Move over Johnny Football. Meet Johnny Heisman.
Published: Monday, December 10, 2012
Updated: Monday, December 17, 2012 14:12
Seventy-five names, all of them striking: Davey O’Brien, Earl Campbell, Tim Tebow, John David Crow, Charles Woodson, Roger Staubach, Cam Newton, Archie Griffin and now, Johnny Manziel. On Saturday, the most exclusive fraternity in American athletics grew by one, College Station made its mark on Manhattan, and Manziel bulled his way into the pantheon of college football. There’s another Heisman trophy in Aggieland.
We’re underestimating this award. We’ve spent too much time looking at this shortsightedly. Imagine the recruiting boost, we say. Imagine the national championships and program revenue and national branding. Imagine the t-shirts. Just imagine. First we need to come to terms with what the Heisman trophy means.
“Johnny Heisman.” “Heismanziel.” We’ve heard all the nicknames. Here’s the good news, Aggies: you can’t oversell that, because no matter how big a conception you have in your mind of the Heisman, it’s always going to be bigger than that.
Find a computer and look at a list of all the former Heisman winners. Because of the flaws in the bowl system, the fallibility in the polls and the ambiguity of the national championship, the Heisman trophy is the most iconic symbol of college football. It’s the purest thing in the purest incarnation of football. It would be hard to say that a Heisman trophy is more important than a national championship, but it’s certainly more permanent, more recognizable. Words like “fraternity,” “club” and “brotherhood” surround the group of Heisman winners. They genuinely seem to care about the sanctity of their roll call. Johnny will always be a part of that.
John David Crow’s Heisman came well before the era of around-the-clock jabber from the sports punditry, so he’s had more buzz surrounding him in the past weeks than when he won the Heisman trophy in 1957. For more than half a century, he was the first and only Aggie to do so. Current students don’t know Crow. How could they? I respect his accomplishments, but the usual things bother me. It was a different mode of football in those days, and it always felt a little sad that our University had to scrounge so far back into the narrative of A&M football to find something worth marketing. Crow has his face all over spirit videos and Kyle Field banners, and he should.
So what does that say about Johnny? Johnny’s face isn’t displayed most prominently in College Station at the moment. In Times Square, the most noticeable face among the lights, signs and passersby is that of a small town kid from Kerrville Tivy High School. New York is a fast city; they’ll forget about Johnny. But at A&M, we’re looking at fifty-plus years of Johnny Football. He has three more years on the field, sure, assuming all the things football fans are usually wrong in assuming. He has the rest of his life as the face of A&M.
Because that’s what he is. He’s not just the most popular entity within the most popular institution of A&M. He’s the University. He’s the access point to A&M for everyone outside the College Station zip code. It’s almost hilarious how much work the University marketing guys have done, tossing around things like traditions and the SEC logo, only to have Johnny “Scooby-Heisman-Football” Manziel fall into their laps.
I expect a Manziel statue. I expect the quote from his speech about the 12th Man in every spirit video for the next century. I expect every non-Aggie we know to hate us for how many highlight videos we watch and re-watch and I expect us not to care.
He ended his acceptance speech with a “Gig ‘Em.” For all the Aggies who have flashed a thumbs-up over the years, Johnny’s might have been the most important. Down the line, Manziel will lead the next great Aggie up the steps before the Heisman is awarded, just as Crow did for him.
Baylor officials reported this week that Robert Griffin III’s 2011 Heisman nod was worth $250 million to the school. It seems logical that A&M will reap similar benefits. But for the 12th Man, Saturday night was worth a whole lot more.