The Week That Was: The 2018 Heisman Trophy

     New York City is not a college football hotbed but it becomes its Mecca the second Saturday of December every year when the winner of the Heisman Trophy, the most prestigious individual award in college sports, is announced. Adding to its attention is the one-hour program that ESPN televises.

      This year’s winner, University of Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray, has gained fame for not only leading his Sooners to the college football playoffs but for his prowess as a baseball player. He was selected by the Oakland Athletics in the first round of the 2018 amateur draft that was held by Major League Baseball this past June.

       Even though Murray gladly talked about his dual collegiate sports career during the ESPN Heisman telecast, he clammed up about it at his press conference following his receipt of the trophy.

      When I asked him about the economic benefits of an MLB playing career vis-a-vis one in the NFL (a better pension plan, stronger players union, and a longer career on the average) Murray just replied that all he was thinking about was his upcoming game with Heisman Trophy runner-up, QB Tua Tagovailoa and his University of Alabama teammates.

      I was far more impressed with the poise and candor of the third nominee, Ohio State QB Dwayne Haskins. Perhaps it’s because he grew up just outside NYC in Highland Park, NJ but Haskins did not seem like a deer in the headlights at the press confab just prior to the Heisman Trophy presentation.

     Dwayne Haskins did not hesitate when I asked him about whether college athletes should be compensated. “Absolutely. We generate a lot of revenue. I am working out, practicing, or working out at least 11 hours a day. It limits what I can do as a student,” he forthrightly replied.

     He laughed when I asked if he thought about bringing his talents to my alma mater, Columbia. “Playing in the Ivy League was never a consideration,” he said with a broad smile.

     Speaking of the Ivy League, the conference presented its verison of the Heisman Trophy, the Bushnell Cup, last Monday at the New York Hilton. Dartmouth cornerback Isiah Swann was named the Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year while Princeton QB John Lockett, who led his Tigers to an undefeated season and an Ivy League championship, was named its Offensive Player of the Year.

     Lockett deserved Heisman Trophy consideration but there was no way that was going to happen in the big money world of college football.

      I spoke to Columbia football head coach Al Bagnoli whose Lions went 6-4 this season making them New York’s only winning football team in 2018. He broke into a big grin when I asked him if he would like to coach the New York Jets. “I don’t think that I am on their radar screen,” he replied. He should be.

     New York’s bowl game, the Pinstripe Bowl, will take place on December 27th at Yankee Stadium when the University of Wisconsin Badgers will take on the University of Miami Hurricanes. My money would be on the Wisconsin Badgers who are more accustomed to the chilly New York weather of late December than the Miami Hurricane who are used to playing in balmy climes.

     The XFL will begin its revival in February 2020. At a press conference that was held at MetLife Stadium last week, XFL founder Vince McMahon announced that the new league would have eight teams with one based in the New York metropolitan area which will play at MetLife Stadium.

     In a smart move, the XFL will have a team in St. Louis, a city that was unjustifiably dumped by the NFL when the Rams returned to Los Angeles a few years ago. In something of a surprise, the XFL is ignoring Las Vegas, which drew well for them in their lone year of existence, 2001, big-market Chicago, and football-crazy Philadelphia for now.

     Now that sports betting is legal in New Jersey, you should visit to get all the palces you can place a sports bet and even some opening specials. 

     Deadspin, the offbeat sports digital publication, held its third annual tongue-in-cheek awards ceremony at Manhattan’s Irving Plaza concert venue last Wednesday. Think of them as the anti answer to Sports Illustrated’s annual awards and ESPN’s ESPYs in the way that the Razzies are to the Academy Awards. Among ‘the winners” were the Washington Redskins’ Dan Snyder for worst owner; the Oakland Raiders’ Jon Gruden for worst coach; and the Buffalo Bills’ QB Nathan Peterman who has been sitting on the bench for most of the season as Deadspin’s Sportsman of the Year.

     Madison Square Garden will host its last fight of the year on Saturday when Mexico’s Canelo Alvarez will face Great Britain’s Rocky Fielding for the WBA super middleweight championship.

     Rocky Fielding is a huge underdog. Not only is Fielding facing one of the best boxers ever in Canelo Alavarez but he is also keenly aware that DAZN, the first-ever fully dedicated digital sports streaming service which has the broadcast rights to this fight, inked Alvarez to an eleven-fight,$365 million contract. In short, Fielding is highly unlikely to win a decision that goes to the judges under the follow the money theory of boxing. The only path to victory for Fielding is for him to land a knockout blow to Alvarez that keeps him on the canvas for hours.  

     By coincidence ESPN debuted its latest documentary, “42 to 1″ this past Tuesday which looked back at arguably the greatest upset in boxing history, when the little-known James “Buster” Douglas knocked out the undefeated and seemingly invincible heavyweight champion of the world, Mike Tyson, in the tenth round of their February 11, 1990 bout at the Tokyo Dome.        Co-directors Ben Houser and Jeremy Schaap do a terrific job taking us back in time to when a desperate Las Vegas oddsmaker looking to get betting action gave 42 to 1 odds on Buster Douglas pulling off an upset. They also give us insight into the still rather mysterious Douglas who proved to be a flash in the pan as he lost his title defense to Evander Holyfield a few months later and basically dropped out of sight.

      Whenever a boxing mismatch is commissioned, such as the upcoming Fielding-Alvarez bout, promoters like to remind fans of the Douglas-Tyson fight that shows that anything can happen. Of course after 28 years it is the exception that proves the rule that upsets of that magnitude rarely happen in boxing.

      I found it interesting that not one commentator mentioned Dan Quayle, who was George HW Bush’s vice-president, during President Bush’s funeral last Wednesday even though he was sitting in the second row.

     Quayle created a media brouhaha in May of 1992 when he criticized the Murphy Brown character portrayed by Candice Bergen for having a child out of wedlock. Interestingly enough a recent episode of this year’s “Murphy Brown” revival on CBS, where another character on the show, reporter Frank Fontana (played by Joe Regalbuto) was attacked by Trump supporters during one of his rallies where he invariably attacks the media, did not generate much buzz at all even given the amount of social media today that didn’t exist 26 years ago.

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