JACKSON – We no longer have any heroes, amateur psychologis

CATEGORY: COL Columns (Journal)


JACKSON – We no longer have any heroes, amateur psychologists are fond of saying.

Surely we would not want our children to emulate our movie actors, musicians or athletes. Actors and entertainers tend to live too shallow a lifestyle, and to make matters worse, they live that life in the fast lane, we think. Athletes are no better. They are rich, pampered brats, we say.

Maybe, though, in terms of heroes, we get what we want. Maybe, just maybe, we don’t want real heroes. We only want someone we can place on a pedestal for a few shining moments so that we can knock them off and relish watching them fall.

With the spotlight that we place on people these days, it’s a miracle anyone can remain on that pedestal for more than a few moments.

What happened to Tennessee quarterback Peyton Manning Saturday is our latest attempt to knock someone from that treacherous pedestal. By every right, Manning, son of former Ole Miss great Archie Manning, should have won the Heisman Trophy Saturday night.

But he didn’t. He finished second in the balloting to Michigan cornerback Charles Woodson, who became the first defensive player to ever win college football’s most coveted individual award. In essence, Manning finished second to a player who did not lead the nation in any statistical category. Granted, Woodson made some spectacular plays against arch-rival Ohio State, but he also was beaten badly on a touchdown pass in that game. To sum it up, Woodson, no doubt, is a great player, but he was not even named most valuable player of his own team.

So why did Manning lose out to Charles Woodson? Perhaps, Manning was just a little too good and maybe we don’t like that.

When I say good, I’m not just talking about his football talents, which are considerable. I am talking about Peyton Manning the person.

Manning appears to do what is right. He’s not only a splendid football player, but he’s also a humble person.

In this era, when so many sports fans are turned off by the constant “trash talk” that goes on between players, Manning doesn’t have a negative word to say about anyone. He never would have said he was the best player in college football as Woodson did in November. While we don’t like the trash talk, maybe we dislike a squeaky clean guy such as Manning even more.

Basically, Peyton Manning is the type person we say we want all our sports heroes to be, but on the rare occasion when they come along, we look for ways to tear them down.

For instance, we applauded Manning for turning down millions from the National Football League to come back for his final year of collegiate eligibility even though he graduated with honors in three years. Yet, we say, Peyton Manning could afford to stay in college and refuse the big bucks because he had plenty of money. After all, his father was a successful pro quarterback.

True, Peyton Manning did have it better than most. But few athletes turn down money when they have a chance to get it. Just look at the athletes and coaches who change teams every year to get a few million more even though they already are making more money than they possibly could spend.

Yet, Peyton Manning did reject that money, and we all applauded him. But then we turned right around and questioned his reason for turning down the money.

And if it’s not enough that Peyton Manning is too good — a great athlete, outstanding student and genuinely good person — he has been pinned with the label of not being able to win the big game. We enjoy pointing out that Manning has never beaten the team that has been Tennessee’s chief rival in recent years — Florida.

Even though the Heisman is supposed to be an award for one season, Manning was penalized for never defeating Florida over his college career. I listen to sports talk radio shows while in my car and I have heard the same thing over and over again in recent weeks: Manning never beat Florida, they said.

Even venerable ABC sportscaster Keith Jackson said as much a couple of weeks ago in the Southeastern Conference championship game where Manning led his team past Auburn. On the other hand, former NFL great Bob Griese, Jackson’s sidekick in the ABC telecasts, said Manning deserved the Heisman.

That was significant since Griese’s son is the quarterback for the University of Michigan and is a teammate of Charles Woodson.

Besides, the can’t-win-the-big-one label is unfair — especially in a team sport like football. Sure, the quarterback is the most important person on the field, but he doesn’t block, catch or tackle. It takes a team effort to defeat anyone. Someone as bright as Keith Jackson should know that.

I don’t believe in conspiracies, but it’s ironic that the national television media, led by ESPN, fueled the Woodson hype. Ironically, ESPN, an all-sports network, telecast the Heisman awards ceremony live and, no doubt, needed someone to challenge Manning to make people tune in. And to carry the conspiracy theory even further, ESPN and ABC — where Jackson has made his living for years — are both owned by the same company. It’s interesting that ABC will telecast the Rose Bowl game — where Michigan and Woodson will play on New Year’s Day.

Conspiracy or not, the national television media began the Woodson hype and sports writers from across the country who vote on the Heisman followed their lead like lambs.

And, it became chic on the sports talk radio shows to be against Manning. It was hip to be for Charles Woodson.

Manning just appeared too good. So instead of sitting back and enjoying his talents — enjoying the person he is — we looked for ways to tear him down.

Maybe, the reason we don’t have heroes anymore is because we are just too tough on them.

Bobby Harrison is chief of the Daily Journal’s Capitol Bureau.

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