CRAWFORD | Heisman Notebook: Eight thoughts on Jackson's unexpected journey
What did Lamar Jackson say when asked if he'd trade his Heisman experience for a berth in the College Football Playoff? Eric Crawford gives that answer, and more.
NEW YORK (WDRB) — I’ve said this in quite a few broadcasts, on several shows, through several media platforms: I never really thought I’d be here.
The Heisman Trophy presentation wasn’t anywhere on my checklist of sports events to cover, because I thought the chances of Louisville having a player with a chance to reach the finalist stage, much less win it, was so remote.
The Heisman is a USC thing, or Ohio State or Oklahoma. It’s an old-money deal. Brand-name required. And while Louisville has, at long last, gotten comfortable in a Power 5 conference address, having a Heisman Trophy winner is like being invited to Augusta National.
When I was a student at Louisville, you couldn’t turn around without someone shoving football tickets at you. I bet there were some games when, through various jobs and involvements on campus, I had a half dozen. I rarely used them.
The Cardinals played in old Cardinal Stadium. When Howard Schnellenberger was hired as coach, he wanted to bring Marc Trestman in as an assistant but he couldn’t. Trestman was allergic to horses, and the livestock barns were right next to the football facility.
When I first came back to cover Louisville sports for The Courier-Journal, bowl games were still a big enough deal for Louisville that we did special sections whenever they made one. When the Cardinals made the Liberty Bowl, they flew papers down so that they’d be in the hotels of Louisville fans the morning of the game.
The school made a Heisman bobblehead for Dave Ragone, but his bid ended in the season’s first game, a loss to Kentucky.
From some of those days, to now, when Louisville has the favorite to win the Heisman Saturday night, seems awfully improbable. I suppose I thought it could happen. Just not while I was still writing about such things.
In the past year and a half, I’ve covered a Triple Crown winner, the passing of Muhammad Ali, and now, perhaps, a Heisman Trophy winner.
You never know what’s around the corner.
What follows are a few thoughts on Friday’s events, heading into Heisman Day on Saturday.
1). AN INDECENT PROPOSAL. I asked Jackson on Friday if someone offered him the ability to trade these Heisman experiences for the opportunity to play in the College Football Playoff, his answer showed how differently he sometimes looks at things.
“You know, no, I’m fine where I’m at,” Jackson said, and before you jump on him for a selfish answer, listen to his reasoning. “Those guys (who are in the playoffs) deserve to be there. They earned that spot. And I’m happy with it. No matter what team it is. I don’t want it given to me. I want to earn it.”
In otherr words, Jackson wasn’t interested in getting into the playoffs by a trade. He wanted to win to get in.
2). ON HIS STRUGGLES AT THE END OF THE SEASON. Jackson said he didn’t pay attention to Heisman hype or playoff talk or any kind of pressure.
The mistake he most regrets, the fumble against Kentucky at the end of the game, which allowed the Wildcats to drive for a game-winning field goal, he explained this way. He said it wasn’t pressure that affected him, but playing too fast.
“If anything, I wouldn’t say pressure,” he said. “I tried to win the game. I just tried to win it too fast instead of taking my time and building like we always do. I tried to rush it, and things didn’t go well. That’s what happens, and you’ve got to deal with it.”
3). MISSING MAN, PART 1. Jackson was asked to name one player he thinks should’ve been a Heisman finalist but wasn’t, and he didn’t have to think long.
“There’s a lot of them, but right now I would like to say Dalvin Cook (of Florida State),” Jackson said. “He came hard the last few games, and I was surprised not to see him as a finalist.”
The pair has a history. They played each other as kids and in high school. When asked who he’d give the award to, Cook named Jackson.
“I appreciate that,” Jackson said. “I thank him”
4). MISSING MAN, PART 2. The one player who wasn’t able to be at Friday’s Heisman events, Clemson’s Deshaun Watson, was one Jackson said he’d really like to spend some time with. Watson was in Baltimore Friday collecting the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award. He’ll join the group on Friday.
“I’m just interested to get to know how they feel on the field,” Jackson said. “Like with Deshaun, when they played against us. I wanted to know how he was feeling when that situation came down to the last minute.
Watson engineered a game-winning drive in the Tigers’ 42-36 win over Louisville.
5). EVERY STEP OF THE WAY. It was a historic season for Louisville football and Jackson, and WDRB was the only Louisville TV station that was at every game, home and away. We were the only station in Syracuse when Jackson leaped a defender, the only one in Houston on a fateful night, the only one at Boston College.
You go to all those games, and you wind up shooting a lot of highlights, especially where Jackson is involved. Tom Lane and John Lewis of WDRB compiled a list of Jackson’s five best plays. You can watch it here.
6). LOOK UP QUARTERBACK IN THE DICTIONARY. They asked Jackson on Friday what his picture of an ideal quarterback looks like. His answer was interesting.
“A quarterback has to be the field general,” Jackson said. “You’ve got to know when your team is down and you’re in a bad situation, you’ve got to have a comeback in you. Sometimes you may have your ups and downs at quarterback. You’ve got to stay level, stay humble and grind during the game. You’ve got to lead your team and be a leader out there.”
Leadership, and “having a comeback in you.” Not bad.
7). LOOKING AT LOGISTICS. You might not think about it, but having a Heisman winner is a pretty good line on a resume for a sports information director, too. Rocco Gasparro has been traveling the country with Jackson while he collects his awards. He’s been updating media on Jackson’s stats for most of the season, updating his website, and generally doing whatever he can to promote his player.
Just while I was standing near Gasparro at Friday’s news conference, three different media outlets asked him for more time with his QB. At this point, everybody wants him.
Publicity from the school can’t win you a Heisman, in most instances. But it helps. This might come as a shock to some of you, but these top-level elite athletes can be jerks if they want to.
But Rocco seems to genuinely like Jackson.
“He’s a good kid,” Gasparro said. “The main thing with all of this is that he has fun with it. He deserves that. He’s enjoying it. He’s never seen anything like this. It’s all new to him. I really hope Saturday is good for him.”
8). HOTEL EDISON. That’s where we’re staying, just off Times Square, and right next door to the Marriott Marquis. I’ve stayed here several times, because it’s usually a good price. This time, I wound up here simply because there was little else. On a weekend during the holiday season.
But there are some good omens in this hotel where Louisville is concerned. This is where I stayed, for instance, during the 2013 Big East Tournament when Louisville won. I didn’t even have a reservation for Saturday night and the Big East championship game. I thought Louisville would be out well before the final. Again, not by design, I’ve done the same thing this year. I didn’t have a reservation for this Saturday night, because the rate was going up north of $400 a night.
Don’t worry. Mike Lacett and I will be staying out by LaGuardia after the Heisman hoopla wraps up.
But there is another good Louisville omen. The Hotel Edison is where the men’s basketball stayed in 1956 on their way to winning the NIT.
Thomas Edison, by the way, threw the switch to turn on the electricity in this hotel when it was first built. That’s why it bears his name. You might not know that Edison lived in Louisville briefly. He came to Louisville in 1866 at the age of 19 as a telegraph operator. In 1867, on a night when not much was happening, Edison was fooling around with an invention of some sort and spilled sulfuric acid through the floor he was on and onto the desk of his boss below. He was fired, but wound up doing all right for himself.
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