The H——trophy will be presented this Saturday evening, mercifully bringing us some respite, however brief, from the barrage of publicity about the most overhyped award in all of sports. I just can't bring myself to spell out the word H——, for you have already seen it hundreds, nay thousands, of times over the last couple of months.
No other individual honor in sports, not even baseball's Most Valuable Player awards, commands half the attention of the H——Trophy. The networks love to talk about the award. Daily newspapers invariably keep us up-to-date with features like The H——Watch and Who's Who in the H——. Certainly this publication has turned out its share of H——articles over the years, most recently last week's four-page cover story. Even The Village Voice, hardly the journalistic epicenter of college athletics, runs an annual piece called "The H——Consumer Guide."
It's not just during the autumn months that we're subjected to rampant H——ism. From the start of spring practice, a handful of All-Americas—particularly running backs, quarterbacks and players wearing Notre Dame uniforms—are christened as H——candidates, and they carry that ponderous label around all year, like an invisible sandwich board. Heck, some carry it around their whole lives. Until the day he dies, or someone else equals the feat, Ohio State's Archie Griffin will be known as "the only two-time H——Trophy winner."
Why do we care so much about the H——? Or is it possible that we don't care, but the media shove it down our throats anyway? Why is this award the only one whose presentation ceremony warrants a television show, and an embarrassing one at that?
I'm not certain. But it must have something to do with the old-boy network of media members who do the H——voting. The award is presented each year by the Downtown Athletic Club in New York City and was named after John W. H——, who, according to the club's magazine, the DAC Journal, had "a success and stature in coaching comparable with such immortals as Alonzo Stagg, Pop Warner, Bob Zuppke, Percy Haughton, Clark Shaughnessy, Hurry-Up Yost and Knute Rockne." Even if you swallow that, the fact remains that the trophy was named for H——after he died in 1936, because he had been athletic director of the DAC when the members decided the previous year to present an award "to a super athlete of national stature." Personally, I prefer to remember H——as the great sportsman whose 1916 Georgia Tech team beat Cumberland 222-0 in the most lopsided game in football history.
Wise in the ways of publicity, the DAC decided not to select the H——winner itself but to farm out the balloting to an army of media representatives from all over the country. Whether this makes the award more democratic is debatable, but it most assuredly makes the H——far more chronicled. This year 870 members of the media and 48 former H——winners had a vote. Jeez, half the municipal elections in the United States are decided by fewer voters. Certainly other sports awards are selected by much smaller but far more knowledgeable groups. In baseball, for example, two writers in each National and American league city—52 all told—select the MVP awards for the two leagues.
Because of the coverage provided by the 918 voters, the H——has become a runaway train rumbling through the autumn landscape, trampling everything in its path. With hundreds of H——balloters looking down from press boxes every Saturday, a player's H——stock fluctuates wildly from game to game, sometimes from play to play.
Also contributing to the H——hype is the unspoken desire to return American sports to a more virtuous time, when football All-Americas were our best and brightest, and H——Trophy winners were the stuff of legends. We desperately want to retain that pretense, so we continue to bestow upon the H——Trophy a grandeur that it no longer deserves, and perhaps never did.
Let's stop already. Never mind that the wrong player sometimes gets the H——, or that some great ones, such as Jimmy Brown and Walter Payton, never came close. Never mind that college publicity departments squander thousands of dollars every year to hype their candidates, many of them hopeless long shots. Never mind that many H——voters never see the players they vote for play a complete game.
All I'm saying is this: To the media, stop devoting so many column inches and so much airtime to this award just because you help decide who gets it. And to the American sports public: Stop buying into the idea that this thing is any more significant than any other sports award. I mean, who died and made the H——king?
PETER READ MILLER