Tua and Alabama’s Heisman History

After 82 years of awarding the Heisman Trophy, a quarterback from the University of Alabama could finally win the award this Saturday. Three quarterbacks– Crimson Tide quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray, and Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins–will travel to New York for the presentation, this time at a new venue, the Marriott Marquis in Times Square.  

Until Mark Ingram won the award in 2009, Alabama was the most successful college football program without a Heisman Trophy winner. And, with an illustrious history that produced players like Steve Sloan, Joe Namath, Kenny Stabler, and John Hannah, it was hard to fathom that Alabama had no such winner during the Paul “Bear” Bryant years, an era that produced six national titles and 14 Southeastern Conference championships. For years, the Crimson Tide used the snub to pride itself on team, eschewing the need for individual honors.

In 2009, Ingram, only a sophomore, cracked the Heisman code by rushing for 1,658 yards and 17 touchdowns while leading Alabama to an undefeated season and the national championship game against the University of Texas at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California. Since then, the Heisman floodgates have opened and a sea of crimson has washed in. If Tagovailoa takes home the hardware this Saturday, he will become Alabama’s third Heisman recipient in the last 10 seasons, following Ingram and running back Derrick Henry (2015).

For a moment let’s look back on the Crimson Tide’s Heisman history since the award was instituted in 1935. Heisman Trophy recipients are in parenthesis:

In 2016, Alabama defensive lineman Jonathan Allen finished seventh in the voting (Lamar Jackson). Allen posted 33 solo tackles and 10.5 sacks on the season.

Amari Cooper, who is now a wide receiver for the Dallas Cowboys, finished third in 2014 (Marcus Mariota). Cooper, who was Crimson Tide quarterback Blake Sims’ favorite target, had 124 receptions on the year for 1,727 yards and 16 touchdowns.

The previous year, 2013, AJ McCarron finished second, the highest finish for any quarterback in the history of Alabama football (Jameis Winston). On the year, McCarron connected on 226 of 336 passing attempts for 3,063 yards and 28 touchdowns.

Prior to his team dispatching LSU in the national championship game, Alabama running back Trent Richardson finished third in 2011 (Robert Griffin III). Richardson galloped for 1,679 yards and 21 touchdowns, averaging 5.9 yards per rush.

After Shaun Alexander finished seventh in 1999 (Ron Dayne), from 2000 to 2008, the Crimson Tide posted a nine-year drought in which no Alabama player placed in the Top 10 of the Heisman voting. Notably, this parched Heisman terrain coincided with the worst era in the history of Alabama football, thereby underscoring the need to have talented players to field a successful team.

Jay Barker, who led Alabama to a 35-2-1 mark as a starter across four seasons from 1991-94, finished fifth in his senior season (Rashaan Salaam). That year, Barker posted the most efficient numbers of his career, completing 61.5 percent of his passes for 1,996 yards and 14 touchdowns.

One year earlier, the all-purpose dynamo, David Palmer, finished third (Charlie Ward). Palmer caught 61 passes from the quarterback tandem of Brian Burgdorf and Jay Barker, who was injured for a large part of the season. A punt and kick return specialist, Palmer averaged 22 yards per kick return. He even completed 15 of 30 passing attempts for 260 yards and 2 touchdowns.

The Heisman voting in 1992 gave a nod to Alabama’s historic defense when defensive end Eric Curry finished ninth (Gino Torretta). Curry and his comrades led the Crimson Tide to its 12th national championship in school history after holding Florida to 21 points in the SEC championship game and Miami (FL) to only 13 points in the national championship game.

Here’s a look at Crimson Tide players who finished in the Top 10 prior to 1990:

1988  –   Derrick Thomas – 10th  –  (Barry Sanders, Oklahoma State)

1987  –   Bobby Humphrey – 10th –  (Tim Brown, Notre Dame)

1986  –   Cornelius Bennett – 7th – (Vinny Testaverde, Miami)

1983  –   Walter Lewis – 9th – (Mike Rozier, Nebraska)

1979  –   Steadman Shealy – 10th – (Charles White, USC)

1972  – Terry Davis – 5th – (Johnny Rodgers, Nebraska)

1971  – Johnny Musso – 4th – (Pat Sullivan, Auburn)

1965  – Steve Sloan – 10th – (Mike Garrett, USC)

1962  – Lee Roy Jordan – 4th – (Terry Baker, Oregon State)

1961  – Pat Trammell – 5th – (Ernie Davis, Syracuse)

1947  – Harry Gilmer – 5th – (Johnny Lujack, Notre Dame)

1945  – Harry Gilmer – 5th – (Doc Blanchard, Army) 

This season, Tagovailoa has thrown for 3353 on 199 of 294 passing. Until the LSU game in early November, Tua, based on Alabama’s dominance of its opponents, had not thrown a pass in the fourth quarter.

Tua first made a splash in the 2018 national championship game when he relieved starter Jalen Hurts after the Crimson Tide trailed Georgia at halftime, 13-0. Tagovailoa led the Crimson Tide on a furious second-half comeback, which sent the game into overtime with the score knotted at 20. After Georgia kicker Rodrigo Blankenship footed a 51-yarder on the Bulldogs’ first possession in overtime, Tagovailoa found a streaking DeVonta Smith for a 41-yard touchdown to seal the 26-23 win and Alabama’s 17th national title.

Tua celebrates after the SEC Championship win over Georgia on December 1, 2018 | Photo by Robert Sutton – Courtesy Alabama Athletics

This season, Tagovailoa tossed it for more than 300 yards on five occasions. Four times, he threw four touchdowns in a game, and against Auburn he threw five TD passes and ran for one more, setting an Iron Bowl record along the way. Until a 10-for-25 performance against Georgia in the SEC Championship game, his 70.3 percent completion percentage ranked him seventh in the country, and a 16.87 passing yards per completion percentage ranked him second only behind Murray.

But it’s more than that for Tagovailoa. It’s dropping pigskin rainbows into the arms of streaking receivers. It’s hitting Jerry Jeudy in stride on a simple slant that turns into a pot of gold. It’s tucking it and running for half a football field against LSU. It’s lowering a shoulder and meeting an Auburn defender just so you can taste the sweetness of the end zone pylon. It’s the kind of swagger he brings to the table each and every night.

It’s how he’s been the best doggone football player in America for most of the year.

Simply put, Tua Tagovailoa is having the greatest single season of any quarterback who has ever crouched under center as an Alabama football player.

To borrow a phrase from “Bear” Bryant, if Tua doesn’t win the Heisman Trophy, they ought to stop giving it. H&A


Al Blanton

Al Blanton

Born in Jasper, Alabama, Al is the owner and publisher of Blanton Media Group.
Al Blanton


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