Payton Manning is busy these days, autographing memorabilia for Tennessee fans who will pay just about anything for anything with Manning's signature.
Volunteer fans are not only buying for Christmas but speculating in futures, Heisman Trophy futures.
The senior Tennessee signal caller is the odds-on favorite to win the New York Athletic Club's annual rite of passage -- the Heisman -- when the votes are tabulated and announced next month. He may get a challenge or two from another quarterback from Washington State and an all-purpose guy from Michigan but Manning was the odds-on choice LAST SPRING when he bypassed a chance at the National Football League draft and opted to remain in Knoxville for another season.
It isn't that Manning isn't deserving. His stats show 35 touchdown passes, enough yards thrown to make it from Johnson City and back and he has the bloodlines: his dad, Archie, was a top-flight NFL quarterback a generation ago.
But before collectors join the orange craze in the Volunteer state and start looking for Manning items, be weary.
There are all sort of jinxes in sport that range from the sublime to the ridiculous: the Sports Illustrated jinx (allegedly hexing any team or individual who appears on the cover of SI for weeks and months to come); the sophomore jinx (afflicting any talented freshman or rookie after a stellar first season ) and even the ex-Chicago Cubs jinx (the team with the most ex-Cubs cannot win a world's championship over another team--note, it did apply again in the 1997 World Series). All pretty silly and hard to prove.
But there is some ample proof that winning the 13 inch high, 6 inch wide 25 pound trophy can spell doom -- or at least major disappointment -- for players who win it and then go on to the NFL. Part of it can be traced back to sportswriters (and former Heisman winners) who vote on the award. They have had a love affair with offensive players, notably quarterbacks and running backs. Some talented offensive and defensive lineman seldom get the attention they deserve in college because they don't have the glaring stats sportswriters love. As a result, quarterbacks who easily pick apart defenses in college or running backs who knife through opposing lines find the competition a lot more challenging in the pros.
Then there is the intensive media blitz, a creature of the past 10 to 15 years. Where in the past top college players would be fortunate to make the cover of their media guide, today, sports information directors follow school's orders and mount massive publicity campaigns that would make politicians green with envy. The hype begins weeks before the season begins and often times voters -- I know because I used to be one of them -- will vote based solely on the stats sent to them by the schools rather than actually watching the players. With the advent and increased popularity of the internet, most Heisman candidates have their own web pages for voters -- and fans -- to peruse each week.
Forgetting the 1940s and early 1950s when the NFL wasn't playing on television and was behind even pro hockey in fan interest, Heisman winners like Dick Kazmaier of Princeton and Billy Vessels of Oklahoma were hardly household names outside of their area.
The first real Heisman "bust" was Navy's Joe Bellino in 1960, who may have had an excuse because of his post-graduate military commitments. Two years later, Terry Baker of Oregon State won the award but the Beaver quarterback never made it in the pros while runnerups Jerry Stsovall, Bobby Bell and Lee Roy Jordan went on to superior careers in the NFL.
In 1964, one of the real Heisman failures occurred when Notre Dame's John Huarte, again a quarterback, was selected. Finishing third that year was probably the NFL's all-time greatest linebacker -- and future TV star -- Dick Butkus of Illinois.
Steve Spurrier won the award in 1966 as Florida's quarterback. While he never had much of a pro career, he has at least atoned for the balloting by leading his alma mater to the national collegiate championship as coach last year. The next season a similar situation occurred when UCLA quarterback Gary Beban easily won the award over a talented junior college transfer from USC by the name of O.J. Simpson. Simpson won the award the next year and gained fame in the NFL and, well, you know the rest.
Pat Sullivan won a narrow victory in 1971 as Auburn's signal caller, edging out Ed Marinaro of Cornell. Sullivan never did much in the NFL but in fairness, Marinaro gained more ground on Hill Street Blues than he ever did in the pros.
Let's not just pick on quarterback failures here. Running back disappointments dot the Heisman landscape over the past quarter century.
John Cappaletti of Penn State earned praise for his achievement in a television movie in the 1980s but was never a NFL star after winning the trophy in 1973. Ditto for Charles White of USC won captured the award in 1978 and Mike Rozier of Nebraska in 1983.
Depending upon what country you are from will decide the success of Doug Flutie in 1984. The Boston College quarterback, who gained national attention -- and possibly sewing up the award -- with his 'hail mary' pass against Miami the day after Thanksgiving on national TV, signed initially with the now defunct USFL, had a ill-fated career in the NFL but has become a Canadian Football League hero, winning the Grey Cup and being named the league's MVP three times. But the dimunitive Flutie will always be known as the 5-foot-9 quarterback who was too small to be a big winner in the NFL.
The biggest Heisman disappointments have come over the last 10 years, due in part to the national hype the award began receiving and the explosion of the NFL in terms of regular and cable TV and collectors interest. Andre Ware of Houston passed his way to the award in 1989 but could never stick in the NFL ; Ty Detmer of BYU has shuttled starts with the Eagles as of late but has never nailed down a regular starting quarterback's job; Gino Torretta of Miami, the 1992 quarterback winner, rode the NFL bench keeping quarterback charts and Rashaan Salaam of Colorado, the 1994 winner and first round draft choice of the Chicago Bears, has fumbled his way out of the starting lineup (an injury knocked him out for the season just as the Bears were benching him earlier in 1997.
Charlie Ward of Florida State probably saw the handwriting on the wall from NFL scouts who said he was too small to play quarterback in the pros, electing to make his second sport, basketball, his prime focus. A draft choice of the New York Knicks, at least he is throwing passes to Patrick Ewing these days.