' ' Cinema Romantico: The Great Heisman Race of 1997

Saturday, January 13, 2024

The Great Heisman Race of 1997

The sixteenth entry of the fourth season of ESPN’s apparently never-ending 30 for 30 documentary series “The Great Heisman Race of 1997” is named for what became that season’s showdown between Michigan Wolverine Charles Woodson and Tennessee Volunteer Peyton Manning to be named the most outstanding player in college football. As a movie, it’s better than most of these now definitively average offerings in so much as director Gentry Kirby eschews talking heads and modern context to construct his film entirely from archival footage. It’s an approach I prefer, though in coming close to exclusively employing ESPN clips, going so far as using old College Gameday player profiles to explain his subjects, the whole thing starts to feel a little too much like a lengthy episode of College Gameday itself, and crucially lacks any larger meaning, just a nostalgia trip. And though I might be criticizing, I am not entirely complaining. Where college football is concerned, I’m not necessarily opposed to a nostalgia trip. And as someone who happened to be on the campus of the University of Iowa during that banger of a 1997 CFB season, four months I both wish I could have back for several reasons and would not want back in any way, shape, or form, my foremost takeaway from “The Great Heisman Race of 1997” was, hey, remember when Iowa running back Tavian Banks was briefly a Heisman contender?

picture of my TV

Look at that. There he is, wedged between two future NFL Hall of Famers and ahead of two future high profile NFL busts. (Banks was drafted by the Jacksonville Jaguars and his professional career was almost over before it began on account of injury.) Indeed, Banks had a September to remember, gaining almost 900 yards and scoring 13 touchdowns in 4 games...against inferior competition. In their first game in October against #7 Ohio State, Banks basically got skunked and that was it, unwantedly adding his name to the illustrious, in a manner of speaking, list of so-called September Heisman winners. And so even if I told myself I would not subject you, extremely frustrated Cinema Romantico reader, to another college football post until August, sorry, but “The Great Heisman Race of 1997” only interested me in so much as wanting to count down my Top 5 September Heisman winners.

My Favorite September Heisman Winners:

5. Tavian Banks, Iowa, 1997. In retrospect, he was never as cool as Ronnie Harmon. 

4. David Klingler, Houston, 1991. More of an August Heisman, really. At the controls of a semi-infamous lawless frontier of an offense and relentlessly hyped in the preseason, Klingler hurled six touchdown passes in his first game against overmatched Louisiana Tech before Houston was clobbered by The U in their second game. His Heisman campaign sunk like a stone.

3. Jacory Harris, Miami, 2009. Harris was more electrifying in three September games than his fellow Hurricane Gino Toretta was the whole season in 1992 when he really did win a Heisman Trophy.

2. Kyle Orton, Purdue, 2004. Not enough people, it seems to me, remember that the future NFL journeymen, and so-called Altoona Gunslinger, really, honestly, truly was atop all the Heisman straw polls early in the fall of 2004 before it came crumbling down

1. Denard Robinson, Michigan, 2010, 2011. He could never finish the deal, and militant football coaches would tell you that it’s all about finishing. But then, Gaudí did not finish the Sagrada Família, and one could make an argument that there was never a better college football player than September Denard Robinson. 

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