The Heisman curse is a term coined to reference a two-part assertion of a negative future for the winning player of the Heisman Trophy. The "curse" supposes that any college football player who wins the Heisman plays on a team that will likely lose its subsequent bowl game. The trend of post-award failure has garnered the attention of the mainstream media. Talk of a curse in relation to bowl results was particularly prevalent from 2003 to 2008, when six Heisman Trophy winners compiled a cumulative 1–5 bowl game record, and five of those six led number one ranked teams into the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) National Championship Game as favorites (Heisman Trophy winners, including Reggie Bush, who gave back his Heisman Trophy, are 4–8 overall in the BCS National Championship Game and College Football Playoff National Championship, although prior to 2009 they were 1–6). Additionally, the Heisman curse asserts that in most cases a Heisman winner will have either a poor career in the National Football League (NFL), or in fact not even see such a football career at all. Although many Heisman winners have not enjoyed success at the professional level, including players like Matt Leinart, Andre Ware, Jason White, Rashaan Salaam, Eric Crouch, Ty Detmer, Troy Smith and Gino Torretta, proponents of the "curse" rarely cite highly successful players such as Barry Sanders, Charles Woodson, Eddie George, Tim Brown, Bo Jackson, Marcus Allen, Earl Campbell, and Tony Dorsett among the notables.
Insofar as there is a "curse" of underperforming Heisman winners, it seems to affect quarterbacks disproportionately. Although certain Heisman winners have gone on to win Super Bowl championships (such as Roger Staubach and Jim Plunkett), comparatively few have had successful NFL careers. Conversely, running backs seem generally to have fared better in the professional ranks, and wide receivers have had mixed results. The only primarily defensive Heisman winner, Charles Woodson, had a successful NFL career and final collegiate bowl game appearance.
The "curse" does not imply that only Heisman winners have failed careers, only the irony behind college football's best underperforming after the award is given. However, while there are numerous counts of players who underperformed after winning the award, an equal number of players have gone on to see great success, evidence that the "curse" is more of an amusement than a reality.
While there is no statistical or empirical evidence that suggests Heisman winners underperform compared to other high-profile collegiate players, some[who?] try to explain the perception of the curse by reference to trends regarding voter selections. Some see the trend going back decades to other players, but it has most famously been observed since the 1990s. The accepted logical explanation for the discrepancy between success and failure of Heisman winners is that the people who pick the Heisman are sportswriters and former Heisman winners. This might mean that they vote for a winner based on reputation, without seeing him or really studying him, basically a qualitative approach. On the other hand, the people who pick players for the NFL are talent evaluators. They study tape, interview players and put them through workouts where their strengths and weaknesses can be quantified.
Heisman Trophy winner's bowl game results
Heisman winner's professional history
- Andre Ware (1989) - After three years at the University of Houston, Ware declared for the 1990 Draft, skipping his senior year with the Cougars. Taken seventh by the Lions in the first round, he was expected to be a franchise quarterback for the team. Instead, over four seasons he was active in only 14 games, starting 6 of them and marking a career with the Lions with a total 51.6% pass completion rate. He was signed by the LA Raiders and Jacksonville Jaguars for the 1994 and 1995 seasons respectively, but was inactive and did not play for either team. Ware went on to play in the CFL with the BC Lions in 1996 and the Argonauts in 1997. An eventual attempt to return to the NFL was made in 1999 when he was signed by Oakland, but ended up playing in NFL Europe with the Berlin Thunder. He is now an occasional announcer with ESPN as well as the radio color analyst for the Houston Texans, and considered by some to be the biggest Heisman bust in NFL history.
- Gino Torretta (1992) - A California native, Torretta attended the University of Miami, leading two championship teams, including one to a co-national championship in 1991. Despite his success, his actual numbers were not impressive, including a career pass completion of only 56%. He was taken with the 192nd overall pick, late in the seventh round by the Vikings. He didn't see a single down with Minnesota in 1993, and though the Lions picked up his contract in 1994, he played as only a seldom-used backup quarterback. The 49ers signed him to their roster in 1995 after he was released by Detroit, though he continued to find use only in a backup role. Torretta was transferred to play with the Rhein Fire, was again cut, and picked up by Seattle. He retired in 1998 after once more not being played, this time by the Colts. The only game that he played during his five-year career came with Seattle, in a match against the Oakland Raiders As of October 2, 2011, Torretta is serving as Head, Marketing Team for Gabelli Asset Management Inc. and has as regular broadcast show from 10am to noon on Sportsradio 560 WQAM.
