The college football match-up was Tim Tebow vs. Matt Leinart. Perfectly respectable pairing (although you could make a great case for Vince Young).
The fans, correctly, made their choice clear: By a margin of 79 percent to 21 percent, fans picked Tebow over Leinart as college football's player of the decade. But...
My SN colleagues overruled the fans' judgment, picking Leinart over Tebow.
As you would imagine, I led my SN column this morning with a measured level of outrage, for two things: (1) Because the editors dismissed the judgment of the fans, and (2) because Tebow wins the argument, on the merits.
Here's what the SN reasoning was:
He was never a living legend like Tebow—never quite had the same visceral presence—but Leinart had a 37-2 record as a starter, won or shared two national titles and owns a Heisman Trophy. Moreover, he was Pete Carroll's point man as the Trojans went from rising power to the kings of college football. If not for a historic Vince Young-led drive in one of sports' greatest championship games ever, the case for Leinart would be crystal clear.Let's break that down:
*Tebow is a "living legend"; Leinart isn't. Point for Tebow.
*Leinart's record as a starter: Propped up by surrounding talent. Tebow carried Florida in 2007. If you count Tebow's freshman year -- where he didn't start, but he was arguably offensive team MVP -- his career W-L record obliterates Leinart's.
*Leinart won or shared 2 national titles. Let's clarify: Leinart won a half-title in 2003, and won a full title in 2004 that was tainted because USC didn't have to play unbeaten Auburn. Tebow has been a part of two undisputed national title teams -- in 2008, as a starter, and in 2006, as (again) arguably the team's offensive MVP...as a true freshman part-time player.
*Leinart won a Heisman. So did Tebow, becoming the first sophomore ever to win one. He also came in 3rd last year; Leinart came in 3rd in 2005, but Leinart didn't receive the most 1st-place votes the year he came in 3rd, as Tebow did.
*Oh, and this little detail: Tebow and Leinart are in a virtual dead-heat right now -- that's after Leinart's 4-year career... and Tebow's first three years. SN doesn't even count THIS season, which arguably will be Tebow's finest: Florida is favored to win another national title; Tebow is currently favored to win another Heisman; and the "living legend" thing (no small factor) is only getting more powerful.
It was always going to be dicey for SN to do "Player of the Decade" before the decade was over -- at least as it relates to a match-up where one of the contenders is still playing, with a chance to top previous accomplishments.
Unsurprisingly, I would pick Tebow over Leinart, even before this season started -- but when you include this season's accomplishments, I think it will be a no-brainer, and this will be SN's "Dewey Defeats Truman" moment. It is compounded by the way the fans clearly saw the distinction between Tebow and Leinart, in favor of Tebow.
I look forward to the magazine's correction in January.