Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Pete and Reggie's Hard Luck Club

As reaction poured in on the show today on Reggie Bush's "decision" to give up his Heisman Trophy, it got me thinking about the points people made when saying he'd accomplished so much "on the field."  They're right of course.  Bush's career at Southern Cal was brilliant.  At a school loaded with great players he stood out above them all.  Remember, he played with fellow Heisman winner Matt Leinart.  His margin of victory over Vince Young of Texas in the Heisman balloting was huge.

In short, based on his performance, he deserved to win what most believe is the greatest and most recognized individual award in American sports.

In reading about the process that led Bush to give the award up, it was noted that there are actually very few overall criteria players must meet to be Heisman winners.  One, however, is that players must be in compliance with NCAA rules to be eligible.  Based on what we all now know, Bush wasn't an eligible candidate.  Enough said.

Furthermore, the Heisman Trophy Trust has decided that no one will now hold the 2005 honor, citing the time that's elapsed from then to now and that a revote wouldn't be fair.  (I didn't know until today that they don't have a Miss America-type deal to automatically have the runner-up take the spot in the event the winner can no longer serve, but I digress.)  Leaving the title vacant will, in the long run, actually make Bush's year more memorable and keep his accomplishments - on AND off the field - more relevant than most past Heisman winners.

Basically, Bush will now be remembered as one of college football's best players ever and have no official recognition to show for it.  Kind of sucks for him.  It also gives him something in common with baseball legend Pete Rose.  Both men are now fantastic athletes who threw away recognition due to equally fantastic screw ups.

The biggest difference in the two is simple: Bush won an award and had to give it back.  Rose, if we can equate the Heisman to induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame, never actually got his.  Ask almost anyone who follows baseball though and they'll say that based on what he did "on the field," Rose should absolutely be in the HOF.  He's not because of foolish decisions made off the field after he played.

Bush's transgressions were also away from the field, and for that matter away from school entirely.  Neither man was forced to do what got them in trouble, and both could have likely salvaged their situations if they'd fessed up sooner and been swifter in ending what they'd started.

Instead, Rose kept gambling on baseball and then spent years lying about the extent of what he'd done.  By the time he admitted to it a few years ago it was too late.  He was toxic and voters, because of Major League Baseball's lifetime ban of Rose from the game, would be able to have nothing to do with him.

Bush was equally filled with a false sense of bravado.  Not only did he take hundreds of thousands of dollars in illegal benefits from an agent, he actually decided NOT to sign with that agent when the time was upon him.  As one caller said, Bush had "no honor amongst thieves."  The agent ratted him out and look where we are today.

You will never hear me say that either of these men weren't great at what they did.  Neither of them cheated to get better at their craft.  Whether it was harnessing physical gifts like Bush did or working to overcome the lack of them like Rose did, both are deserving of being joined with their respective sports elite names because of what they accomplished "on the field."  They'll certainly be remembered for that part of their careers.

Sadly for them, they'll be equally remembered for what they did away from the field too, and those transgressions will keep them from official recognition alongside their peers.  Like it or not, what they did on the field only goes so far, and for them it's just not far enough.

Pete and Reggie, kindred souls in their own club.  There are many lessons to be learned here.  We, and they, need to hope the example they unwittingly set keeps that club's membership at two from here on out.

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