Sunday, December 9, 2012

Brave New World

When they started calling him "Johnny Football," I figured he was sure to win the Heisman Trophy.

It's one of those nicknames that does more than imply success. It demands it. Like when they started calling Ted Williams Teddy Ballgame. With a nickname like that, I figured Johnny Manziel was bound to win the Heisman — someday, if not this year.

And even though I knew the historical odds were heavily against him, I knew that Manziel has had a phenomenal season — and that, after all, is what the Heisman is supposed to reward. It might have been remote, given the fact that he was sure to be up against upperclassmen who had paid their dues, but I figured he had a pretty good chance.

Even though he is a freshman, and no freshman had ever won the Heisman before.

That was sort of an article of faith when I was a kid. The Heisman only went to seniors — or, sometimes, juniors. Archie Griffin won it twice back in the 1970s. He's the only football player to do that — so far.

I remember when he did it. No one thought it could be done. A Heisman was a one–to–a–customer kind of thing. Griffin aside, it really was believed that a man could only win the Heisman once — and only after he had paid his dues. Juniors rarely won it; sophomores and freshmen never did.

But that has changed in recent years. The sophomore barrier went down a few years ago and, with Manziel's victory, the Heisman is no longer forbidden to freshmen, either.

(I haven't heard it mentioned much — everyone has been so carried away with Manziel becoming the first freshman to win the trophy — but, in the process of his achievement, Manziel kept Notre Dame's Manti Te'o from becoming the first strictly defensive player to win it. That's a barrier that may well last forever.)

It's one more thing that I have lived to see that I never thought I would live to see.

The times, they truly are a–changing.

But I'm not sure that I'll see a repeat next season. Manziel's coaches insist there will be no decline in production in 2013, but, as Sam Gardner observes for Fox Sports, Manziel will "carry a weight much more substantial than his 25–pound Heisman Trophy for a team that won't sneak up on anyone."

The Aggies were helped by the low expectations that accompanied their move to the Southeastern Conference, and Manziel had no spotlight on him when 2012 began.

All that will change next year.

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