Heisman voters, give him the respect NFL GMs do McNAIR'S THE ONE

October 27, 1994|By KEN ROSENTHAL | KEN ROSENTHAL,NCAA SUN STAFF GRAPHIC HEISMAN CANDIDATES K?

Steve McNair is the politically correct choice for the Heisman Trophy -- and a legitimately correct choice, as well.

How many passing yards must he compile before everyone agrees he's the best player in college football?

How many times must we hear the argument that no Division I-AA player deserves the Heisman?

How many roads must a man walk down before you call him a man?

McNair is from a historically black college, but that's not why he should get the award -- the symbolic gesture would mean nothing in an age when black quarterbacks still face discrimination.

He should get the award because he's worthy.

It would be different if there were a Herschel Walker tearing up Division I-A -- and Colorado's Rashaan Salaam or Penn State's Ki-Jana Carter still might prove clearly dominant.

But right now, with no obvious favorite, it's the perfect season to disrupt the equation, the perfect season to honor McNair.

Three NFL general managers contacted by The Sun said they don't rate McNair lower because he plays in the Southwestern Athletic Conference.

Why should the Heisman voters?

Talk about ridiculous: McNair might be a top-five pick in the NFL draft, but some believe he shouldn't even be considered for the Heisman.

In other words, the pro scouts might view him as one of the nation's best college football players, but writers and broadcasters who vote for the Heisman might not even see fit to judge him.

If he's good enough for the NFL, he's good enough for the Heisman. The past five awards went to Charlie Ward, Gino Torretta, Desmond Howard, Ty Detmer and Andre Ware. Not one became an NFL star.

McNair is a threat to the established order. Few without ESPN2 have seen him play, yet many find his Heisman candidacy offensive. Keith Jackson, Lee Corso, Beano Cook -- they're already pounding the anti-McNair war drums.

Self-interest, anyone?

Heaven forbid the Heisman go to a player from a team that doesn't regularly appear on national television, where the talking heads can nod gravely and stand in judgment.

This isn't a black thing, it's a big-time college football thing. Of course, in the case of McNair, the two might be one and the same.

McNair's chief obstacle isn't that he's black; it's that he plays for Alcorn State. But why does he play for Alcorn State? Because he's black.

The Division I-A schools wanted McNair to play defensive back -- he tied Terrell Buckley's state career record of 30 interceptions at Mount Olive (Miss.) High.

But he wanted to play quarterback.

True, black quarterbacks no longer are rare in college football -- from Ward to Tommie Frazier and Kordell Stewart, they're now among the game's biggest stars.

But, just as the NFL's failure even to draft Ward confirmed one form of lingering prejudice, the Division I-A snub of McNair seemed to confirm another.

Ward refused to commit to the NFL over the NBA; McNair, at least, will get drafted. He's the right size -- 6 feet 2, 218 pounds -- a scout's dream.

His lack of quality competition?

Here's what the GMs said:

Dick Steinberg, New York Jets: "It bothers us less at quarterback than at any other position. There are a lot of quarterbacks in the NFL from small schools.

"So few guys come out anymore with an NFL arm, from the standpoint of strength, distance, velocity, quick release. If a guy's got that, we don't care where he came from."

Bill Polian, Carolina Panthers (the team with the No. 1 pick in next year's draft): "I think he's clearly a talent, and a great one.

"You want to see, obviously, how he does in the all-star games, the combines, all the other things we consider. But the fact that he's at Alcorn doesn't bother me. That's pretty good football."

Charley Casserly, Washington Redskins: "Terry Bradshaw didn't play Division I football. Phil Simms didn't play Division I football. 00 Morehead State [Simms' school] is many steps below Alcorn. The division is a consideration, but talent is the first consideration."

Of course, it's different with the Heisman, where performance is utmost. But last week, McNair broke Detmer's NCAA record for total career yards.

Detmer, the Heisman winner in 1990, played in the Western Athletic Conference at BYU. One GM noted that when it comes to pass defense, the SWAC is no worse than the WAC.

So, what's the problem?

The SWAC produced a recent Hall of Famer (Walter Payton), a future Hall of Famer (Jerry Rice) and the only black quarterback to win a Super Bowl (Doug Williams).

Evidently, they don't count.

A vote for McNair is a vote against Heisman hype -- Alcorn has spent approximately $10,000 to promote him, but he generates most of the publicity himself.

A vote for McNair is a vote for the underdog, a vote for the under-funded, a vote for every Gordie Lockbaum and Ed Marinaro who embodied the best ideals of their sport.

A vote for McNair is a vote against college football. Not the game, which is terrific. But the institution, which is corrupt.

Fight the power.

# McNair for Heisman.

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