By JOHN P. WISE
One Great Season
BROOKLYN -- Congratulations to Mark Ingram on becoming Alabama's first-ever Heisman Trophy winner. The talented running back certainly was deserving, and for the third straight year next season, we'll watch a junior try to become only the second repeat winner in the trophy's rich history.
The Heisman is indeed one of the most prestigious trophies in all of sports. But I think I'd rather win a Stanley Cup.
In fact, I think I'd covet both the Stanley Cup and the Masters' Green Jacket ahead of the Heisman. If you're going to leave an annoying comment about how the Green Jacket isn't a trophy, then let's amend our terminology to reflect these symbols of great achievements, like a blue ribbon at the Science Fair.
I'm more of a hockey fan than most of my friends, but I'm hardly an expert. I already enjoyed slightly more than a casual interest since childhood, but about a decade ago I spent a season covering the sport for The Cincinnati Enquirer and I absolutely loved it.
Hockey is an underappreciated sport played by the toughest athletes in the world. They grind together for eight weeks of playoffs, stink up locker rooms, grow sweaty beards and play four rugged series against competition just as tough. And after sometimes seven games in 10 days against each opponent, they take their helmets off, form a line and politely shake hands with their battered and bloodied rivals.
YOUR THOUGHTS: What's The Best Trophy In Sports?
I'll never forget choking up after watching New Jersey beat Dallas in sudden-death overtime in 2000, trying to hold off tears while telling my girlfriend sitting next to me at the time that that's why I will always watch a Game 7 in the NHL over a Game 7 of the World Series or NBA Finals every time.
The funny thing about it was that the Devils beat the Stars in only six games, but with the atmosphere in the Stanley Cup Finals, the urgency of an overtime goal and the immediate celebration Jason Arnott's score ignited, you couldn't help but feel more drama than maybe there really was. Wait, I take that back. Drama was on full overload in that series. Four of the six games were decided by one goal and in five games the visiting team won. And two nights before New Jersey's double-overtime win in the clinching game six, the Stars stayed alive with a triple-overtime win in game five.
Speaking of drama, five of the last eight Stanley Cup Finals have gone to seven games. In that same span, the NBA Finals has gone the distance just once and the World Series only twice.
I don't know why I got teary-eyed that night in 2000. I didn't really care whether Dallas or New Jersey won the series. But it's just such a spectacle watching those guys grind, and it seems like a far greater release and a much larger accomplishment when a championship is claimed in the NHL than in any other sport. I guess the release can apply to dorky fans as well.
In fact, I had to effort to keep the water-works at bay last June, when Pittsburgh withstood a furious third-period rally and a last-second flurry to escape with the Cup in a 4-3 Game 7 defeat of favored defending champion Detroit.
And what do the winners do with the Cup? They take it on late-night talk shows, parade around their hometowns in Europe or Canada with it. They pour cheap beer in it at bars and each leaves hundreds of admirers every year with a great story to tell that often begins with some variation of: "I drank out of the Stanley Cup one time."
If you win a Green Jacket, it means you play golf for a living and you do it very well. It also means you've won the sport's most coveted major. It might mean, too, that you get to have dozens of extramarital sex romps in fancy hotel suites in far-away cities.
But seriously, just golfing for a living -- regardless of your level of success -- might be better than winning a Heisman. The country-club lifestyle seems good for the heart and for peace of mind. It would be nice to say the 18th green is just a small part of your office. When you're done with your work there, you go grab a nice lunch and a beer with some of your colleagues, then prance around the hotel pool and figure out which local restaurant hostess you'd like to call for an evening of pleasure.
The Heisman is obviously a great individual honor, and the trophy itself is one of the most recognized symbols of greatness in all of sports.
But because a vote and not a game or series of games is what determines its winner, there's always the possibility that politics are involved. Heisman Night is such a formal affair with a bunch of manners and clean shaves and suits. Being voted the best individual player in the best sport in America is among the greatest of honors, but if I had to pick, I'd want the Cup that I can win directly on the field of play, then drink out of as I celebrate it with old friends and new ones alike.