Why Didn't These Stars Win The Heisman?
Purdue QB Drew Brees
Purdue QB Drew Brees
Posted Dec 12, 2009

Adrian Peterson, Marshall Faulk, and Drew Brees are great pros who lost the Heisman to players who were mediocre pro talents. How did this happen? Who were the top NFL types who just missed out? So how did some of these top players NOT win the Heisman?

How Did He NOT Win?

The NFL stars who didn't win the Heisman

By Pete Fiutak

It's the hardest thing for pro football fans, who don't necessarily care about college football, to understand. Why didn't Tom Brady win the Heisman? How about LaDainian Tomlinson? He was great, right? John Elway, Joe Montana, and Dan Marion didn't win a Heisman? Of course there's a major difference between producing at the collegiate level and being a great pro. The Heisman isn't supposed to go to the first pick in the NFL Draft; it's supposed to go to the "most outstanding player" in a given season.

The Heisman is all about the top quarterback or running back in a given year unless something wacky happens, but over the course of Heisman history, in hindsight, there have been some extremely questionable winners considering who the runner-ups were. Of course, everyone knows that being a top pro prospect has nothing to do with winning the Heisman, but that doesn't mean there aren't a few years when the question has to be asked ... how did this guy not win?

Leinart was the aberration as the Heisman winner who went on beat the runner-up in the national championship, and then he shocked the world by not going pro early in a draft year desperate for quarterbacks (Alex Smith to the 49ers No. 1 overall hasn't exactly worked out well). Leinart was taken 10th overall by the Arizona Cardinals in 2006, but his career so far has been defined more by questions about his commitment to being a pro, a collarbone injury, and Kurt Warner, rather than anything positive done on the field. Even though he hasn't set the world on fire as a pro, that doesn't diminish Leinart's phenomenal college career. Meanwhile, over his first two seasons, Adrian Peterson has become one of the great young backs in the history of the NFL. The better question, as opposed to why he didn't win the Heisman, is why did Peterson go seven in the 2007 draft.

Arguably, Leinart has to be considered one of the top college quarterbacks ever having thrown for 10,693 yards with 99 touchdown passes, a BCS national title, an AP national title, and a near-miss against Texas for a second BCS championship. Oh yeah, and the guy went 37-2. In 2004, Leinart threw 33 touchdown passes and just six interceptions and he ran for three scores as the leader of devastating national champions. Peterson came close in the Heisman race finishing second with 997 points to Leinart's 1,325. Being a freshman didn't help Peterson's cause, and splitting votes with Jason White, the Sooner quarterback who won the Heisman the previous year, didn't help. Even so, Peterson's 1,925 yards and 15 touchdowns were certainly Heisman worthy.

2003 Winner - Jason White, QB Oklahoma

How did the runner up not win? ... Larry Fitzgerald, WR Pitt (2nd), Eli Manning, QB Ole Miss (3rd)

White was a terrific story. He suffered two ACL injuries and came back, and from out of nowhere, to bomb away for 3,846 yards and 40 touchdown passes with 10 interceptions as he led Oklahoma to the national title game. However, his Sooners got blasted by Kansas State 35-7 in the Big 12 title game as he threw two interceptions, no touchdown passes, and had his worst game of the year ... until the national championship. White had a nightmare of a game against LSU completing 35% of his throws with two interceptions as he was sacked over and over again in the loss. Even with the Kansas State loss, the numbers were impressive enough to get him the Heisman trophy, and he went on to put up almost as strong a season in 2004, throwing for 3,205 yards with 35 touchdown passes and nine interceptions as he finished third in the Heisman behind Matt Leinart and Adrian Peterson. However, no one ever considered White a pro player of any sort. In a horrendous year for pro quarterback prospects, White wasn't drafted in 2005.

Larry Fitzgerald was considered a can't miss pro prospect. Now he's well on his way to the Hall of Fame after catching 413 passes for 5,692 yards and 43 touchdowns just five years into his NFL career. He generated a buzz in 2002 catching 69 passes for 1,005 yards with 12 touchdowns, and then he went on to set NCAA records with a  92-grab, 1,672-yard, 22 touchdown 2003 season. Even though Fitzgerald was only a sophomore, and a pure wide receiver (as opposed to a kick returner and a receiver), he still came within an eyelash of winning the Heisman losing to White 1,481 to 1,353. Fitzgerald likely lost it on the last week of the regular season as Antrel Rolle and Miami held him to 26 yards and a touchdown on just three catches in a 28-14 Hurricane win.

Finishing third in the Heisman was Eli Manning, who completed 62% of his throws for 3,600 yards and 29 touchdown passes as he carried Ole Miss to a 10-3 season and a Cotton Bowl win over Oklahoma State.

