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Original Issue


In college football, the equivalent of the Academy Award is a small bronze halfback called the Heisman Trophy which goes to the outstanding player in the game. This year the race is especially close

He has never had a nickname such as Oscar or Emmy, but perhaps this is an oversight of the years, like some of the Sam Baughs and Jim Browns who have not won him. One might refer to him as Stud, maybe. Or how about the Hoss Award? For in the 35 years that he has been around, the little bronze fellow, who is only 18 inches tall, who weighs only 50 pounds and who costs only $252, has certainly created his share of melodrama in college football. One speaks, naturally, of the Heisman Memorial Trophy, that old Fordham halfback sculpted on an ebony base which is supposed to go each season to the outstanding player in the U.S. It is now nearing election time again for the Heisman, and about the only thing not being done by the leading candidates—which include Oklahoma's running Steve Owens (see cover) and Purdue's passing Mike Phipps—is to promise to run zig-outs in the Rose Garden until the President ends all wars.

All except the wonderful war for the Heisman, of course, which is waged as earnestly by campus publicity men and by the 1,371 writers and broadcasters who are eligible to vote as by the players themselves. As always, when initial ballots were mailed out to the nation's electors last week, the drums were beating hard and loud. Besides Owens and Phipps, who have been promoted diligently since early September, mournful cries were beginning to be heard on behalf of Ole Miss' Archie Manning, Ohio State's Rex Kern, Kansas State's Lynn Dickey, Florida's John Reaves, UCLA's Dennis Dummit, and even a few defensive stars like Notre Dame's Mike McCoy and Penn State's Mike Reid.

Radio broadcasters from these respective areas have begun to use the names of their candidates so repetitiously it is hard to tell whether there is a game in progress or just, for instance, Mike McCoy doing calisthenics. "Tulane comes out of the huddle," says the Notre Dame network. "And there's big Mike McCoy down there—looking mean."

At the same time, wire-service stories in various sectors are managing to work in the names of their heroes in the first paragraphs whether they have anything to do with the news or not. Kansas State zonked Oklahoma four million to nothing, et cetera, but by gosh, folks, Steve Owens got his usual 100 yards rushing.

The outpouring of publicity releases for the candidates dwells upon the suitable quotes of opposing coaches and pro scouts, which of course help the campaign. Northwestern's Alex Agase says of Purdue's Mike Phipps, "He's got everything—arm, poise, strength, quickness, speed. He's the best college quarterback I've seen in my coaching career."

Purdue frames that. And if Phipps doesn't wind up with the coveted award, as both Bob Griese and Leroy Keyes did not, the world may see Purdue Publicity Director Karl Klages stow away on Apollo 12.

One of the fascinating things about the 1969 race is that there are so many deserving winners without a clear favorite. It is not a year like the last—when USC's O.J. Simpson had it all the way. It is a difficult year for the electors who are divided across the country in five sections, East, South, Midwest, Southwest and Far West.

By the Nov. 25 deadline, they will be asked to vote for the players—1, 2, 3—in order of preference. Here are the front-runners:

•Steve Owens of Oklahoma. His team has lost a couple, but there is no rule that says a Heisman winner has to go unbeaten, although 16 of the 34 in the past have played on either undefeated teams or teams which won some kind of mythical national championship. Owens' big claim is his three-year career. As a sophomore he gained 808 yards, and last year he bulled and bounced for 1,536. With 881 so far, he is a sure bet to set a new NCAA career mark, and he needs only two more touchdowns in his last four games to break Glenn Davis' three-year mark of 51.

Owens has already destroyed Gale Sayers' Big Eight rushing record. Three times this season he has scored four touchdowns in a single game. In his last 15 Saturdays, he has gained over 100 yards. To keep that streak going, OU gave him the ball on six consecutive plays in the waning moments against Colorado to pick up his quota. Before the season even started, his teammates were saying Steve "deserved the Heisman" and they were going to try and help him win it, and in Oklahoma's seven games they have done just that.

One of the things that help enormously is TV exposure. Owens got that against Texas, and he will get it again this week against Missouri. Which brings up the good point that many of his yards are hard-earned. He has been asked to run against the likes of Texas, Colorado and Kansas State, a group of foes which have won 15 and lost only five. Last Saturday he had a little more room against Iowa State and he sure responded, rolling up 248 yards and four touchdowns.

•Mike Phipps of Purdue. There is a lot of history going for Phipps. He plays in the Midwest which has produced 14 Heisman winners (eight from the Big Ten, six from Notre Dame). He is a quarterback, and no less than 18 winners have played that position. And he is a senior like Owens, which is not a bad thing to be since only four juniors have ever won.

