United We Stand

So much attention is being paid to the closest Heisman race in recent history. No clear cut winner has made his way to the front of the pack and the guessing game has gone on now for weeks. Miami faithful can take some pride in Hurricanes superstars occupying two of the five seats available for Saturday's presentation.

But at the end of the day, who really cares?

Individual awards are meaningless in Miami.

In early August when teams are pushing and challenging themselves – what Cane is truly gunning for a single trophy to be awarded at the Home Depot College Football Awards Show? Not a one. Team goals take precedence. A shot at a National Championship followed by state and conference championships are the name of the game.

Anyone remember last year's Maxwell Award Winner?

Damned if I knew off the top of my head, but it was our very own Ken Dorsey. Either way, not all that memorable a stat.

Mention who took home the last year's title and you won't find many who'll soon forget about the 2001 Miami Hurricanes. Possibly one of the strongest, most talented and spirited units ever to play the game, there was – and still is – no such thing as individual glory at Miami.

Before the season was there a ten story Ken Dorsey painting on the side of any building in downtown New York? What about any "Kenny For Heisman" buttons or press kits sent out to the national media? Fat chance. The only message coming out of Coral Gables this fall was "here we come again – brace yourself." The only goal – a trip to Tempe and a shot at defending the crown.

Truth be told, the Heisman Trophy has lost its luster in recent years. Supposedly the award is given to the "outstanding gridiron star" of the current season. Named for John W. Heisman in 1936 after he lost his battle with bronchial pneumonia, this trophy represented his stellar career as a player and coach. His impact on the game earned him his position as first Athletic Director of the Downtown Athletic Club. In his passing a tribute – the DAC Trophy was renamed the Heisman and a tradition was born.

Gone are the days where a Bo Jackson, Tim Brown or Barry Sanders picked up the trophy while making the transition from stellar college athlete to big time professional baller. The last three Heisman Trophy winners gave us Eric Crouch, Chris Weinke and Ron Dayne. All three earned the award in less competitive Heisman races. They put together somewhat impressive college careers and have faded into oblivion or average NFL careers. No recent member has won straight up for one impressive year. Crouch, Weinke and Dayne were victorious due to impressive collegiate careers.

Maybe this is the reason Ken Dorsey is getting the shaft. Reverse the trend and make an example of a guy who is already the most underappreciated college football player in recent memory. Par for the course.

Unofficially considered a "career" award the past few seasons and proven by recent winners, it appears that trend comes to an end this Saturday. Few have Dorsey winning this award, yet if you followed the voting the past few years this career quarterback would win the trophy in a landslide. Dorsey's stats this season are slightly better than 2001, yet the call is that he didn't put up Heisman caliber numbers.

Let me get this straight, Dorsey didn't have a Heisman quality season, yet Carson Palmer has the slight lead going into Saturday? Palmer went 288 of 458 for 3,639 yards and 32 touchdowns. His completion percentage was 62.9 and he averaged 7.9 on yards per completed pass. Good for Carson.

Down in Coral Gables another ho hum year for KD as he went 194 of 350 for 3,073 yards and 26 touchdowns. His completion percentage was 55.4 and he averaged 8.8 on yards per completed pass.

Of course no one takes the running game into consideration. While Palmer lit up the southern California skyline, Dorsey found himself handing off more times than your average gunslinger prefers. The goal is winning games and Willis McGahee is the other half of this offensive equation that equals victory.

Palmer's ace Justin Fargas had 141 rushing attempts for 593 yards. McGahee took his 262 attempts for 1,686 yards. Fargas had five touchdowns to McGahee's 27. Dorsey had every reason to lean on McGahee to help win games. As a result No. 11 has the most important stat in his favor – 0. Dorsey led the Canes to another undefeated regular season while Palmer stumbled twice en route to USC's Orange Bowl berth.

Not only is Dorsey trailing Palmer in regards to quarterbacks in the hunt, but most have McGahee trailing Penn State's Larry Johnson as far as running backs are concerned. Johnson already nabbed the blah, blah trophies a few nights back and is a threat to take home the Heisman on Saturday. Johnson scampered for 2,015 yards this year. Didn't you hear? He had an unprecedented average of 8.0 yards per carry. Amazing, huh?

Everyone will focus on his accomplishments yet no one wants to make mention of the only number that counts – 212.

Johnson failed to show up in Penn State's biggest games of the season – Iowa, Michigan and Ohio State. The Nittany Lions lost all three.

212, you ask? That was Johnson's combined yardage in those three losing efforts. A mere 68 yards against Iowa, 78 yards against Michigan and a season low 66 yards against Ohio State. Average yards per carry in those three games? Try 4.2 instead of that oh so pretty 8.0 on the season. When the money was on the table, Johnson left the building.

McGahee on the other hand thrived in big game scenarios. Slated as the second string back going into the season, McGahee jumped into the spotlight when starter Frank Gore endured a season ending injury during fall practice.

No. 2 opened the season with a 60 yard effort against Florida A&M. Forget that he only carried six times and rode the pine the second half as backup Jason Geathers torched A&M for 199 yards on the ground. If Miami were a "run it up" kind of program, Willis would've neared the 300 yard mark and been an instant Heisman candidate. Instead the coaching staff bottled him up and saved his breakout performance for a bigger stage.

