Heisman: The Ultimate Team Award

The Heisman Trophy was a fitting end to Troy Smith's noteworthy meteoric rise from the projects of Cleveland, to Glenville High School, to embattled young quarterback and ultimately a player that will go down in Ohio State history as one of the best to play his position. But The Heisman was bigger than Troy Smith's award - it was his team's as well.

The old Troy Smith didn't get it. The old Troy Smith would have accepted the award as another deserved piece on his mantle.

The Heisman is an endeavor any self-serving collegiate football player aspires to achieve. For that matter, any living, breathing student-athlete that laces up the cleats would love to walk a mile in Smith's shoes.

But Saturday night at the Downtown Athletic Club, a reincarnated Smith walked up to the podium to accept, as the 70th recipient of the legendary award, and to stake his claim to this prestigious honor for all the right reasons. His team.

Smith thanked everyone under the sun for molding, shaping his career - a career that could have gone any number of unsettling directions. For living proof, see Smith's old buddy on campus, Maurice Clarett.

But the difference between the Smiths and Claretts of the world is minute. Some people grasp what it takes, others do not.

This is why you play the game. It's awards like The Heisman Trophy that athletes of Smith's caliber are enticed to attend elite programs like Ohio State, Notre Dame, USC or Michigan in the first place.

Paraphrasing, "I want to thank Brady Quinn and Darren McFadden," Smith said in his recipience speech. "It's the competition that makes us who we are."

He's right.

Normally calm, cool and collected under pressure, Smith buckled and showed signs of emotion. It wasn't because of composure, it was because this new-and-improved Smith has become team-oriented.

As if guilty to receive an individual award, Smith reluctantly became the sixth Buckeye to ever accept the award with barely a hint of personal gratification. But Smith proudly boasted of his selection for one overlooked motivation: The Heisman is truly a team accomplishment.

Aside from the obvious, The Heisman is typically awarded to successful players on successful teams, Smith is aware his teammates have helped put him in this position. The unfortunate (or fortunate for Ohio State) reality is that one or two losses by the Buckeyes could have cost Smith his shot.

It's depressing to think of how many failures there were to find this one success story. There were several times in Smith's life, and for that matter, collegiate career, when he could have become just another statistic.

In particular, 2004 was a key season for Smith. Early in the season, Smith nearly left the program early in the season over frustration for backing up quarterback Justin Zwick. Public comments by Smith, who was outraged over his lack of playing time, sent Ted Ginn Sr. into immediate peace-keeper mode trying to remind his former relcaimation project of the bigger picture.

Smith ultimately settled into the starting quarterback position for Ohio State, leaing the Buckeyes to regular season victories in four of their last five games. But a reported NCAA violation for his acceptance of five hundred dollars left him again in a precarious position with his team and future.

He sat out the Alamo Bowl that season - a 33-7 victory against Oklahoma State as well as the 2005 season opener against Miami (Ohio). It was after the loss in Columbus to eventual National Champion Texas when Smith took over the starting job for good.

A 21-1 record later, as well as a total of three consecutive victories over Michigan as a starting quarterback, Smith is now the first Buckeye to win The Heisman since 1995 when Eddie George won it. In doing so, he's a molded Jim Tressel clone - the ultimate "team" guy saying all the right things, and seemingly, doing all the right things too.

He could have been another talented, pampered, spoiled athlete that comes and goes - this one with just a little higher ceiling. Saturday night, the Troy Smith of old could have accepted the award for all the wrong reasons, or simply for reasons most of us would naturally be tempted to relate to.

Instead, Smith took the podium as the model representative of The Ohio State University. Since The Heisman is a team award, it's Smith's highest honor.

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