- Charlie Ward (1993) - Playing both football and basketball at Florida State, Ward excelled and was awarded the Heisman. He stated publicly that he wouldn't enter the NFL if not selected as a first-round pick in the 1994 NFL Draft, a position that he felt he deserved. By declaring this, no team felt it wise to even consider him for the NFL, as he had already been picked as a first-round, 26th overall choice by the New York Knicks in the NBA's 1994 Draft. The feeling was that Ward was trying to leverage one sport against another.
- Rashaan Salaam (1994) - Salaam was expected to have an enormous impact in the NFL at the running back position, having put up impressive numbers at UC Boulder. His career got off to a rocky start with a lengthy contract holdout after having been selected by the Bears with the 21st pick in the first round of the draft. Despite impressive total rushing yards in his rookie season, fumbles and injury led to him being cut in 1998. After one completely inactive season, Salaam was picked up in 1999 by three separate teams; Oakland, Cleveland and the Green Bay Packers. Despite being on the roster of three teams, he only played in two games during the season, both of which came while he was with the Browns. Admitted habitual marijuana use kept other teams from showing interest. In 2001, Salaam played in the XFL for the Memphis Maniax, and though he was the leading rusher for the team, injuries prevented him from putting up bigger numbers. The Lions chose not to sign him after he tried out for the team when the XFL folded after their inaugural year. The 49ers signed him in May for the 2003 season, but cut him in August before the start of the season. Signed by the Toronto Argonauts in 2004, he was later suspended and cut due to continuing problems with marijuana use, ending his originally promising career anticlimactically in the CFL.
- Charles Woodson (1997) - The University of Michigan cornerback was selected by the Oakland Raiders with the fourth pick of the first round of the 1998 NFL Draft, and subsequently became the AP NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. Woodson has been an eight-time Pro Bowl selection with the Oakland Raiders and Green Bay Packers (most recently in 2011) and was the 2009 AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year. In 2013, in his sixteenth season as a starter, Woodson joined a three-way tie for the NFL record for most defensive TDs. In 2014, he became the first player in NFL history to record 50 interceptions and 20 sacks and became only the 11th player in NFL history to record at least 60 interceptions. He was chosen for his ninth Pro Bowl in his final (18th) season in the NFL and will be eligible for election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame beginning in 2020.
- Ron Dayne (1999) - The University of Wisconsin running back earned a Heisman trophy with numerous records, including the NCAA record for career rushing yards (6,397), a record which still stands. Taken high in the 2000 NFL Draft at the 11th pick by the Giants, he would go on to play as "Thunder and Lightning" with Tiki Barber all the way through Super Bowl XXXV (34-7 loss to the Ravens). He would never recapture this success, with difficulty losing weight possibly being the reason for his falling further down the depth chart. After being released by the Giants, he was picked up by Denver for the 2005 season where he briefly appeared to be on a comeback to former glory. However, he was cut on September 3, 2006 after only one season, though his contract was immediately picked up by the Texans. He started eight games for the Texans, but while he continues to be officially listed as a free agent, he has not played in the NFL since the 2007 season. He is considered to be one of the worst draft picks in Giants history
- Chris Weinke (2000) - After an unconventional six-year stint in minor league baseball, Weinke joined the Seminoles at the quarterback position. He took the team to the National Championship game in 2000, the same year that he won the Heisman. He was drafted with a deep overall 106th pick in round four by the Carolina Panthers He spent four non-consecutive playing seasons with the Panthers (2001–2006). After a dreadful 2001 season in which he started only one winning game, his duties were relegated almost entirely as a backup quarterback for Jake Delhomme. After having only two winning starts over four seasons, the Heisman winner was released in 2007, then signed by the San Francisco 49ers due to a series of injuries to their starting quarterbacks. He started only one game with the team, a 20-7 loss to the Browns. The 49ers did not return him to the roster in 2008. Weinke is now the director of the IMG Madden Football Academy.
- Eric Crouch (2001) - The 2001 Heisman Trophy winner played quarterback for the University of Nebraska, winning awards and great recognition for running a highly successful option offense, completing a respectable 105 of 189 passes. He was drafted by the St. Louis Rams late in the third round with the 95th overall pick. Despite having won the Heisman as a college quarterback, he was considered too small to play under center and his athleticism better suited to play the wideout position. A hard tackle in a 2002 preseason game sidelined him before he played in any professional game with the NFL. He announced his official retirement from football before seeing a single play. He is mockingly credited as having had a "stellar" three-week career. He eventually came out of retirement to sign with Kansas City in 2005, only to be sent to play the safety position in NFL Europe with the Hamburg Sea Devils. A brief stint as primarily a third- or fourth-string backup quarterback in the Heisman-friendly CFL began in 2006 and ended with a debilitating 2007 injury leading to his being released by the Toronto Argonauts. He would not return to the league. Drafted in 2008 by Team Texas of the All-American Football League, his contract was released when the league postponed its inaugural season. He made a 2011 debut with the Omaha Nighthawks of the United Football League, competing for the position with Troy Smith, another Heisman winner. He is currently best known as a distributor of playground equipment.
