus tackles this season? Or his nine takeaways? Or how he missed two -- TWO -- tackles all season? Or how he pretty much single-handedly willed this somewhat offensively challenged team to a 12-0 record and a spot opposite defending national champ Alabama in the BCS title game next month?

Remember, I'm a 25-pound statue of a running back. Te'o hates running backs. So what if he'd won me, decided he couldn't bear to look at a running back every day and had me melted down and recast as a cracked helmet with a broken facemask?

Or perhaps he'd honor his native Hawaii by making a lei out of me -- nice in its own way, but not exactly what the most revered individual trophy in sports wants to become.

I was even briefly concerned that he might throw me into the Hawaiian surf to be eaten whole by some massive shark. Yikes.

Alas, Manziel spared me those potential problems. He carried every voting zone save the Midwest, where Te'o prevailed by only three votes.

And good thing, too, because Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein finished third, which meant Manziel may have been the only thing between me and Jaws.

So it looks like I'm back for another year. But if it's right that Johnny Football won me because he beat Alabama in November, I hope I don't have to worry about a revote if the Irish knock off the Tide next month in Miami.

I'm a running back, after all. These defensive players need to get their own award.

about Mark Wiedmer...

Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...

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