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Evansville, Indiana
December 11, 1987     The Message
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December 11, 1987

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12 Sports The Message -- for Catholics of Southwestern Indiana December 11, 1987 Rutter on Sports By DAVE RUTTER He really is the best player in the co un try A New York sports writer once wrote that those who think the pursuit of the Heisman Trophy is important are the same people who think the world is fiat. Of course, those were more genteel days when Fordham played better college football than Ohio State. It even was before SMU started paying its players. This, folks, was a very long time ago. Through the years when Notre Dame's ghosts -- Bertelli, Lattner, Hart, Homung, Huart and Lu- jack -- were galloping after the prize, the writer's assessment might have been true. There are 1,050 members of the Heisman voting panel spread across the country, but no one knows why they vote the way they do. That makes the process somewhat suspect in the same way, for example, that some players are inexplicably omit- ted from Baseball's Hall of Fame. The awarding group, the New York Athletic Club, is one of those quaint, musty anachronsims whose inner workings are a mystery to all but members of sancto sanctorum, and, in truth, it has never been close to the heartbeat of the game. No one plays major college football within 200 miles. The DAR naming the Nobel recipient for chemistry makes as much sense. So you might presume that it was pleasant -- but hardly central -- that Notre Dame's wondrous man with the golden hands, Tim Brown, stepped up to the podium Saturday to accept the award as the nation's premier football player. It makes headlines for a day, and then no one remembers. Aside from the thousands of dollars spent every year by college public relations departments, what lasting effect does it have after the applause dies down? Although the phenomenon may be relatively recent, wltat the Heisman means now is more than record-book immortality. In the case of Tim Brown, it will mean an extra $1 million more on his pending pro football career. One million dollars more. No questions. No quibbling. Veteran sports agents now say that the trophy adds at least that much to endorsements and play- ing contract, and maybe more if the player is as good as advertised. Even if it seems the Heisman winner really isn't the best player, the trophy still pays off. It's the magic of it. The clearest proof of the magic is Boston Col- lege quarterback Doug Flutie who essentially won the Heisman on one pass -- the one that beat Miami's Hurricanes at the gun and was replayed 10,000 times on every TV talk show from Mere Griffin to The Victory Garden. Flutie thereby became heir to a zillion dollars and was instructed to make the since-deceased USFL "legitimate." That didn't work, and neither has he despite modeling several National Football League jerseys. As Flutie proved, winning the Heisman doesn't make you the best player in the country. It only confers the right to call yourself the best player when the dudes in the double-breasted suits come calling for your signature. Luckily for Brown, that's no problem. Not on- ly is he the Heisman winner, he's also the best football player in the country this year. Although Brown won't need a U-Haul van to pick up his first paycheck, he figures to hang around long enough to make himself permanently, and stupendously, well off. His senior figures for the 8-3 Irish were evidence enough, but he was even better than he seemed. He was the most dangerous offensive threat in the land, despite playing much of the season with a broken finger and a separated shoulder. Imagine a sore-armed quarterback or bum-kneed halfback winning the Heisman. He is a Merlin in shoulder pads. As a measure of his effect on the national football-watching populace, he was virtually a "failure" every time he DIDN'T return a kickoff or punt for a touchdown -- or 50 yards. He doomed Michigan State twice on returns and radically altered the way in which each opponent approach- ed the Irish. Everywhere that Brown went, two and sometimes three guys in different-hued uniforms were sure to follow. He even acted as coach Lou Holtz's umbilical to rookie quarterback Tony Rice, often calling out plays and alerting his mates to changes at the line of scrimmage. Seldom has a non-runningback or non- quarterback so taken the game into his own hands 4. When he played poorly against Miami in the regular-season finale, it may have been the most- talked-about performance since Flutie's heroics. He caught only 39 passes all year, but this for a team which couldn't win if it were forced to pass more than 15 times a game. The Irish still looked slow defensively, had a mediocre kicking game and were thin at key positions. This was not a year in which Notre Dame figured to be much better than the 5-6 team of last year. And this goes to the lasting value of winning the Heisman -- at least Brown's contribution to the lore. Holtz gets the media's vote for resurrecting :., Notre Dame's legend and this is not without justification. True, Holtz was the mind of that rebirth, but just as surely, Brown was the heart, the magical heart. Despite eight wins, Notre Dame still was not nearly as good as the record which now carries the Irish into the Cotton Bowl. But that is the truest and most meaningful measure of Brown's greatness, and why Brown clearly was the best football player in the land. Notre Dame's 1987 football team was only as good as he could make it. In the end, that wasn't too shabby. To Notre Dame fans, the extra million due Tim Brown is the bargain of the decade. I FOR COMPLETE American  FURNITURE-CARPET-APPL,ANCES ELECTRICAL SERVICE National Sank IIOME OUTFITTERS Sicknell - Sandborn JASPER - LOOGOOTEE - WASHINGTON H.G. 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