2000 Winner - Chris Weinke, QB Florida State
How did the runner up not win? ... Drew Brees, QB Purdue (3rd), LaDainian Tomlinson, RB TCU (4th)

In one of the most debatable, most hotly contested Heisman races ever, Weinke barely beat Oklahoma QB Josh Huepel 1,628 to 1,552 with Purdue's Drew Brees coming in third with 619 points and TCU's LaDanian Tomlinson finishing fourth with 566.

Weinke set the table for his Heisman winning season by throwing 25 touchdown passes and 3,103 yards as he led the Seminoles to the national championship. In 2000, before his Noles lost to Heupel's Sooners 13-2 in the Orange Bowl, Weinke threw for 4,167 yards and 33 touchdown passes. So why was the race so close? Age discrimination. Weinke had played six years of minor league baseball, came back to play college football, and won the Heisman at 28. He went on to be drafted by the Carolina Panthers in the sixth round and had a little bit of success as a part-time starter.

Brees led Purdue to the Rose Bowl, throwing for 3,668 yards and 26 touchdowns with 12 interceptions in 2000. Question marks about his height, barely checking in at six feet, hurt his pro stock, but he was taken with the first pick in the second round by San Diego. He's in the midst of a Hall of Fame career as one of the NFL's top passers after being traded to New Orleans. San Diego also drafted TCU's LaDainian Tomlinson that year with the fifth overall pick. In 2000, he ran for 2,158 yards and 22 touchdowns highlighted by a 406-yard rushing day. However, playing for TCU, in the WAC at the time, killed his Heisman chances.

1999 Winner - Ron Dayne, RB Wisconsin
How did the runner up not win? ... Michael Vick, QB Virginia Tech (3rd), Drew Brees, QB Purdue (4th), Chad Pennington, QB Marshall (5th)

There's no questioning this: Ron Dayne deserved the Heisman. He finished his senior year as the NCAA's all-time rushing leader and won the award going away. However, he has been a bust as a pro, serving as a journeyman back after being taken with the 11th pick overall by the New York Giants in 2000. The voting wasn't even close as Dayne blew way Georgia Tech QB Joe Hamilton, but there were some interesting future NFL stars who were down the list a bit.

Michael Vick turned in a scintillating freshman season at Virginia Tech as he led the Hokies to the Sugar Bowl. While Peter Warrick and Florida State won the national title, Vick had his coming out party as the star of the show. He'd go on to be the No. 1 pick in the 2001 draft. Vick finished third, while Purdue's Drew Brees finished fourth, Marshall QB Chad Pennington finished fifth, and Alabama RB Shaun Alexander finished seventh. Virginia's Thomas Jones, who was a bust like Dayne early in his pro career before picking it up late, finished eighth.

1996 Winner - Danny Wuerffel, QB Florida
How did the runner up
not win? ... Jake Plummer, QB Arizona State (3rd), Orlando Pace, OT Ohio State (4th), Warrick Dunn, RB, Florida State (5th), Peyton Manning, QB Tennessee (8th)

Wuerffel had to battle with Iowa State's Troy Davis for the 1996 Heisman, winning just 1,363 to 1,174. Even though it was a close race, Wuerffel was the year's signature player as he led Florida to the national title with one of the best years in college football history, leading the offense to 46.6 points per game and 76 touchdowns. He was deadly accurate throwing for 39 scores and finishing with a pass efficiency rating of 170.6. The Gator star was drafted in the fourth round by the New Orleans Saints in 1997, but with a funky throwing motion and questionable arm strength, he never made his mark. Steve Spurrier tried to make his former quarterback an NFL starter with the Washington Redskins, but it didn't happen.

Third in the race was Arizona State QB Jake Plummer, who led the Sun Devils to comeback win after comeback win. However, his team fell just short in the Rose Bowl, and in the national title chase, losing to Orlando Pace and Ohio State. Pace, the No. 1 overall pick in the 1997 NFL Draft, finished fourth in the voting, while Florida State RB Warrick Dunn was fifth.

Further down the list, finishing eighth, was Tennessee QB Peyton Manning, who completed 64% of his throws for 3,287 yards and 20 touchdowns as a junior.

1994 Winner - Rashaan Salaam, RB Colorado
How did the runner up
not win? ... Steve McNair, QB Alcorn State (3rd), Kerry Collins, QB Penn State (4th), Warren Sapp, DT Miami (6th)

Rasshaan Salaam won the 1994 Heisman with relative ease as he became the fourth running back to rush for over 2,000 yards in a season, highlighted by a 312-yard day against Texas. He left as a junior and became the 21st pick overall by Chicago in 1995. He had mild success until bad habits killed his career and his reputation.

