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Why the Georgia Bulldogs' Champ Bailey Should Have Won the 1998 Heisman Trophy

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As you know, EA Sports NCAA Football ‘13 has been released, and it features the Heisman Challenge which (sometimes to our chagrin) allows greats from one team to be fielded by rival squads. MaconDawg has highlighted the former rival players he most would have liked to have seen donning the red and black, so it falls to me to identify history’s most egregious Heisman Trophy snub. Believe it or not, I’m not going to grouse about Herschel Walker being denied the award as a freshman in 1980, because I have defended the Goal Line Stalker from enough laughable snubs lately.

No, today, we’re going to be talking about how Champ Bailey got well and truly hosed.

As we have discussed recently, Champ Bailey’s 1998 campaign earned consensus All-American honors for an autumn during which he was on the field for more than 1,000 plays. Bailey left Georgia as a first-round NFL Draft pick after taking home that year’s Bronko Nagurski Award as the country’s best defensive player. Champ, however, was more than just a defensive player.

As a cornerback, kickoff and punt returner, and wide receiver, Bailey tallied 744 receiving yards, 310 return yards, 84 rushing yards, 52 tackles, five touchdowns, and three interceptions. Clearly, he was college football’s most versatile player in 1998, and he compared favorably to another two-way athlete from that era. One year earlier, a similar “slash” player had compiled a resume including 238 receiving yards, 301 return yards, 21 rushing yards, 44 tackles, four touchdowns, and eight interceptions en route to winning the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, being honored as a consensus All-American, and being drafted in the first round.

Clearly, the two players had virtually identical standout seasons one year apart. If anything, Bailey had the slightly better final year of collegiate competition, with one more touchdown, eight more tackles, nine more return yards, 63 more rushing yards, and a whopping 506 more receiving yards to offset his five fewer picks. Why does this matter? It is significant because the player who put up Champ Bailey-like numbers in 1997 was the Michigan Wolverines’ Charles Woodson, who won that year’s Heisman Trophy.

If folks want to argue that times changed between Herschel Walker’s era and Tim Tebow’s with regard to underclassmen being eligible for the award, well, I think that’s bogus, but at least the passage of intervening decades lends that argument a patina of plausibility. No such contention may be advanced with a straight face concerning Woodson and Bailey, however; if the Maize and Blue standout deserved the Heisman Trophy in 1997, there is no valid reason why a Red and Black player who compiled a slightly better resume in precisely the same manner one year later shouldn’t have gotten it. I would accept as credible a case made by a fan of the Tennessee Volunteers that neither contender should have won the award, but, after bestowing the honor upon Woodson in 1997, the Heisman Trophy voters had no intellectually consistent basis for denying the same recognition to Bailey for doing exactly the same thing, only better, in 1998.

Go ‘Dawgs!

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