But Mike Phipps has a few other things going for him. He is second in the U.S. in total offense with 2,040 yards through seven games, including the 226 yards he ran and passed for Saturday against Illinois. His team is 6-1 on the season, which means that he is heading for a showdown (on national TV) against Ohio State. A win there over Rex Kern and the No. 1 Buckeyes would just about cinch the trophy, but even a decent performance would heap up a pile of votes. Aside from all this, Phipps holds the unique distinction of having beaten Notre Dame three straight years, and the world is not exactly filled with such types.

Phipps not only beat Notre Dame again this year, he offended the Irish. So adept was he at reading Ara Parseghian's defense, he once came to the line and felt a blitz coming. But fearing his wingback, Randy Cooper, couldn't hear his audible, he turned to him and yelled, "Hey Randy, the linebacker's coming up so I'm going to dump it to you." Whereupon he passed to Cooper for a 20-yard gain—an audible that really was an audible.

•Rex Kern of Ohio State. Like the joke goes, Rex may win the Heisman but he won't play enough to letter. The reason is obvious: Ohio State thrashes its foes so brutally that the first team hardly gets to play. When it docs, however, Rex does everything—pass, run, fake and block—in the grand tradition of Ohio State's other three Heisman winners, Hopalong Cassady, Vic Janowicz and Les Horvath.

His stats would be more impressive if he played more, but he gets things done when he's in there, as, for example, in the Michigan State game when he ran for two and passed for three. And as, for another example, last week when he ran for 94 yards and passed for 117. Only a junior, Kern, even more than Fullback Jim Otis, is the player most responsible for the Buckeyes being No. 1 and currently averaging 44.5 points a game, best in the nation. His case is hurt by his schedule. Ohio State's six victims rather deplorably have won only eight games while losing 33. But when he meets Phipps on Nov. 15 in ABC-TV's "wild card" special, he can make up a lot of ground pretty close to voting time. And there is that precedent for a few junior winners—Doc Blanchard in 1945, Doak Walker in 1948, Vic Janowicz in 1950 and Staubach in 1963.

•Archie Manning of Ole Miss. This 6'3½" 200-pound junior quarterback plays on an erratic team and may feel a kind of it's-all-up-to-me pressure. Thus, he is a rather glamorous loser, as in the Alabama game this year when he hit on 33 passes for 436 yards and two touchdowns and ran for another 104 yards and three touchdowns—and lost.

Manning is still a long shot despite his 26-23 upset of LSU Saturday when he ran for three scores and passed for another. Archie has lost three, but he's overturned both Georgia and LSU, and he has another good opportunity coming up with Tennessee.

•Dennis Dummit of UCLA. A year ago no one had even heard of him outside of Tommy Prothro, who was getting him to transfer from Long Beach City College. Now all Dummit has done is hurl the Bruins to a 7-0-1 record (and 38 points a game) with his 13 touchdown passes and enough yardage—1,553—to break Gary Beban's single-season passing record. Like so many others, Dummit is only a junior, and of course one who had no preseason buildup. But he may be driving UCLA to an unbeaten season and the Rose Bowl, and he has that big TV date coming up against USC and Clarence Davis, another transfer junior who is something of a mild candidate himself, considering the yards (958) he's clicking off.

•Lynn Dickey of Kansas State. Pacing the surprise team in the land, Dickey can throw with the best, obviously, after what he has done against both Oklahoma and, last week, Missouri. He piloted 535 yards in total offense against the Sooners in that 59-21 upset, and he threw for 394 yards on Missouri and came very close to pulling the game out in a 41-38 loss. Dickey, still another junior, has his Wildcats 5-2 for the year and still in the race for what would be Kansas State's first Big Eight title in 35 years, and, of course, a bowl bid.

•Mike McCoy of Notre Dame, Mike Reid of Penn State and Jack Tatum of Ohio State. Notre Dame seems always to find a candidate even if it has to dig into the trenches. Huge Mike McCoy, the tackle, is this year's choice, seeing as how there are no Johnny Lujacks or even Terry Hanrattys around. McCoy is properly ferocious, just like Penn State's Mike Reid, another interior lineman being pushed by a good team without a backfield hopeful. McCoy makes hundreds of tackles, and he blocked the punt which enabled the Irish to tie USC. Reid makes the big play which keeps preserving Penn State's unbeaten record. But no interior demon has won the trophy, and Iowa's Alex Karras, in 1957, is the only one who came close. For that matter, only two ends—Notre Dame's Leon Hart and Yale's Larry Kelley—have ever succeeded. And McCoy and Reid, meanwhile, have run out of good teams to be ferocious against. Tatum is something different. He's a cornerback-linebacker who simply destroys people, managing to be everywhere at once. He is the soul of a Buckeye defense that is just as spectacular as Kern's offense. But if any of the defenders come through, the publicity man involved—Roger Valdiserri of the Irish, Jim Tarman at Penn State or Wilbur Snypp at Columbus—ought to be canonized.

