Michigan's Desmond Howard strikes the Heisman pose in 1991
At the Pac-12 media day earlier this week, Oregon coach Chip Kelly dismissed notions of an east coast media bias. “What I believe in college football is that there’s a winning bias,” Kelly said. “The fans, the media, everybody flocks to the teams that win. If you go 7-5, it’s your fault. If they are not talking about you, it’s because you went 7-5, not because there’s an East Coast bias. If you go 12-0, they’re going to talk about you.”
Chip Kelly is wrong.
The College Football Hall of Fame recently inducted 16 new players and four coaches into their hallowed halls. One player was former Michigan wide receiver Desmond Howard. As a diminutive playmaker, Howard electrified fans with his acrobatic catches and flashy punt and kickoff returns. He proudly won the 1991 Heisman Trophy.
But to be inducted into the Hall of Fame? It’s purely because he played for a high profile school like Michigan.
If Howard played for any West Coast team other than USC, he would’ve been on some All-America teams, but wouldn’t have garnered consideration for the Hall of Fame.
In his senior season of 1991, Howard had 62 catches for 985 yards and 19 touchdowns. He also returned two punts and one kickoff for touchdowns. A fine season to be sure.
But when it mattered most, playing in the vaunted Rose Bowl in front of millions of people, Howard was held to one reception, and his team got blown out by the Washington Huskies. He was completely shut down by UW safety Shane Pahukoa, who incidentally played the entire game with a separated shoulder.
On that day, Washington had its own diminutive superstar wide receiver by the name of Mario Bailey. “Super Mario” tallied six receptions for 126 yards and a touchdown. In celebrating his 38-yard touchdown reception in the fourth quarter, Bailey got to his feet and duplicated the Heisman Trophy pose that Howard struck after he scored against Ohio State in Michigan's final regular-season game.
"I just wanted to prove to everybody that there is another receiver," Bailey said afterward. "That just kind of gets frustrating after a while. I just wanted to show people that my name is Mario Bailey and my number is 5, not 21."
When asked about Bailey’s imitation of his pose, Howard tersely replied: “If he wants to see the real thing he can come over to my house.”
Bailey was the real thing, and every bit Howard’s equal. In that same 1991 season, Bailey had 62 receptions for 1,037 yards and 17 touchdowns. Teams desperately tried to cover him but Bailey was often astonishingly wide open. He also spent most fourth quarters on the bench, as that the Huskies usually put games out of reach by halftime.
Washington finished up 1991 with a 12-0 record and a split of the national championship with the Miami Hurricanes.
But Howard won the Heisman Trophy and now is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame.
That doesn’t make sense.
Defenders of Howard may point to the “intangibles” of how exciting he was to watch. But if we’re basing greatness on levels of excitement, then California’s Deltha O'Neal and Washington’s Napoleon Kaufman should be inducted immediately.
In addition to East Coast bias, our culture has lowered its standards the past couple of decades, when it comes to defining greatness.
After the recent death of singer Amy Winehouse, newspapers and tabloids seized onto the fact that she was 27 years old. They rushed to compare her to other musicians who died at 27, like Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison and Kurt Cobain.
Countless stories compared Amy Winehouse to those greats, in particular Hendrix.
You’ve got to be kidding.
Escalating overhype is reaching the point where awards and acknowledgements are becoming meaningless. Like how home run records lost their luster in the wake of the steroids era in major league baseball.
Desmond Howard’s induction into the College Football Hall of Fame rests on flimsy ground. He was a very talented player whose flashiness and Michigan bloodlines garnered him entry into the walled city. Nothing more.
Chip Kelly is wrong. The bias is alive and well.
Derek Johnson is the author of three books, including the recently-released Bow Down to Willingham. Read a free excerpt at www.derekjohnsonbooks.com