- Carson Palmer (2002)- Played 15 seasons in the NFL with Cincinnati, Oakland, and Arizona. 3 time Pro Bowler (2005-6, 2015) and led the NFL in touchdowns in 2005. Retired after the 2017 season, he finished his career with 92 wins, 46,247 passing yards and 294 touchdowns, all records for Heisman winning quarterbacks.
- Jason White (2003) - Having played the quarterback position at the University of Oklahoma, White was considered an outstanding college athlete despite losing both the 2004 and 2005 BCS championship games. However, he was not courted by any team or taken at any position in the 2005 NFL Draft, with many experts citing durability issues and "marginal" physical skills. As an undrafted free agent, he eventually signed with the Tennessee Titans in 2005 as a member of the practice squad. Citing weak knees, he retired before the start of the season, never having touched the ball or seen a single down during his professional career. He now owns an "The Athlete's Foot" franchise and "A Store Divided", which sells Oklahoma and Oklahoma State merchandise.
- Matt Leinart (2004) - Leinart was generally seen to have enormous potential as a quarterback coming out of USC, being selected by the Arizona Cardinals with the tenth pick in the first round of the 2006 NFL Draft. However, during four seasons with the Cardinals, he completed only 340 of 595 pass attempts over 17 starts, including a marginal rookie year with a 4-7 record. He suffered a shoulder injury at the end of the 2006 season and broke his left clavicle (collarbone) against the St. Louis Rams in 2007, a season-ending injury. He never returned to even inconsistent play, showing weakly in training camps and preseason games, being replaced by veteran backup Kurt Warner, who would hold on to the position. Leinart was later cut from Arizona's roster on September 4, 2010 and has been used only as a backup quarterback with the Houston Texans since the 2010 season. Leinart has since been released after try outs with multiple teams.
- Reggie Bush (2005-rescinded) - Bush has been inconsistent ever since being drafted by the Saints in 2006. Plagued by injury, and the rescinding of his Heisman trophy due to multiple rules infractions by USC, the much-hyped running back is statistically one of the worst in the NFL. He was traded to the Dolphins in late July 2011, leaving New Orleans with an average of only 4.0 yards per carry. After 2 solid seasons in Miami, he played for the Detroit Lions, San Francisco 49ers and Buffalo Bills. In 2016, he became the first player to have 10 or more carries in a season and finish with negative yardage (12 carries for -3 yards). He retired on December 16, 2017.
- Troy Smith (2006) - Impressive playing statistics led to a Heisman win, but a definitive 41-14 loss in 2007 championship game significantly dropped his worth in the eyes of NFL recruiters. He was eventually taken by the Ravens with the 174th overall position, last pick of the fifth round and only as a compensatory selection. His first professional start was in a Week 16 loss to the Seahawks at the end of the 2007 season. He finished the season with one win, and was expected to be the starter in 2008, but became ill with Lemierre's syndrome, a very rare disease - only 161 cases reported in the last century. During three seasons with Baltimore, Smith started only two games, and was only active for 14. He was cut from the team on September 4, 2010 but picked up by San Francisco four days later. Following the 2010 season in which he put up only a 50.3% pass completion, he was not re-signed by the 49ers. He recently played for the Omaha Nighthawks, competing for the quarterback position rather ironically with Eric Crouch, another Heisman winner. He was recently signed by the Montreal Alouettes of the CFL.
- Tim Tebow (2007) - First sophomore to win the Heisman and a runner-up as a junior and senior, Tebow was heralded by many as one of the greatest college football players of all time, after contributing to Florida's 2006 National Championship as a freshman and then leading his team to another one as a junior. After being drafted in the first round by the Denver Broncos, a team he brought to the NFL playoffs, he was subsequently traded to the New York Jets and then released, briefly picked up by the New England Patriots and then cut prior to the start of the 2013 season. He is currently pursuing a career in baseball instead.
- Sam Bradford (2008) - Was drafted with the number one pick overall by the St Louis Rams, but his professional career has been severely hampered by injuries. Was traded to the Philadelphia Eagles prior to the 2015 season. Was traded to the Minnesota Vikings in 2016. After leading the Vikings to a season opening win in 2017, it was revealed that Bradford was diagnosed with wear and tear on his knee after two previous ACL surgeries. He missed the rest of the season.