September 7th, 2002 the college football world welcomed Willis McGahee. The No. 1 Canes paid a visit to the No. 6 Florida Gators. This meeting fifteen years in the making was seen in front of a national audience. Florida had The Swamp and were favored by 2 according to the odds makers.

Miami had Willis McGahee. Game, set, match.

The contest ended a 41-16 Hurricane win but the most impressive number was 204 – McGahee's yardage on the day. His 24 carries and one touchdown were accompanied by an 8.4 yards per carry average. In Miami's first true challenge as defenders of the crown, McGahee stole the day and sealed the Canes' fate.

A few weeks later the marquee game was Florida State. McGahee finished with 173 total yards – including a 68-yard screen pass that set up the game winning touchdown. Do or die time and again WM rose to the occasion.

Big games, huge efforts and Heisman caliber plays made up the rest of McGahee's season but he saved his best performance for last.

Virginia Tech was the final roadblock. A team with the talent and fortitude to knock Miami off its perch. A squad sporting the nation's best one two punch in regards to ground game with "The Untouchables" Lee Suggs and Kevin Jones. While the Hokie backs were held to 56 yards combined, McGahee came in quiet and went out with a bang.

Boom! – 39 carries for 206 yards and a mind-boggling six touchdowns – 226 total yards on the day. As for the most important number – 0. No losses. Undefeated again. Back to the ‘ship.

Larry Johnson? Three losses and a trip to the Capital One Bowl for a "thriller" against No. 23 Auburn.

If the Miami Hurricanes wanted to play the stats game, they'd be guaranteed a Heisman winner this season. Tailor the offensive attack to either suit McGahee's ground game or Dorsey's aerial attack and there is your winner. Leave your starters in late in the game and pad those stats. Give the 398 yards that Geathers earned on mop up duty over to McGahee. Combine it with Willis. 1,686 on the season and wouldn't you know it we have two backs in the land that went over the 2,000 yard mark. Johnson and his 2,015 to McGahee's 2,084.

Before anyone feels that Dorsey and McGahee are being slighted, take solace in the fact that neither of these two team players are concerned with the Heisman. When they say it, these two truly mean it. Would they both be proud to display the trophy on their mantle? They'd be lying if they said otherwise. Still, the real pride comes with that sixth ring. Nothing can top back to back National Championships (except a three peat, of course.)

"I think winning (games) is the most important thing. That's the only thing I've ever been concerned about," said Dorsey.

When asked about being shut out at the College Football Awards Banquet a few nights ago Dorsey responded," It's a big honor just to be able to go to these things, but I'm more interested in the national championship."

"The awards right now are people's opinions. The only opinions that matter to me right now are my teammates and how we do in the Fiesta Bowl [Jan. 3rd against Ohio State]."

McGahee uttered the same sentiments post show in Orlando last Thursday night.

"We're really not worried about this," the sophomore tailback said. "Only a few people leaving this room tonight can say they are going to play for a national championship. And only three of us can say we'll have played for two in a row. Our trophy will be winning the big one on Jan. 3."

Spoken like true champions.

When the envelope is opened Saturday evening, don't be disappointed if you disagree with the results. In a perfect world Dorsey would get the Heisman based on a stellar career at Miami and the fact he was the heartbeat of the 2001 Canes. Without his efforts, there is no trip to Tempe. It's that simple. While we understand and appreciate that, the rest of the world seemed to be more impressed with Carson Palmer's late season efforts against an overrated Notre Dame defense. Larry Johnson's 2,000+ yards mean more than Willis McGahee's 12-0 season and a penchant for big time plays at the most desperate of times.

Dorsey – the 38-1, defending National Champion and three year starter – should march off with this award. McGahee the super soph, should be a close second and as a favorite going into 2003. Palmer and Johnson can cruise in third and fourth, respectively. They both fell just short of all that should encompass the eventual Heisman winner – complete balance, selflessness and stamina to bring it twelve games straight with a target on their backs. That's exactly what Dorsey and McGahee did. The Canes faced everyone's "A" game. No one had a letdown when Miami came to town. All opponents were out to make history – instead they became history. There was no margin of error for the defending champs.

Winning is the name of the game. Dorsey and McGahee consistently took care of business. Never a letdown. Neither ever cost their team a game. Palmer and Johnson both stumbled. Imperfection. Coming up short when giving their all was the requirement. That doesn't embody this trophy.

Then again, these trophies don't embody the Miami Hurricanes.

Only one trophy matters. It's made of crystal and sponsored by Sears.

Individually the Canes came up short at Thursday night's awards ceremony. As a unit they'll dwell on their shot at the ultimate prize. The celebration will commence upon winning one more battle on January 3rd.

Until then we'll set our sites on Saturday's trophy presentation and quietly hope that someone out there noticed what took place in Coral Gables this fall. History was made and one of the two patriarchs deserves the ultimate glory. Take your pick. Dorsey or McGahee – it shouldn't even be up for debate.

Born and raised in Miami, FL and a Grassy.com guest columnist since 1995, Chris Bello now resides in San Diego, CA. Feel free to send your comments or to contact him for potential writing assignments at chris@grassy.com

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