LITTLE ROCK — Last time I looked, two inquisitive reporters were reviewing the names of Heisman Trophy winners, trying to identify all 11 that an aging co-worker had seen while on assignment.
Many were easy, particularly those from the Southeastern Conference in recent years — Tim Tebow of Florida, Mark Ingram of Alabama, Cam Newton of Auburn, and Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M. Fessing up, I had to print out the list from 1968 on to make certain I did not overlook somebody that was ordinary on a particular day against the Razorbacks or somebody simply forgotten.
In particular, Earl Campbell of Texas evoked vivid memories; others not so much. As an aside, Arkansas was 2-9 against Heisman winners in those years and lost the last six by a combined 258-88.
Along the way, Newton and Manziel remind that an athlete who can run and throw can elevate a college team to great heights. That mid-October day in 2010, I thought Newton reached the max vs. Arkansas when he carried 25 times for 188 and completed 10-of-14 for another 140. Two years later, Manziel made 557 on 52 plays against an overmatched and downtrodden group.
I remembered that Stanford’s Jim Plunkett was excellent in the 1970 season opener in Little Rock, but his performance took a back seat to the Bill Montgomery-led comeback. Montgomery, who missed on 11 of his first 12 passes, completed two fourth-down TD passes and Stanford’s 27-point lead was only 34-28 in the fourth period.
On third-and-2 from the Stanford 5 with less than a minute to play, Bill Burnett was stuffed. On fourth down, Montgomery’s intended receiver was covered and he was stopped at the 4.
Wrapping up the game, ABC analyst and former Oklahoma coach Bud Wilkinson called Plunkett “the best college quarterback I’ve ever seen.”
To me, it was another what-if for Montgomery and his teammates.
Nineteen years later, in the same stadium, another Arkansas quarterback outdid a Heisman Trophy winner. Proficient on the option, Quinn Grovey completed 11-of-14 for 256 yards and two touchdowns and kept for 79 yards and three touchdowns in the Razorbacks’ 45-39 victory over Andre Ware and his Houston Cougars. I am still convinced that Ware won the statue mostly because of the offense of coordinator John Jenkins.
The tendency is to recall the spectacular — Newton, Manziel and USC’s Reggie Bush, for example — and the close games and relegate other Heisman winners to supporting roles. For instance, in 1996, The AP story on Florida 42, Arkansas began: “The Florida defense deflated Arkansas early …” Danny Wuerffel’s four touchdown passes and 23-of-39 for a school-record 462 yards were relegated to the second paragraph.
The other two names on the list competed against Arkansas the year before winning the trophy. Arkansas held Auburn’s Bo Jackson to 40 yards on 13 carries during the first three quarters of the 1984 Liberty Bowl before he broke a long one for a 21-15 victory.
Almost by accident, I discovered No. 11. Oklahoma’s Billy Sims won the Heisman in 1978 and finished second in 1979. But, on Jan. 2, 1978, he fumbled on OU’s third play of the Orange Bowl that Arkansas won, 31-6.
Saved for last is Campbell, an exquisite blend of power and explosion who never shirked his role as a marked man. In Fayetteville, on Oct. 15, 1977, he was battered on each of 34 carries. He finished with 188 yards, but made 31 on a screen pass that set up the only touchdown in the Longhorns’ 13-9 victory.
Assigned to the winner’s dressing room, I waited for Campbell, the last one out of the shower. I introduced myself and extended my hand. He apologized for not reciprocating and showed me his right hand, raw from spikes or teeth or both.
Give me that guy ahead of the other 10.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org