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Saturday, November 30, 2002

Johnson for Heisman

Joe Drape of The New York Times takes Joe Paterno to task for overshadowing a remarkable performance by his tailback, Larry Johnson, this year and possibly costing Johnson the Heisman Trophy. It's an interesting article, and in a way, I agree that Paterno's antics with the referees were an unneeded distraction. On the other hand, Paterno has never been one to campaign for his players to win awards. Penn State just doesn't work that way. Football is a team sport, and everything in the program is geared toward the team, not the individual. The uniforms the players wear are probably the plainest in Division I-A football, with no adornments, no names, just numbers, so as not to draw attention to a particular individual. Heck, I remember the uproar among the faithful when the Nike swoosh appeared on the otherwise unblemished jerseys. That's deliberate on Paterno's part. I agree with Drape that Paterno has been unusually and perhaps inappropriately vocal and cranky this year, but I think there was probably a method to his madness, and that his outbursts were designed to help the team. In Paterno's mind, the team comes before any individual player, and that's as it should be.

I do think LJ deserves the Heisman, and I hope he gets it. He had an amazing year, and got better and better as the year went on. His performances were dominant, none more so than the 279 yards he gained in the first half against Michigan State. Early in the first half, I was rooting for Michigan State to score some points and keep the game close so Johnson could stay in the game and hit his 2000 yards, but as it turned out, that wasn't necessary. At the beginning of the year, everyone thought Zack Mills, the quarterback, was going to be the star. The Penn State Bookstore catalog I received in the mail recently sells replicas of Mills' jersey number 7, not LJ's number 5, a decision that was presumably made before the beginning of the season. Mills is a great quarterback, but honestly there wasn't much for him to do as the season wore on. There was no need for him to put up spectacular numbers, because Johnson's running was carrying the show. LJ really had a special year, and I don't think anyone who watched him run this year will forget it.

Posted at 10:02 AM


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