January 11, 2012
A Heisman in the House
I have not seen Barry Sanders in person since Dec. 3, 1988, the day he received the Heisman Trophy in Tokyo, for a college football season in which the Oklahoma State running back set over 30 NCAA individual records.
That day against Texas Tech he scored four touchdowns and ran for over 330 yards. While in his Hall of Fame NFL time with the Detroit Lions, Barry gained over 1,000 yards every season of a 10-year career, the first pro to do so.
In many ways there could be no better Heisman ambassador for Nissan than a man who exemplified excellence in the college and pro ranks – Barry Sanders, and I began our Heisman Tailgate chat ahead of the BCS championship game by asking him to look back at the outstanding 2011 college football season.
Q1. It was a tremendous college football season with a number of great Heisman candidates. How would you rate the 2011 talent pool and the winner, Baylor’s Robert Griffin III?
Barry Sanders: It was another interesting year, the way I kind of sum it up is that it was another year where you had early season favorites, but someone kind of came out – not from nowhere – but from the unexpected and brought home the Trophy.
We had some great seasons by individuals – the kid (Montee) Ball from Wisconsin, and (Stanford’s) Andrew Luck, and obviously the winner Griffin had a terrific year, and (Alabama’s Trent) Richardson who is playing tonight, and the kid on the other side of the ball for LSU.
It was another strong year, and I thought that Griffin probably separated himself with a few more “Wow” performances. It could have easily gone to Luck, but I think Griffin was probably the right guy to get it, looking at where Baylor came from the last couple years. You could certainly argue that he is as valuable to his team as any player in college football the last couple of years.
Q2. With the Nissan-Heisman ties, fans have a vote. From a player’s perspective, how do you see the selection system?
Sanders: I think it is a good idea. It obviously creates more attention and gets fans more involved. It is a game that’s played for the fans, and without them you don’t have a game. It’s very fitting to have the fans involved in the selection process. In most cases, the fans are very knowledgeable of the game and it is only right to have the players that impact the fans the most be selected.
Q3. Describe the “Heisman House” experience.
Sanders: It’s terrific. I would like to speak for all other past Heisman Trophy winners in thanking Nissan. It’s been an amazing year.
Being able to do the Heisman House was one of the real unique experiences I’ve ever had, I’ve done commercials before, but none with that sort of a roster of athletes. We all had a blast. We’re not the best actors, but it was great sharing stories and getting together.
You look at Doug Flutie, Vinnie Testaverde or Marcus Allen, guys who I’ve had a thrill watching play. It was just a very unique experience.
Q4. It is still very early to predict 2012 Heisman hopefuls, but based on what we know now who do you think will be among the leading contenders?
Sanders: You would have to mention the kid Ball, who’s coming back to Wisconsin, the running back out of Oregon – I’m not sure what he is doing. The thing about the Heisman is someone will rise out of the crowd and distinguish themselves. I don’t want to tip my hand too much, but maybe it will be the frontrunner – we’ve seen that happen before, or maybe it will be someone unexpected. I know that’s what happened my year. That’s the thing about the race – you just never know what’s going to happen.