Myth of a Heisman curse is slowly being dispelled.
Former Baylor Bear standout and 2011 Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III was named the Pro Football Writers Association NFL Rookie of the Year for 2012 on Monday. Griffin is the third consecutive former Heisman winner to receive a Rookie of the Year honor, joining Cam Newton (2011 AP Rookie of the Year, 2010 Heisman) and Sam Bradford (2010 AP ROY, 2008 Heisman).
Logic would dictate the best college football player — which, theoretically, winning the the Heisman indicates — is destined for professional success. But the equation isn’t so simple.
Over the past 25 years, Heisman winners with unremarkable NFL careers, or no NFL career at all, vastly outnumber those who excelled at the professional level. After future Hall of Famers Tim Brown and Barry Sanders went from the Heisman podium to NFL greatness in the late 1980s, college football’s most celebrated individual honor developed a stigma as it pertained to the pros.
Andre Ware, 1989
Andre Ware won the Heisman despite his Houston Cougars serving NCAA sanctions in 1989. He left the program with a year of both eligibility and UH sanctions remaining and headed to the NFL, where he spent four uneventful seasons with the Lions. Ware was something of a prototype for the label system quarterback.
Ty Detmer, 1990
Another system quarterback who compiled eye-popping numbers in college, Ty Detmer spent nearly a decade in the NFL but played sparingly. He saw the majority of his playing time in 1996 and 1997 for Philadelphia, and actually helped the Eagles to 10 wins in ’96. But that 15-touchdown, 13-interception campaign was his professional high point.
Gino Torretta, 1992
Gino Torretta spent two seasons in the NFL, which is the same number of games in which he appeared. He went 5-16 with a touchdown and interception.
Charlie Ward, 1993
Supremely talented Charlie Ward probably would get an opportunity in today’s NFL — and he would likely flourish, too. Ward was RG3 two decades early, but GMs were steadfast in there ways in his era.
No matter. Ward had a lengthy career in the NBA.
Rashaan Salaam, 1994
Colorado’s standout running back was thrust into the unenviable position of being expected to replace a legend. Rashaan Salaam arrived in Chicago as the second coming of Walter Payton — and he performed admirably for a season. But after surpassing 1000 yards in his rookie campaign, Salaam regressed to the point he was playing in the XFL by 2001.
Danny Wuerffel, 1996
The first Florida Gator since Steve Spurrier to win the Heisman Trophy, Danny Wuerffel is a Gainesville legend. Unfortunately, his NFL career did not pan out. He was a back-up to Brett Favre (understandable) and Jim Miller (wha?) after unceremoniously leaving New Orleans. Spurrier tried to recapture their swamp magic in Washington, unsuccessfully.
Ron Dayne, 1999
Adding Ron Dayne was not an easy decision. The Wisconsin running back did spend eight seasons in the NFL and was serviceable for the duration. He just never emerged as a No. 1 back, and only cracked 50 yards per game in his final two years, carrying the ball for mediocre Texans teams.
Chris Weinke, 2000
Chris Wienke was 28 years old when he won the Heisman Trophy, having delayed his football career to pursue Major League Baseball. His window for opportunity was narrow, so after a rookie campaign with the Carolina Panthers when he threw more interceptions (19) than touchdowns (11), he was afforded minimal looks thereafter.
Eric Crouch, 2001
After running the option for Nebraska, Eric Crouch didn’t fit the vision of an NFL quarterback. But at least one GM thought he could play wide receiver. Crouch famously passed on a tryout with the St. Louis Rams at receiver, wanting to play the position at which he won the Heisman.
Jason White, 2003
The Oklahoma quarterback’s slide completely off the board of the 2005 NFL Draft was a likely foreshadowing of his retirement later that same year. Jason White never played a down of professional football, the result of bad knees. That makes his very impressive two-year run as Oklahoma’s starting quarterback all the more impressive.
Matt Leinart, 2004
Once regarded as a can’t-miss NFL prospect, Matt Leinart got to the league in 2006 and has been a career reserve, save a few weeks when he started ahead of Kurt Warner. Ken Whisenhunt swapped the two, and the Cardinals made the Super Bowl. The Cardinals, a franchise so bad that it might have struggled with Leinart’s USC teams.
Troy Smith, 2006
Troy Smith’s only notable playing time in the NFL came during the 49ers’ dumpster fire of a 2010 season. He started ahead of former No. 1 overall pick Alex Smith briefly, throwing five touchdowns and four interceptions.
The jury is still out on other winners, like 2007’s Tim Tebow and 2009’s Mark Ingram (though deliberations are not looking promising for Tebow). Furthermore, it’s premature to declare the current run of Bradford, Newton and Griffin as the end of any Heisman curse. Griffin suffered a worrisome injury in the Playoffs earlier this month. Newton struggled through something of a sophomore slump. Bradford’s numbers were the best of his young career, but he has room to improve his accuracy.
Still, this stretch is a promising indicator for future invitees of the Downtown Athletic Club. Bradford’s AP Rookie of the Year nomination marked the first for a Heisman winner since Eddie George in 1996. George was a four-time Pro Bowler and All Pro in 2000.
The current run of ROY recognition among Heisman recipients is the best since Tony Dorsett, Earl Campbell and Billy Sims were similarly honored from 1976 through 1980.