The black ties and evening gowns of the Academy Awards presentation share more in common with the helmets and shoulder pads of a college field football than one might assume.
Of this I was convinced while watching some of Sunday night’s Academy Awards broadcast. And no, it had nothing to do with parallels between Seth MacFarlane’s “We Saw Your Boobs” routine and Brent Musburger’s fixation on Jenn Sterger or Katherine Webb.
OK, maybe it has something to do with that. But more so, I came to the realization that winning an Academy Award and winning the Heisman Trophy are two very similar endeavors. Both the Oscar and the Heisman are coveted honors that have taken on a mythical aura in their respective arenas. Winning one guarantees the recipient’s place in history among the absolute best — even if the selection process seems somewhat arbitrary.
Now, an Adam Sandler picture is never going to win an Oscar, much like a blocking fullback on a MAC roster has no shot at the Heisman. There are formulas for getting into the running; shining in the SEC doesn’t hurt a player’s Heisman candidacy, just like any project with Daniel Day-Lewis’ name attached stands a better-than-average chance with the Academy.
Each award has underwhelming selections mixed in with the classics. For films like The Godfather, Casablanca and Platoon, there is a Crash sharing the same distinction because of a weak field. Gino Torretta may not have had the historic season players like Barry Sanders, Cam Newton and Jim Plunkett before him achieved, but he topped his class.
And while the awards indicate greatness, they aren’t the end-all, be-all. Raging Bull didn’t win Best Picture, just as Tommie Frazier never won a Heisman. Eric Crouch has a Heisman, and Shakespeare in Love has an Oscar.
Discussion on Friday’s Tony Kornheiser Show turned to the Oscars, and Hollywood production studios’ efforts to promote their films to voters. Oh, how little did I realize the fiercely competitive nature of Academy Award campaigning. The conversation reaffirmed my opinion — based on admittedly limited knowledge — that Harvey Weinstein is the film industry’s answer to Suge Knight.
An integral part of the process is dictating the media narrative. Since media members do the voting for the Heisman, it’s especially imperative in college football. Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin had a media gag order on quarterback Johnny Manziel much of the 2012 season, for example, but lifted the ban in time for Manziel’s Heisman push.
In this era of global connectivity, establishing a connection to fans is significant. Social media isn’t merely a barometer of what’s popular; it sometimes dictates popularity. Robert Griffin III was a non-traditional choice for the Heisman in 2011, but social media helped build momentum for the Baylor standout’s campaign.
The Academy Awards placed renewed emphasis on moviegoer input in 2010, when the Academy expanded the field of Best Picture nominees to include more audience-friendly titles. An offering like Django Unchained is an unconventional Oscar nominee, but its $380 million in box office earnings to date show that consumers enjoy it. And it may not fit the mold of a typical Best Picture contender, but overwhelming support defies convention.
Drumming up that media buzz and audience support requires a PR blitz. The commercialization of the Heisman Trophy has existed for long as I can remember, though Nike helped ratchet it up a few levels with its promotion of Joey Harrington in 2001. The former Oregon Ducks quarterback was marketed as Joey Heisman on skyscraper-length banners in Times Square.
The Joey Heisman campaign was actually quite reminiscent of movie promotion around Los Angeles. It’s impossible to drive on the 405, 110 or 101 for any length of time without coming upon a banner wrapped around a building.
Unless production studios sent the Academy tigers to promote Life of Pi, chalk this one up to college football.