Friday, December 12, 2008

On Heismans, Vince Young, Tebow And
Elements of College Football Immortality

For all the Tebow slobbering I do, it's widely overlooked that I put Vince Young at or very very near the top of my "best CFB player of the last 25 years" list.

(Yes, even ahead of Tommie Frazier, who -- make no mistake -- was awesome. But just about as one-dimensional as you get. And while that '95 Nebraska team was arguably the Greatest Team Ever, it wasn't all because of Frazier. But if you're wondering, yes, I put Frazier in the Top 5.)

But, to reiterate: "Best ever" is derived, more than any other single factor, from mythology. But mythology itself is fairly complex.

The lesson of VY is that mythology isn't made from merely winning the Heisman. The Heisman is a resume item, which folks can break out to make the argument that so-and-so is among the best ever.

But championships matter. Playing big in big games matters. Stats matter... sort of. (You don't remember how many total yards VY had; you do remember that he had 500 yards of offense against USC. You don't remember Tebow's precise totals from last year; you know he was the first-ever to be a "20/20" player.) Which supports the following:

The transcendent talent you can see with your own eyes matters (like VY scoring against USC in the NCG). "Storyline" matters (Tebow's "Promise"; Tebow's handy circumcision work, representative of his larger philanthropical angle; he just won that "most inspirational" award).

Is it fair to credit Tebow with "well, he's already won one national title" in the same way Young has? Hardly. Young carried that UT team in a uniquely spectacular way; to his credit, Tebow was the offensive MVP of that Florida title team, even in limited action. But it's not the same.

I think everyone -- including Tebow -- knows that Tebow needs to be THE guy on a national-title team to truly rise to the top, or even the top tier. Consider how much he has been elevated simply by leading Florida to that comeback win over Bama in the SECCG.

Winning a national title as a freshman (and having a powerful role in it) and becoming the first player ever to win the Heisman as a sophomore opened up never-before-seen possibilities for Tebow this year, especially with a better team around him. From the debacle against Ole Miss to the Promise to the performance after that, the myth is elevated.

If he does win the Heisman -- or, more accurately, if he does win the national title (see the VY Corollary that you don't need to win the Heisman to be immortalized) -- the resume -- no, the mythology -- is stuffed so ridiculously that he elevates into that "Best Ever" conversation almost by default.

Where it gets more intriguing is whether -- realizing that he won't be a first-round NFL pick -- he comes back to Florida for his senior year.

(The NFL, amusingly, doesn't give a crap about college mythology, and the NFL teams that do -- see Vince Young -- usually make a terrible pick; there are exceptions, obviously -- see Barry Sanders -- but among QBs, mythology is almost always a terrible indicator of future NFL success.)

There has been some talk -- wishful thinking, more like it -- on Florida message boards about Tebow, Percy Harvin and Brandon Spikes all wanting to come back next year to make a run at real immortality: An unbeaten season (the first in Florida football history) and status as one of the greatest teams of all time. (Hey, it worked for the basketball team.)

If that happens, we're in truly uncharted territory and Tebow has a shot at permanent placement above all the other college football immortals. I don't think it will happen: Spikes is a 1st-rounder, and you don't waste that in football. Harvin is a likely 1st-rounder AND has a history of injuries; he better get into the pros now. Tebow could work his way into the 1st round (I'm convinced Bill Belichick schemes to take him) AND he just lost his mentor, Dan Mullen, AND if he wins the national title, what more can he do? (I think there's a part of him that thinks that leading Florida to an SEC title is already enough.)

Obviously, the notion that Tebow is, already, the greatest college football player ever is premature, at best. (And I'm obviously so biased as to disqualify the entire argument an irrational one.) In fact, it's fairly stupid to discuss it before Jan. 9. But he's already in the discussion -- with your Vince and Tommie and Herschel and Barry and Bush -- as being among the greatest ever. That's a hell of a thing before you've completed 3 full seasons.

It's all about the mythology.

First published here.

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