- Mark Ingram (2009) - Was drafted in the first round by the New Orleans Saints. In 2014, he rushed for 964 yards and 9 touchdowns, earning a Pro Bowl bid. Had another Pro Bowl selection in 2017 after he finished the regular season with career-highs of 1,124 rushing yards, 12 rushing touchdowns, 58 receptions, and 416 receiving yards.
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- Cam Newton (2010) - Was drafted with the number one pick overall by the Carolina Panthers. Won offensive rookie of the year in his first season after he became the first rookie quarterback to throw for 4,000 yards in a season. He also ran for 14 touchdowns, more in a single season than any quarterback in NFL history. In 2015, Newton became the first quarterback in NFL history to throw for at least 30 touchdowns and rush for 10 in the same season (35 passing, 10 rushing). He also became the only quarterback ever to have 300 yards passing, 5 touchdown passes, and over 100 yards rushing in the same game. Won the 2015 MVP award and led the Panthers to Super Bowl 50, which they lost to the Denver Broncos. Has passed for 25,074 yards and 174 touchdowns while rushing for 4,320 and 54 touchdowns.
- Robert Griffin III (2011) - Was drafted with the number two pick overall by the Washington Redskins after a blockbuster trade. Won rookie of the year in his first season, but his career has been disrupted significantly by injury. In 2015, the team named Kirk Cousins as the starter and would not confirm if Griffin III would be the second string or third string. On March 7, 2016, Griffin III was released by the team, becoming a free agent. He played the following year with the Cleveland Browns, though has not played since.
- Johnny Manziel (2012) - Was drafted twenty-second overall by the Cleveland Browns in the 2014 draft, despite off-field controversy in his last college season, including an arrest in 2012. In 2015, Manziel checked into an alcohol rehabilitation center. In 2016, he was involved in an alleged domestic violence incident, which is currently being investigated. The Browns released him in March 2016.
- Jameis Winston (2013)- Was drafted with the number one overall pick by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the 2015 NFL Draft. Finished his rookie season by setting franchise rookie records in pass attempts, pass completions, passing yards, and passing touchdowns and went to the Pro Bowl. Missed 3 games in 2017 due to a sprained AC Joint. Has passed for 11,636 and 69 touchdowns.
- Marcus Mariota (2014) - Was drafted with the number two pick overall by the Tennessee Titans in the 2015 NFL draft. Started the season with milestones; throwing a record of 4 touchdowns in the first half, and well as being the first rookie to receive a perfect passer rating of 158.3 in his first game as a career starter. However, missed 4 non-consecutive games during the season due to separate injuries. During the 2016 season, he was named AFC Offensive Player of the Month for November after passing for 1,124 yards with 11 touchdowns and just two interceptions. However, during a Christmas Eve loss to Jacksonville, he fractured his right fibula, underwent surgery, and was out for the final game of the season as the Titans missed the playoffs at 9-7. However, he finished the 2016 season with a career-high 3,426 passing yards with 26 touchdowns and nine interceptions. In 2017, he missed one game with a strained MCL, but led the Titans to a wild card berth with a 9-7 record. As the 5th seed, they beat the Kansas City Chiefs 22-21 after being down 18 points at halftime. They would lose to the New England Patriots 35-14 the following week. In his career, he has thrown for 9,476 yards and 58 touchdowns.
- Derrick Henry (2015)- Henry was drafted by the Titans with the 45th overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, creating an all-Heisman backfield with quarterback Marcus Mariota. He began his rookie season as a backup running back to veteran DeMarco Murray. Finished his rookie season with 110 carries for 490 rushing yards and five touchdowns in 15 games and two starts, also caught 13 passes for 137 receiving yards. In 2017, in a game against the Indianapolis Colts, Henry ran for a career-high 131-yards on 19 carries and ran for a 72-yard touchdown late in the fourth quarter of the 36–22 victory. After DeMarco Murray tore his MCL in week 16, Henry got the start in the regular season finale against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Needed a win to reach the playoffs, Henry rushed for 51 yards on 28 carries, but had a 66-yard touchdown reception as the Titans defeated the Jaguars 15-10. The win, coupled with a Baltimore Ravens loss, secured the #5 seed in the playoffs for the Titans, where they scored a come from behind win in Kansas City, 22-21, before losing to the New England Patriots 35-14 in the divisional round. In Henry’s career, he has rushed for 1,234 yards and 10 touchdowns, adding 24 catches for 273 yards and a touchdown.
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