Salaam won the Heisman, but Penn State's Ki-Jana Carter was acknowledged as the best running back in the nation. He was the first overall pick by Cincinnati, but he blew out his knee in his first appearance and was never the same. Alcorn State's Steve McNair was one of the biggest stories of the 1994 season after setting the NCAA career record for total offense. He was taken third in the 1995 NF Draft by the Houston Oilers, and he went on to carry the franchise into the Super Bowl when it became the Tennessee Titans. Penn State's Kerry Collins was the fifth pick in the draft by the Carolina Panthers after leading the high-powered Nittany Lion offense to an unbeaten 1994 season and the Rose Bowl. Miami DT Warren Sapp was taken 12th overall by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The future Hall of Famer was sixth in the Heisman tally.

1992 Winner - Gino Torretta, QB Miami
How did the runner up
not win? ... Marshall Faulk, RB San Diego State

Torretta's name has become synonymous with the concept of a good college player who wins the Heisman because he happens to be on a great team. He wasn't all that bad in 1992 throwing for 3,060 yards and 19 touchdowns with seven interceptions before the Sugar Bowl loss to Alabama, but he was hardly considered a pro talent being taken in the seventh round by Minnesota.

Meanwhile, San Diego State's Marshall Faulk didn't win the Heisman because he wasn't a senior ... at least that was the general belief. Had he been a senior and Torretta a sophomore, it likely would've been a landslide the other way. The electrifying sophomore led the nation with 1,630 yards and 15 touchdowns despite being banged up over the second half of the year. Torretta blew away Faulk when it came to first place Heisman votes, but Faulk made it close overall by getting the most second and third place votes. 

1984 Winner - Doug Flutie, QB Boston College
How did the runner up
not win? ... Bernie Kosar, QB Miami (4th), Jerry Rice, WR Mississippi Valley State (9th)

Flutie was a no-brainer of a Heisman winner in 1984 completing 233 of 386 passes for 3,454 yards and 27 touchdowns. Of course, he had it all sealed up after his legendary Hail Mary throw to beat Bernie Kosar and Miami in one of the great games in college football history. Because of his height, or lack of it, he was shunned by the NFL, for the most part, getting a little bit of time with the Chicago Bears before going on to be one of the greatest players in CFL history. He came back to the NFL and was great for the Buffalo Bills for a few years, but he never turned out to be the NFL quarterback that Kosar was. Of course, the best pro in the 1984 Heisman race came from Mississippi Valley State. Jerry Rice wasn't a hotly recruited prospect, but he finished his career with 310 passes for 4,856 yards and 51 touchdowns. He then went on to become the greatest NFL receiver of all-time.

1983 Winner - Mike Rozier, RB Nebraska
How did the runner up
not win? ... Steve Young, QB BYU

At the time there was no arguing with Rozier winning the Heisman. He was the signature star from one of the greatest offensive machines of all-time. He ran for 2,148 yards and 29 touchdowns averaging a whopping 7.8 yards per carry and breaking the 100-yard mark in all 11 regular season games. He set the NCAA rushing record for yards in a season and broke or tied several other marks. When it came time to turn pro, Rozier decided to go to the new USFL where he had marginal success before going to the NFL. While a decent pro, he was never close to the player he was in college.

Meanwhile Steve Young was off in BYU setting NCAA records for accuracy and efficiency. After originally starting out on defense, Young moved to quarterback where he quickly grew into the job finishing his career with 7,733 yards and 56 touchdowns while rushing for 1,048 more yards with 18 scores. He was taken in a supplemental draft by Tampa Bay before being traded to San Francisco. He went on to become a Hall of Fame quarterback after finally taking over the starting job from Joe Montana.

1967 Winner - Gary Beban, QB UCLA
How did the runner up
not win? ... O.J. Simpson, RB USC

The all-timer of Heisman blunders, Beban had a nice year for UCLA, but not an elite one. He only threw for 1,359 yards with eight touchdown passes and eight interceptions, but he had a great day on national television against USC. There was one problem: O.J. The USC junior tore off a legendary 64-yard touchdown dash to lead the Trojans to the win. Simpson finished with 1,543 rushing yards and 16 total scores. While Beban ran for 11 touchdowns, it wasn't like he was a runner. Even so, Beban was a senior and Simpson a junior, so the voters went with the solid career over the flashy season ... but just barely. Beban won 1,968 to 1,722 before going on to have a cup of coffee in the NFL with the Washington Redskins. Simpson won the 1968 Heisman in one of the biggest landslides ever before going on to becoming one of the great NFL players of all-time. GGG