We know how much of a travesty it was for Tennessee football Hendon Hooker to not receive an invite to New York as a Heisman Trophy finalist. It’s pretty clear the decision came down to him getting hurt.
Hooker suffered a season-ending injury in the next to last regular season game as the Vols lost 63-38 to the South Carolina Gamecocks. That was a freak play that is now being used against him.
Although it seems directly unfair to Hooker, it’s also unfair to Michigan Wolverines running back Blake Corum, who also should have been invited. He suffered a season-ending injury late as well.
What this really proves, though, is that Tennessee football is cursed with the Heisman. Every time the voters rewrite the standards for the award, it happens to come at the Vols’ expense.
Most notably was 1997. Peyton Manning met all the requirements to win the Heisman when you look at his numbers as a quarterback. He was 11-1 and the SEC Champion when the voters made their choice.
They went with Michigan cornerback Charles Woodson. To this day, Woodson remains the only defensive player ever to win the Heisman, and it’s because he occasionally played both sides of the ball.
Used against Manning was losing to the Florida Gators. However, Danny Wuerffel of Florida lost to the Florida State Seminoles the year before and still won the Heisman. Eddie George of the Ohio State Buckeyes lost to Michigan in 1995 and still won it.
Just over four decades before Manning, another Heisman first and only happened. Paul Hornung of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish became the first player on a losing team to win it. He remains the only player to do so. Notre Dame went 2-8 that year.
Finishing second to Hornung was Johnny Majors, who led the Vols to a 10-1 record, 10-0 in the regular season, an SEC Championship and No. 2 finish.
Now, you could make the case that Jim Brown should have won the Heisman. However, it’s still another case of a Vol finishing second to a player that doesn’t fit the profile of Heisman winners.
Five years before Majors, Hank Lauricella finished second to Dick Kazmaier of the Princeton Tigers. The Vols were 10-0 at the time and had already been declared consensus national champions.
Although Princeton was undefeated too, this was long past the era of Ivy League teams dominating. Two Yale players won the Heisman in the 1930s, but nobody had won it since until Kazmaier. Well, no Ivy League player has won it since Kazmaier either.
If you’re tracking this, yes, the Vols have had players finish second in the Heisman Trophy voting to the only defensive player to win it, the only player on a losing team to win it and the last Ivy League player to win it. They still don’t have a winner.
Adding to the curse is the fact that Gene McEver, who played for Tennessee football from 1928 to 1931 and put the program on the map, was widely considered the best player the sport ever had pre-Heisman. If the trophy existed when he played, he would have won it.
Only one Heisman loser on Rocky Top was without controversy. Heath Shuler finished second to Charlie Ward of the Florida State Seminoles in 1993, and that was easily the right choice.