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A History of Heisman Discrimination Against Defenders, Linemen, and Receivers and Why Ndamukong Suh Should Have Won in 2009

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(Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
(Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Getty Images

Go to the Heisman Trophy website and read the first two sentences of the Heisman Trophy Mission Statement:. Pay close attention.

The Heisman Memorial Trophy annually recognizes the outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity. Winners epitomize great ability combined with diligence, perseverance, and hard work.

Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but I didn't see anything about quarterbacks and running backs in there. There is no ban against rewarding other players or criteria that might exclude receivers, defenders, linemen, etc ("the Trophy is meant to recognize the player who touches the ball, eh, we'll say at least 25 times per game").

Yet still the Heisman Trophy remains almost exclusively a thing that is given to the high profile players -- quarterbacks and running backs -- over all the other deserving players that -- gasp -- don't score touchdowns and pose for pictures and get the post game interview.

Seventy-five players have won the award, and five of them aren't quarterbacks or running backs. The list?

- 1936: Larry Kelley Yale) won as an End. Keep in mind that this was so long ago that they didn't even need to make a distinction as to what kind of End he was. Dude was just on the end of the line. That was enough. It was a simpler time.

- 1949: Leon Hart (Notre Dame) was an End also. He won the Heisman, a national championship, and was the first pick in the NFL draft -- the only other player to do that was Cam Newton. So, even in 1949, you had to be so goddamn good that nobody else won anything, just to get some Heisman love as an End.

- 1987: Tim Brown (Notre Dame), WR. Now, Brown was a helluva receiver, but he still had to do a little bit of everything to win the award. In the year he won, Brown has nearly 1000 yards from scrimmage as well as almost 900 kick and punt return yards. That doesn't even count the year before when he had even more impressive stats.

- 1991: Desmond Howard (Michigan). Howard far surpassed Brown's numbers. He caught 19 touchdown passes and added two rushing touchdowns (Brown had just four touchdowns from scrimmage in 1987) with nearly the same yardage. On top of it, Howard put together 600 combined return yards, and both a kick and punt return touchdown. One of them you might remember.

It probably helps to have your biggest play come in the biggest game of the year, be the longest punt return in Michigan history, and be capped by what is now one of the most iconic moments in the Heisman's history.

-1997: Charles Woodson (Michigan), CB/Punt Returner. Woodson to this day stands as the only primarily defensive Heisman winner in the history of the award. Was being that great as a defender enough? Was this enough?

No. Woodson still had to play offense (10 rec, 231 yds, 2 TDs) and return punts. Oh yeah, and this helps too.

Remember what I said about that whole "have your biggest moment in the biggest game" thing? Yeah, Woodson took notes in 1991.

That's the list. Five players. Five guys that didn't line up under center or in the backfield. Five guys that were forced to make plays game in and game out without the ball in their hands. Football is more than a game of touchdowns. It is blocking and tackling and catching and working without the ball to change the flow of a play and thus the game. Still, 93 percent of Heisman winners have come from 14 percent of the starting positions on a football team.

All of this leads me to, what I consider the worst snub in Heisman history. Let's take the way-back machine to 2009, when Ndamukong Suh was victimizing opposing offensive linemen in what was one of the most impressive seasons for a defensive lineman in history. The Huskers were an astonishing number one in pass eff. defense despite playing in the Big XII. That goes along with a ninth overall rush defense, seventh total defense, and the top scoring defense in the country. The Husker D was so good that the team was able to win 10 games despite having the 99th ranked total offense and 75th ranked scoring offense in the country.

It all started in the middle with Suh. He was an unblock-able terror playing in the middle of the line and still producing the stats of a defensive end. Suh was a force to be reckoned with, and his team was utterly dependent on him as the catalyst of its defensive dominance.

Instead of winning the Heisman like he should have, Suh finished fourth behind Mark Ingram, Toby Gerhart, and Colt McCoy. Suh was the most dominant player in the nation and it didn't matter because he didn't take snaps or handoffs. He didn't even get to come in second for chrissake.

It was a screw job, plain and simple. Either the Heisman Trophy is about rewarding the best player in the nation, or it is about rewarding the best guy with the ball in his hands on the best team.

My vote goes to the best player, regardless of position. My vote goes to Ndamukong Suh.


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