Caleb Williams won the Heisman. There was a time when that would necessitate an exclamation point, all caps, and a few superlatives for good measure. In this time, “Caleb Williams won the Heisman” seems to accurately capture the moment.
Joe Theismann famously changed the pronunciation of his last name so that it would rhyme with Heisman. In the decades since, the trophy itself has gone from Heisman to mid, man.
Call it sour grapes because Bryce Young – arguably the greatest individual to ever play college football – didn’t get an invite. Call it bitterness because Stetson Bennett’s nomination for the trophy was every bit of a lifetime achievement hug than an earnest invite.
Some time between the end of the Army-Navy game and ESPN’s next big budget documentary last Saturday, the Downtown Athletic Club brought a very heavy trophy to New York City and offered it to Southern Cal QB Caleb Williams over two human interest stories (Stetson Bennett and Max Duggan) and Ohio State QB CJ Stroud.
Williams, Duggan, Bennett and Stroud all donned very nice suits and shared a night of pomp and circumstance with their families, but only Williams had any chance of winning.
By virtue of winning the Heisman, Williams will now receive a shared bedroom in the Nissan Heisman House and an obligation to participate in this ritual in perpetuity. Since Williams plays for USC, he might not even get to keep the trophy.
The other three were typecast into the well-worn roles of scrappy try hard, lifetime achiever, and early favorite. This year, the token defensive standout role was left uncast. Quarterback is the glamor position in all of football, but the Heisman has been an award that included players from multiple positions in the finalist list. This year, that trend was bucked and could signal a change going forward.
Williams certainly had the best resume of all the finalists. He accounted for a total of 47 touchdowns and led the Trojans out of obscurity and back to their conference championship game. He is certainly a deserving winner, but the award that he won is one of rapidly diminishing value.
The award didn’t even have enough value to earn last year’s winner Bryce Young (who had three fewer touchdowns than Max Duggan) a ticket to the ceremony. I saw Young purchasing boutique sneakers for the ceremony last year, and those Retro Jordans have no doubt appreciated in value more than his very prestigious paperweight.
College football, more than any other sport, holds tradition in the highest regard. At least it did.
The NIL system, coach and player movement, realignment, playoffs, expanded playoffs, and a host of smaller ticket items have chipped away at that tradition. In the face of all of that, this year’s Heisman trophy ceremony felt more like a vestige than a happening.
In the past, a Heisman trophy winner failing in the NFL or even a bowl game seemed like a big deal, we even called that the Heisman curse. Today, it is less a curse and more of a tidbit.
Caleb Williams might go on to have a legendary football career. He might go on to be known for any number of accomplishments or infamies. One thing he will definitely not be remembered for is winning a very unwieldy trophy in early December.