Torretta makes it easy to call this Heisman play

John Steadman

November 09, 1992|By John Steadman

Walking the floor, scanning the calendar, periodically looking out the window for the anticipated arrival of the postman and then checking the mailbox in a nervous fidget to make certain it wasn't overlooked. Still no Heisman Trophy ballot.

But it will be here. It always is. Meanwhile, we're content to continue rehearsing the proper spelling of Torretta, two rs and two ts; first name, Gino, and his school's identity, the University of Miami.

Torretta has gained late foot in the race for the Heisman Trophy, the most distinguished award that can come to a college football player, and we singularly applaud his candidacy while not being able to prophesy how the other 869 voters in America are going to mark their ballots.

But we do know Torretta represents the characteristics this observer has always used as criteria for voting the Heisman: Standout ability on a major team, plus a winning record.

The Heisman has nothing to do with how its recipient might fare in the National Football League, or even if he turns his back and decides there are more important things in life. What the Heisman is all about is pure performance as a collegian, not potential as a professional.

Torretta more than qualifies for membership in this exclusive club, the Heisman, which has been taking in only one player a year since it was inaugurated in 1935. That was a time when only players east of the Mississippi River were deemed eligible because of some weird provincialism, or downright prejudice, that was quickly drop-kicked into oblivion.

Some of the most revered personalities in all of football are in the Heisman fraternity, such as Yale's Larry Kelley, a boyhood hero; Oklahoma's Billy Vessels, Army's Glenn Davis, Wisconsin's Alan "The Horse" Ameche, Ohio State's Archie Griffin, a double winner in 1974 and '75; Notre Dame's Johnny Lattner and Texas A&M's John David Crow.

It's no secret the three leading contenders for the current edition of the Heisman are Torretta, the Miami quarterback; and running backs Garrison Hearst of Georgia and Marshall Faulk of San Diego State. Hearst is a junior; Faulk a sophomore. They play for good teams and, each, in his own way, is an exciting type, explosive and an effective game-breaker.

A comment from Pat Livingston, retired sports editor of the Pittsburgh Press and the Middle Atlantic sectional representative the Heisman board, carries important significance. "Torretta gets my vote as of this point in the season," said Livingston, who has an amazing record of accuracy among football people, dating back to the era of the "Dream Backfield" at Pittsburgh and the legendary coach, Dr. John "Jock" Sutherland.

"I believe the Heisman should go to a player who has had a tremendous career, and when you examine what Torretta has done, quarterbacking in such a pressure-packed situation, the field leader of the No. 1 team, it means he has the kind of credentials the award symbolizes."

L Coming from Livingston, such a commendation delivers impact.

Torretta, from Pinole, Calif., who elected to go to Miami to bask in the football sunshine, shows a report card that contains nothing but perfect grades (all victories) in his last 20 career starts. Even the most discriminating of voters will have difficulty finding fault with 20 and 0. It means he's the team leader and interested in sustaining what could be another national championship rather than selfishly padding his statistics.

Ground-gaining figures are worthwhile, but football is a game where victory is the foremost consideration and individual exploits are relegated to roles of less importance, unless they correlate with winning. The record is all the proof needed that Miami and Torretta win.

It could be, though, that a momentous Heisman matchup will be afforded all of America when Miami and Torretta face San Diego State and Faulk on Nov. 28. How that plays out promises to be an epic study in measuring personal efforts and also how each team deals with the occasion.

Will Miami and San Diego State try to design game plans to help their respective Heisman candidates or will they subordinate such desires? For San Diego State, maybe, but an emphatic no for Miami, where coach Dennis Erickson will only be asking his quarterback to keep the Hurricanes on the all-winning side of the ledger. It wouldn't do for Torretta to take the Heisman but have his team suffer the ignominy of a setback. That may not work.

Winning, at least for a quarterback, is bottom-line consideration. Before any of that unfolds, unbeaten Miami must get past Temple and top-10-ranked Syracuse. If Miami puts together another all-winning season and a national title, it would be folly to believe the Heisman, because of what it stands for, could be presented to any football player in the land other than Gino Torretta.

P.S. -- Heisman headquarters in a late advisory says ballots get mailed Nov. 12. Voting deadline is Dec. 10; announcement Dec. 12.

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