Everyone knew he deserved the Heisman Trophy, but it wasn't going to happen. He was the best player in college football by a wide margin, on an undefeated team, but the way the voting is set up, he never stood a chance at going home with the hardware.

That was Steve Emtman, 32 years ago.

The Heisman advertises itself as an award given to college football's most outstanding player, but that doesn't always happen. 

In 1991, the University of Washington defensive tackle was the best there was. Emtman won everything else in college football except that iconic figurine with the protruding stiff arm — Outland, Lombardi, Willis, Morris, consensus All-America pick, all of the individual honors. He became the NFL's No. 1 overall draft pick when defensive linemen simply don't do that.

Yet he couldn't win the Heisman because linemen supposedly didn't do that either. A month later, the Huskies capped off their overly dominant and spotless 12-0 run through college football with a 34-14 victory over Michigan and the guy who won the Heisman, Wolverines wide receiver Desmond Howard.

As if to show the Heisman voters how wrong they were that year, the UW's Mario Bailey, who had better overall receiving numbers than Howard, outplayed his Michigan counterpart that day in Pasadena, scored a touchdown and stood up for his Husky teammate and maybe himself by striking a mocking Heisman pose in the end zone.

UW quarterback Michael Penix Jr. should have won the Heisman on Saturday night because he had a much better overall body of work than LSU's Jayden Daniels and the others, Oregon quarterback Bo Nix and Ohio State wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr, yet he came in second.

Penix leads the nation in passing yards (4,218). More importantly, he's been an unqualified winner (13-0), which used to stand for something with the Heisman. In previous decades, the  candidates would be thoroughly analyzed on a weekly basis on college football shows and some of these guys used to play themselves out of the running by simply losing a football game or two along the way. 

LSU's Daniels lost three outings this past season — to Florida State 45-24, to Ole Miss 55-49 and to Alabama 42-28.

Just asking, did he have to drop a fourth game for Penix to move past him?

Penix stands 13-0 and he remains the only Heisman finalist who's involved in the College Football Playoff. He's 24-2 over two seasons. He beat five ranked teams. He's got the individual stats.

Yet his candidacy seemed to tail off as he was facing that stiff competition in a stiff breeze at Husky Stadium and a monsoon in Corvallis that didn't cost the UW any games but brought Penix's passing numbers down some while Daniels made up lost ground with a 6-touchdown performance against ... well, Georgia State.

Earlier in the week, it became pretty clear Penix wasn't going to receive the Heisman Trophy. Daniels began to receive some of the other big awards, such as the Associated Press Player of the Year. He also played in the Southeastern Conference, which naturally stood for something in his qualifications in terms of competition and exposure.

Daniels is a great football player. UW fans saw him up close in 2021 when he came into Husky Stadium and beat a wounded and coach-less team in purple 35-30. In the pregame, he was the tall guy in the sunglasses who took a lap around the field during pregame warm-ups just to get a feel for the place and he exuded confidence and cool.

Maybe he is better than Penix, with the NFL being the next proving ground.

Yet college football truly missed an opportunity to celebrate a player who did everything necessary to win the Heisman, who seemed to embody the best things about the game and was a great story on top of it — by overcoming four season-ending injuries at Indiana to win almost every game he played for the Huskies and earn a chance at a national championship.

Sometimes these awards just don't seem to perfectly fit the criteria they advertise.

Just ask Steve Emtman. 

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2023-12-10T19:02:26Z dg43tfdfdgfd