The Heisman Trophy is inherently political. The award goes to the “most outstanding player in college football,” but it’s pretty much only for quarterbacks and running backs. And it’s always reserved for players on good teams, usually national title contenders. That’s because human media members vote on it.
Every year, schools start making the case for their best players early on. By the time media days roll around in the late summer, PR campaigns are well underway. They don’t move the needle much, if at all; nobody’s winning the Heisman because of some brilliant press tour. But they’re chances for schools to get some extra word out about great players.
First, the vast majority of these school campaigns happen online, and there are some amazing vintage ones still around.
Virginia launched Schaub4Heisman.com for quarterback Matt Schaub all the way back in the summer of 2003, and even though the website’s offline now, you can still see how excited the Hoos were at the time. Plenty of these sites have just disappeared, never to be found again. Other Heisman sites have been immortalized through screenshots over the years by the Wayback Machine.
But Purdue built a Heisman website for Curtis Painter ahead of the 2008 season, and it’s still chugging along, complete with this brilliant landing page ...
... and all these punny sections:
(Painter finished the year with 13 touchdown passes and 11 interceptions.)
But sometimes, Heisman campaigns get really creative. Here are a few examples of the oddball ideas.
This goes back to at least 1990, when BYU had ties made to hype Ty Detmer:
In 2001, Oregon put up a damned Joey Harrington billboard in Times Square, an obvious attempt to combat East Coast bias:
If you're going to do a Heisman campaign, go all out like Oregon did with Joey Harrington billboard in Manhattan pic.twitter.com/kdOyXQ15— Eric Aguirre (@aguirre_eric) November 16, 2012
In 2002, Marshall gave the world this Byron Leftwich Heisman bobblehead, still available on eBay for $50:
In 2005, Memphis put out a DeAngelo Williams toy car. You can still buy that on eBay for $99!
In 2008, Missouri had 25,000 3D “ViewMaster-style” 3D goggles packed with highlights of Chase Daniel:
In 2016, Clemson put together Deshaun Watson’s literal resume:
The same year, Stanford developed the first truly great Heisman campaign hashtag for Christian McCaffrey: #WildCaff:
That was an iteration on a good, hard-fought effort by Wisconsin in 2011. The Badgers made an official account to get people to support Russell Wilson, and it looks today like a random fan with limited computer skills made up a Twitter handle for the first time:
In 2018, UCF’s going with a lei to hype Heisman-contending quarterback McKenzie Wilton, who’s from Hawaii:
Heisman promotions by schools have mostly moved online these days, and I’m not sure how much they even impact voting, but I still think these kinds of things are really cool. pic.twitter.com/oUI3bquvmt— David Ubben (@davidubben) July 28, 2018
These crafty campaigns aren’t the norm. In recent years, most schools mounting Heisman campaigns do it via sleek websites, which look a lot cleaner than the ones teams were putting together 10-plus years ago.
That A&M official site was combative while caping for Manziel:
At this point, it’s all about Johnny Football and Florida State freshman quarterback phenom Jameis Winston, who trails Manziel by 1,106 total offensive yards and nine touchdowns.
Teddy Bridgewater and Tajh Boyd are mere afterthoughts, while AJ McCarron and Bryce Petty are making runs that likely will fall short late, but not after a nicegood job, good effort.
Famous Jameis is great. He’s the future of the sport, and the future looks radiant. But he just doesn’t put on the show that Manziel does.
In 2015, Oklahoma took this Mayfield viral video ...
... and made this little thing:
D’Onta Foreman’s site in 2016:
Oklahoma’s joint Mayfield/Dede Westbrook website in 2016:
Lamar Jackson’s in 2017:
Bryce Love’s in 2017:
Saquon Barkley’s in 2017:
Will Grier’s in 2018, with nice video touches:
We should also mention what’s surely the best Walter Payton Award campaign ever.
Samford animated an entire music video for its “FCS Heisman” consideration:
It's tales of runnin', touchdown tossin', DuckTales... Woo-ooh!— Samford Football (@SamfordFootball) August 15, 2018
Devlin Hodges' DuckTales: A Quest for the Walter Payton Award#Vote4Duck@NCAA_FCS @SoConSports#FunFastPhysical#AllForSAMford pic.twitter.com/90sMmZWhXg
But the best modern Heisman campaigns are the ones that aren’t serious at all.
The all-time No. 1 came from Oklahoma State punter Zach Sinor in 2017. His site included 1990s GeoCities GIFs, vaulting it to an unreached level of greatness:
This one by a Michigan holder isn’t exactly a campaign, and it isn’t exactly for the Heisman, but it’s a fun, satirical take on college football’s awards system:
Heisman websites are good. It’s positive when schools celebrate the hell out of their amazing players, ideally in weird ways. But poking fun at the whole enterprise is way more fun.