CRAWFORD | The Heisman hates sequels, but Jackson's encore has been a hit
Eric Crawford on Lamar Jackson's arrival in Manhattan for his second year of Heisman Trophy festivities.
NEW YORK, N.Y. (WDRB) — This city generally isn’t kind to sequels. The Gershwin brothers never were able to pull off a successful one. There’s a reason you never saw “Cats 2.” Producers tried to make a sequel to “Bye, Bye Birdie.” It lasted four performances.
Pulling off a successful sequel to winning the Heisman Trophy is harder still. Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson arrived on Broadway Friday, just as he did a year ago, to celebrate being a finalist for the Heisman Trophy. His numbers are every bit as impressive as they were last December, when he won the award, and better, even, than those put up by his two fellow finalists.
But when they award the Heisman Saturday night in the Sony PlayStation Theater, Jackson is not expected to win the award.
New York is a first-run kind of town. Jackson had his first run, and the trophy is back at home in Boynton Beach, Fla. This time, Jackson is mainly in New York for the memories.
“I’m looking forward to everything now,” Jackson said Thursday after a one-hour media session at the Marriott Marquis in Times Square. “Last year I wasn’t. This year I’m looking forward to it. I can’t wait for the tour of Manhattan. I’ve seen all the buildings, tallest buildings I’ve ever seen. The traffic, the crowded sidewalks.”
A year ago it was all new. And it was a foregone conclusion. Jackson was going to win the Heisman. He was such a prohibitive favorite that he was off the board at many Las Vegas casinos. He had a speech to prepare for. He had all of the Heisman obligations. His mother, who wasn’t one to get out in front of the cameras, was front and center with him to meet the New York media.
It was fun, but realize, it also was stressful. He was 19 years old, the youngest player ever to win a Heisman. How was he supposed to completely enjoy it? Thinking back to the obligatory rounds he made after winning the award last year, Jackson said, “It was surreal. I was 19 years old, and all of a sudden I felt like, ‘I’m an adult now. I’m in the real world.’“
This year, it’s different. Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield is an overwhelming favorite. Jackson said Friday that he hasn’t even prepared a speech. But he is prepared to enjoy the experience this time around.
And he deserves to enjoy it. Jackson has been a worthy representative of the award. He has posed for pictures. On Thursday before leaving for New York, he visited Louisville's West End school and gave kids an impromptu lesson on striking the Heisman pose.
I followed him through the hotel on Friday afternoon. Twice in five minutes he was stopped by parents asking him to pose with their children. He did it with a smile on his face, draping his arm around their shoulders, and with his free hand pointing at them, as if they were the celebrity.
“I don’t feel like a celebrity,” he said. “I just feel like me. But it changed my life, in many ways. More people know me now. I’ve got a lot of fans, lot of new people. Every day, somebody wants me to do the Heisman pose. I just say, ‘Not right now.’ It’s going to be that way a long time, or until I get old and can’t do it anymore. But no matter where I go, people know me. It’s crazy.”
As he walked in from his photo ops Friday, you could hear whispers, “He won the Heisman Trophy.”
And that’s the point. He won it. It’s his. And it’s part of who he is. One of the good things about Jackson, however, is that it didn’t change who he is. He said he felt it was important for him to stay grounded after winning the award.
“The biggest responsibility I say is just being humble,” he said. ‘Winning it, being so young, you’ve got to be humble. You can’t get on your high horse and think you’re better than anyone. As soon as I won it, I saw a lot of things changing. A lot of people knowing me and stuff like that. I knew I just had to stay humble.”
He hasn’t seen his trophy a whole lot since winning it. He didn’t want to see it. He wanted to move on. He wanted to get better. And he has gotten better. And not only did he play better this season, but he did it with the Heisman target on his back. He knew it was there. And even if he tried not to think about it, opponents reminded him.
“I knew there were a lot of teams gunning for me,” Jackson said. “They talked about it on the field. I just laughed about it and tried to bring it to them the next play.”
More often than not, Jackson did.
If anything, Jackson not being a serious contender this year underscores how magical last season was. He not only had to put up other-worldly numbers, he had to capture the imagination of the college football world — a universe that is unalterably attuned to a few marquee programs and one major conference.
The Ten Heismandments, written years ago by Tim Henning — now a spokesperson for The Heisman Trust — included the proposition, in Heismandment No. 6, that you have the inside track to the Heisman if you’re a quarterback, running back or multipurpose athlete and have a very good season playing for one of these 10 programs (provided it wins at least nine games): Notre Dame, USC, Texas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Ohio State, Michigan, Miami, Florida or Florida State.
Louisville is nowhere near that list.
That Jackson was able to break through some of the traditional requirements, leaping into the conversation with his leap over a Syracuse safety in the second game of the 2016 season, and being mentioned as a legitimate Heisman candidate by Samuel L. Jackson and Jimmy Fallon on late-night TV just before, while making the cover of Sports Illustrated after a monster game against Florida State, was lightning in a bottle.
Jackson, of course, still is lightning in a football uniform. As a junior, he became the first player in major college football history to amass 1,000 yards rushing and 3,000 yards passing in back-to-back seasons.
He led the nation in total offense this past season at 411 yards per game. The next-highest finisher, Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph, had 381.8 yards per game. Jackson was third nationally in points responsible for, with 284. He passed for 3,489 yards and ran for 1,443 as a sophomore. He passed for 25 touchdowns and rushed for 17.
And he once again, with few exceptions, did it while making plays that caused fans who have seen just about everything to shake their heads and smile.
“I tried to hush-up the no-sayers,” Jackson said. “Before the season even started, people said I wasn’t going to come back and do the same things I did last year. But with my teammates and coaches behind me, I was able to excel. But I heard all that stuff. I read my mentions. I’m on social media, so I see stuff. . . . I just tried to let it motivate me.”
When the Cardinals went on a skid, Jackson dropped out of all Heisman contention, even though he continued to be one of the nation’s most productive quarterbacks. That, he said, is part of what comes with winning the award.
“When you lose a game, it’s always going to be on you,” he said. “You have to be ready for that. You win, they’ll give you all this credit, credit you shouldn’t always get. You lose, no matter what happens, it’s going to be on you. And for me, I always put it on me, I always have, all the way through youth league, high school. So you have to be ready for it.”
Upsets don’t happen very often with the Heisman Trophy. Jackson has been one of the more likeable winners in recent memory, but even that is unlikely to make him the second-ever repeat winner of the award. And he’s fine with that.
If Jackson doesn’t win Saturday night, he said he’ll turn to the winner and say, “Welcome to the Heisman brothers.”
But if he does win, he has an idea of what it will mean, even if he’s not sure what he’ll say to the crowd.
““It would mean a lot, not just for me, but for the city of Louisville,” Jackson said. “I wanted to bring them a NC, but to bring them two Heismans would be a big deal. And to my coaches and teammates, I know it would mean a lot to them. And if it means a lot to them it means a lot to me.”
When Jackson wanted to get away from everything this season, he would retreat to his room. He’d flip on the television. He’d watch football. He’d watch game tape. He’d fire up Maden football and grab his controller.
“I said that last year -- I really do stay in my room a lot,” Jackson said. “People think I’m on adventures, but I’m in my room, watching film, playing games, stuff like that.”
For Jackson, in the NFL and elsewhere, adventure awaits. But for one weekend in New York, he wants to stop and enjoy the experience. And he’s earned it.
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