If John Reaves of Florida were a senior, or even a junior, the Gators' quarterback might well be the favorite, but he is a sophomore, and no sophomore has ever won. Reaves has taken a team that was regarded as no higher than a swamp and turned it into a mountain. He started the season by throwing five touchdown passes in the 59-34 upset of Houston, and he has kept it up. As of last week, when he and Florida were finally beaten for the first time by Auburn, he had a whopping 22 touchdown passes for the year (six more than Spurrier threw in his Heisman year), and he leads the nation in total offense.

No one knows precisely why or how the Heisman Trophy, presented by the Downtown Athletic Club of New York and named for John W. Heisman, inventor of the center snap, folks, became the football award with the most prestige. The glory that has come to the Heisman certainly isn't due to good old John W.'s coaching record at Auburn, Clemson, Georgia Tech, Penn, Washington & Jefferson and Rice. No one ever put him up there in the Knute Rockne-Howard Jones-Frank Leahy-Bernie Bierman-Bear Bryant league. And it surely can't be due to the influence of the Downtown Athletic Club, a 35-story building down on West Street which rattles and creaks with 4,000 members, 450 employees, four bowling alleys, six squash courts, a gym, a swimming pool, and is absolutely unheard of and unthought about by nonmembers between annual Heisman dinners.

Possibly it is because the Heisman came first, in 1935, two years ahead of its closest rivals, the Camp and the Maxwell awards, and 15 years ahead of the UPI. Possibly, too, it is because of New York City and the glitter that people believe to be there. As far back as 1938 when a tiny quarterback named Davey O'Brien was the winner, a trainload of rich Texans came to town with him and they all boarded a fire engine in their Stetsons and rode up and down the avenues, waving and celebrating. In this spirit the Heisman winner is toasted all over town during his stay, and the dinner is broadcast locally, all of this being part of how the New York press rediscovers college football every early December.

Technically, the trophy, which was conceived by a sculptor named Frank Eliscu, who did use a Fordham halfback as a model, is awarded to the player piling up the most points, with three going for each first-place vote, two for second and one for third. Only legitimate writers and broadcasters receive ballots, the DAC claims. The number of votes per section depends on the number of accredited universities and colleges in that area, which does give the East and Midwest an edge. No one sees the votes except the club's executive secretary, Austin Melvin, who keeps them locked in a special room for which he alone holds the key. It takes him a week to count them, and only he knows the result, but he is proud to say that there has never been a "leak" before the club's official announcement, which this time will come between the hours of 12 and 1 p.m. EST on Tuesday, Nov. 25.

It is interesting to note that the dinner is scheduled for Dec. 4, which is two days before Texas meets Arkansas in what might be the game of the year, but, oh well, they don't have any solid candidates, which is a stroke of luck for the Downtown Athletic Club.

The weight that publicity men have had on the selection is probably exaggerated. Most often, the winners have played their way to the award. Nevertheless, the campus flacks like to think they sometimes win for their boys. Glancing back over the years, it seems astonishing that certain players managed to outpoll others. The list of nonwinners is just as imposing as the list of winners, among them being Sam Baugh, Jim Brown, Marshall Goldberg, Charley Trippi, Babe Parilli, Gale Sayers and Joe Namath, to mention a few.

The best jobs have always been done by Notre Dame, as one might guess. The mystique of the Irish not only secured the Heisman for Angelo Bertelli when he played but five games (before getting called to duty by the Marines in 1943), it won for John Huarte in 1964 over such supercandidates as Tucker Frederickson, Dick Butkus, Craig Morton, Jerry Rhome, Sayers and Namath. But best of all, the Notre Dame magic got Paul Hornung the trophy in 1956 while his team was in the process of losing 0-40 to Oklahoma, 14-47 to Michigan State, 7-33 to Navy and 8-48 to Iowa, and finishing a beautiful 2-8 for the year.

Hornung remains the only Heisman winner who ever played on a losing team, and he has always been the first to say that Charlie Callahan, then the Irish publicity agent, won it for him.

"This was the year," says Callahan, reminiscing like a fight manager, "that Harold Keith at OU made the mistake of trying to sell an interior lineman, Jerry Tubbs. At midseason he switched to Tommy McDonald, but it was too late. The East went for Jim Brown, and the South went for Johnny Majors at Tennessee. I got the Midwest. Tubbs and McDonald cut each other up."

Callahan was so proud of the victory that he sent for Hornung in class to tell him personally. But as Paul walked across the South Bend campus, past the golden dome and all that, and headed toward Charlie's small cluttered office, the publicity man put in a long distance call to Hornung's mother in Louisville and had her waiting on the phone when Paul strolled in. Then Charlie casually pretended to be sorting through some papers on his desk. Without looking up, he just handed the receiver to Hornung and mumbled something.

"Here," said Charlie. "Tell your mother you just won the Heisman."

It was the crowning moment in the life of both a publicity man and a college football player, and that is what the trophy is all about.