Alabama football fans have never taken much interest in the Heisman Trophy, probably because even though some 16 Bama players have finished in the top ten in voting for the award, there has never been a serious challenger from the Crimson Tide. And some probably see the award of quite flawed, as often as not failing to honor the player who is truly the nation’s finest.
There are some who believe a Southern football player has a more difficult time winning because the voters selected by the Downtown Athletic Club in New York, which awards the annual trophy, conduct the balloting. But the truth is that every section of the country is fairly represented.
And some believe that Coach Paul Bryant, who had the most Alabama men who could have fairly considered for the prize, didn’t want a Heisman Trophy winner, that he was about team and not individual awards. That is not completely true. Coach Bryant had an admiration for Heisman Trophy winners, particularly John David Crow who won the award in 1957 while playing for Bryant at Texas A&M. Having a Heisman Trophy winner can be conducive to having a a national championship team.
It is true that a number of winners have benefitted from a slick media campaign, but there have been some high-profile busts after such efforts, too.
Once upon a time there was an adage that a player won the award with his junior year achievements, then had to hold on to it to actually get the votes in his senior season. But more sophisticated communications means players can have that one-year burst to Heisman fame.
Seven Southeastern Conference players have won the award and no one could quibble with most of the SEC players selected. There are two each from Georgia (Frank Sinkwich in 1942 and Herschel Walker in 1982), Florida (Steve Spurrier in 1966 and Danny Wuerrfel in 1996), and Auburn (Pat Sullivan in 1971 and Bo Jackson in 1985. Additionally, Billy Cannon of LSU was the 1959 winner.
Although Alabama has never had a winner, and while it is true that most Heisman Trophy winners in recent years have been from schools with previous winners, there is no reason a player at a school with the tradition of Bama could not have a winner, perhaps soon.
Wide receiver David Palmer in 1993 was the closest an Alabama player has come to winning the award. He was third.
Fourth place winners have included linebacker Lee Roy Jordan in 1962 and halfback Johnny Musso in 1971.
Former Alabama players finishing fifth are halfback Joe Kilgrow in 1937, halfback Harry Gilmer in 1945 and again in 1947, quarterback Pat Trammell in 1961, quarterback Terry Davis in 1972, and quarterback Jay Barker in 1994.
Linebacker Cornelius Bennett in 1986 and halfback Shaun Alexander in 1999 were both seventh place finishers, while quarterback Walter Lewis was ninth in 1983, and quarterback Steve Sloan in 1965, quarterback Steadman Shealy in 1979, halfback Bobby Humphrey in 1987, linebacker Derrick Thomas in 1988, and defensive end Eric Curry in 1992 all finished 10th.
Alabama has had some success against Heisman Trophy winners. The most notable, perhaps, are Bama beating Auburn in the seasons in which both their winners were announced. In 1971 Bama and Auburn were both unbeaten and Sullivan had already been named. The Tide slaughtered the Tigers, 31-7. In 1985, Bama defeated Auburn and Bo, 25-23, in one of the most exciting victories in storied Crimson Tide history. At the end of the 1992 season Alabama went up against Gino Torretta and Miami for the national championship in the Sugar Bowl, and the Crimson Tide was outstanding in a 34-13 decision.
Bama has also lost to some Heisman Trophy winners, including to Sinkwich and Wuerrfel and to Boston College’s Doug Flutie in 1984 and to Oklahoma’s Jason White in 2003 and the Tide lost a national championship game in the Orange Bowl to Nebraska and Johnny Rogers in 1971, although it would be 1972 before Rogers would win the Heisman.
The ESPN experts like USC quarterback Matt Leinart to repeat with Ivan Maisel, Pat Forde, Bob David, and Mike Gottfried all picking him. Mark May picks Leinart’s teammate, running back Reggie Bush. In addition to Leinart and Bush, those getting mention include Florida quarterback Chris Leak, texas quarterback Vince Young, Oklahoma running back Adrian Peterson, Ohio State wide receiver Ted Ginn, and (on Maisel’s list) DeAngelo Williams of Memphis. It is not likely a player from Memphis would get serious consideration regardless of his ability.