NEW YORK -- The Heisman needed a thorough cleansing.
In the last 15 months, Reggie Bush forfeited his trophy. We didn't know if Cam Newton was going to keep his.
Think of the awkwardness Saturday if some kid from Penn State, Miami or Ohio State had to lug his school's current reputation up to the podium before lugging the hardware home.
While the game's foundation has been eroded by scoundrels, cheaters and rogues, there is usually some sort of redemption reserved here in the second week of December. But lately even the Heisman needed to be run through a moral car wash. It needed someone known for more than football.
Someone who didn't need a background check.
|Robert Griffin, Baylor||405||168||136||1,687|
|Andrew Luck, Stanford||247||250||166||1,407|
|Trent Richardson, Alabama||138||207||150||978|
|Montee Ball, Wisconsin||22||83||116||348|
|Tyrann Mathieu, LSU||34||63||99||327|
At 8:45 pm ET on Saturday, Robert Griffin III became that someone. Baylor's quarterback won the 77th Heisman Trophy with more class than baggage. He won it on the field with spectacular play and off it with beyond-his-years maturity. He won it without some hokey promotion scheme. In fact, the only thing Baylor did was send out laminated cards reminding voters the season had been abbreviated to "RGIII." He won it with a wink and a smile. Griffin unveiled his latest crazy socks at the ceremony -- a pair adorned with the Superman logo, complete with little capes.
"Now that my socks are out there I've got nothing to lose, right?" he said moments before accepting the award.
It was the ultimate come-from-behind victory. BYU's Ty Detmer (1990) was the last Heisman winner from a private parochial school. Houston's Andre Ware (1989) was the last winner from a school that isn't a traditional football power.
Griffin basically won on it on the last night of the season, last Saturday when he accounted for four touchdowns against Texas. Before the game Longhorn linebacker Keenan Robinson said, "We won't plan on letting anyone win the Heisman against us."
After a 48-24 win in which Griffin put up 342 yards in total offense, all Robinson needed was salt, pepper and a napkin to eat his words.
Karma must have had a vote this year. On the last day, Stanford's Andrew Luck didn't play. Neither did Alabama's Trent Richardson. Given the stage, Griffin made it a one-act play starring him.
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Suddenly, it's OK to emotionally invest in a kid you'd want as your son. A son who was accepted to both Stanford and Harvard but chose to follow his coach from Houston to the Baptist Notre Dame.
"I seemed like God wrote it [the season] that way," Griffin said.
All that season lacked was gospel singers to celebrate him to the heavens. Try to recount the last Heisman winner who has been on track for his master's. Or a player called "intellectually gifted" by his coach.
It's about time someone called somebody something in this sport besides indicted.
This is where we come each year to remind ourselves there is some purity left outside the white lines. This is where Billy Sims screamed "Boomer!" after Sam Bradford won in 2008. (The correct response by the way is: "Sooner!") This is where former winners gather to welcome the new kid to the club.
Their lives are changed forever. But wait. Griffin has already changed a few himself. He became the first winner from a three-loss team since ... Tim Tebow in 2007. Remember all that he represented? Their connection is more than football.
"One kid asked me to Tebow with him a couple of weeks ago," Griffin said.
Take a knee, then, and give thanks. All of us. It was hard to lose Saturday. Richardson said this was as nervous as he had been since his first child was born in 2006. A win by Luck, now a two-time runner up, would have been equally satisfying. The only other official visit Griffin took was to Stanford.
A year ago Newton entered his press conference surrounded by eight body guards. Writers couldn't resist mentioned that the award was presented in the Best Buy Theater. It took a kind-of exoneration months later from the NCAA to finally wash away the scandal.
Griffin entered the sixth-floor space for his press conference at the Marquis Marriott with a smile from here to Broadway. The son of a pair of retired Army sergeants, the quarterback at a private school in central Texas restored our faith in the most meaningful award in college sports.
"The season has been transformational," Baylor AD Ian McCaw.
To a lot of folks Waco is the Branch Davidians and David Koresh. To others it is a place where a quarter of the population lives below the poverty line. If not that, then certainly they are reminded of the 2003 murder of a basketball player and NCAA probation at Baylor. Is it a possible that a 21-year-old kid with dreads and a rocket arm can redefine a city, a university?
"We'll give them," he said, "a fonder memory."
That kid was born in Japan and raised all over. He already has his degree. If the NFL doesn't interfere he'll apply to Baylor Law School. Enrolled at Baylor at age 17, Griffin was a Big 12 400-meter hurdles champion in track before he took a snap. When he did, he became the youngest starting quarterback in FBS in 2008.
Baylor coach Art Briles saw something that others didn't. Others projected him as a track star or an athlete or a defender.
"I saw him throw once," Briles said of the first camp with Griffin. "We knew we had us a steal."
But that was at Houston where Griffin originally committed. When Briles got the Baylor job, Griffin followed like a loyal puppy. The coach told the prodigy that in two or three years he would win the Heisman.
"I bought it," Griffin said.
"A big part of the decision was I wanted to go where I could play early," he added. "Not that I thought I was better than anyone else, I just didn't feel like it would be good to sit behind somebody for two years then play."
In the third game of the 2009 season he tore his ACL. In 2010, he was back throwing for 3,500 yards. This season he threw for almost 4,000 yards and 36 touchdowns. Griffin was more accurate than Luck, more exciting than Richardson. If his pass efficiency numbers hold up through the bowl game, Griffin will set a single-season record.
RGIII also became the third player in FBS history to throw for 10,000 yards and 2,000 yards rushing.
In the process, something called "Baylor Nation" was created. Football is currently ranked No. 12. Women's basketball is No. 1 and men's basketball is No. 6.
"Literally, it's unheard of," Griffin said. "I've never seen anything like that."
A lot of it has to do with the Tao of RGIII. Because of his ability little ol' Baylor is going to back-to-back bowls for the first time since 1986. In its first 15 years in the Big 12, the program won 15 conference games. Four of those were won in the month of November. This season the Bears swept the month going 4-0.
Years from now they may even count the momentum created by Griffin for a proposed new stadium. Maybe even Baylor's existence at the highest level of college football. The school has survived the possible breakup of the Big 12 twice in the last 18 months.
"We knew if we played well, we could play ourselves into a big conference or play ourselves into helping the Big 12 stay together," Griffin said.
They tried to take him out. Two weeks ago Texas Tech's Cornelius Douglas delivered a brutal head shot that caused Griffin to miss the second half. http://www.cbssports.com/collegefootball/story/16283112 Baylor won 66-42 but Griffin's Heisman chances looked finished. Apparently, enough voters held onto their votes through that final game. Until then, Luck and Richardson were the favorites.
Given that stage alone, RGIII made a statement that will last for years. For a night, college football got up out of the dirt, dusted itself off and smiled along with the Heisman winner -- from here to Broadway.