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Archive for Friday, December 8, 2006

Luck of the Irish?

Notre Dame hasn’t hauled in Heisman since 1987

December 8, 2006

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— Notre Dame used to be the place to go to win a Heisman Trophy.

In the first 30 years the Heisman was awarded, a Notre Dame player won it six times. The Fighting Irish won six before Southern California had one.

In one 14-year stretch, the Irish had five winners: Angelo Bertelli, 1943; John Lujack in 1947; Leon Hart, 1949; John Lattner, 1953; and Paul Hornung, 1956. Hornung won even though he was the quarterback for a team that started the season ranked No. 3 and finished with a 2-8 record.

The Irish added another Heisman winner eight years later when John Huarte won under first-year coach Ara Parseghian. Since then, though, the Irish have had just one winner, Tim Brown in 1987.

Why?

"They've had some good players but they weren't outstanding from the standpoint of dominating statistics," said Joe Doyle, sports editor emeritus of the South Bend Tribune who started covering Notre Dame in 1949. "A guy like Allen Pinkett was an outstanding tailback, but there were other good ones around."

When Pinkett finished at Notre Dame he was the school's all-time leading rusher with 4,131 yards, rushing for more than 1,000 yards his final three seasons. He finished eighth in Heisman voting the year Auburn's Bo Jackson won the Heisman.

Another example is Joe Montana. Regarded now as one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, Montana isn't even eligible for the College Football Hall of Fame because he was never a first-team All-America, let alone a Heisman candidate.

There have been Irish players who have come close. Quarterback Terry Hanratty finished third in 1968 when USC's O.J. Simpson won. Joe Theismann finished second behind Stanford's Jim Plunkett. Raghib Ismail finished second to BYU's Ty Detmer in 1990. Ismail and Tony Rice in 1989 are the only Irish players to make it New York since Brown won. Brady Quinn will add his name to the list of finalists on Saturday.

If Quinn wins, Notre Dame will become the first school to have eight winners. USC caught up to the Irish last year when Reggie Bush became the seventh Trojans player to win the Heisman - the third in four years. Ohio State would join the list of seven-time winners if Troy Smith wins.

So what is Notre Dame doing to try to change the trend? John Heisler, Notre Dame's senior associate athletic director, said the school hasn't changed how it's promoted Heisman candidates at all. He said the school has let the player's performance stand on their own.

"We've been very conservative. That comes mostly from the standpoint that we've had some built-in advantages that probably positioned our players where we simply didn't have to do that," he said. "Brady is a perfect example of that. We didn't do anything to put him on the cover of all the magazines. He did that himself with the help of the rest of our football team.

"We knew we weren't going to have to worry about creating the awareness of who Brady was."

Doyle said he can't remember Notre Dame ever campaigning for the Heisman. He said former Notre Dame sports information director Charlie Callahan used personal contacts to talk up Notre Dame players. Sports information director Roger Valdiserri persuaded Theismann to change the pronunciation of his name from THEES-man to THIZE-man to rhyme with Heisman, but didn't do much else, Doyle said.

"It was a gimmick, but I don't think most of the country was even aware of it," Doyle said. "It wasn't as big a deal as it was made out to be later. It was a good story."

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