No Heisman campaign? No real problem for Ole Miss’s Manning
Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 1, 2002
BIRMINGHAM – A coach, a player and a father all agree on one thing: the player does need the extra hassle of a Heisman Trophy campaign, even though he will likely be one of the nation’s top five candidates.
Ole Miss head coach David Cutcliffe said Wednesday he felt the entire Heisman process had hurt Peyton Manning’s senior season at Tennessee. He said he didn’t want that to happen to Eli, Peyton’s younger brother and current Rebels’ starting quarterback this season.
"The Heisman is a award which should be won on the field, not through some campaign," Cutcliffe said.
The junior quarterback agreed. "There is no point in putting up a campaign for the Heisman," he said. "It’s about what you do on the field, not how many posters you are on. What happened to Peyton was one of the reasons why we didn’t want to do it."
Manning said all the hype over his decision to not allow a campaign is beginning to wear thin. It isn’t something he particularly cares talking about.
"That’s not what you want to answer questions about," he explained. "We want to win football games. I want to get better and have fun playing football. The Heisman Trophy will take care of itself. I saw the way this process effected Peyton, It caused his senior season to not be as much fun as it should have been. I just want to play and have a good time."
While the younger Manning said he wanted no part of the hoopla surrounding the Heisman Trophy, he also indicated it was a special and coveted award – one which he would be proud to win.
"I’m definitely not going to turn it down," Manning said. "It’s an honor to be a candidate. I’m just going to play my game and see how it goes."
While in the long run not having a Heisman campaign might be a blessing for Manning, he said Wednesday the initial announcement has brought a whirl-wind of questions all its own.
"Not having a campaign has probably brought more questions than having one would have," he laughed.
Manning’s coach said the quarterback is fortunate to have a support system in place featuring two individuals whom have gone through identical processes during their playing careers. Also, Cutcliffe indicated Manning’s personality makes it easier for the young quarterback to deal with what he is going through.
"Eli has a dad and a brother who have been where he is now," Cutcliffe pointed out. "You can’t measure how much that means to him. Also, his personality allows him to do what he ‘s doing. He just enjoys playing ball. The good Lord was good to him when he made Eli that way. Eli is certainly a great football player at his position. There’s no one better at his position in the nation."
One thing, which will help Manning in his quest for the coveted trophy, will be the addition of a number of quality skill players as well as the return of tight end Doug Zeigler.
"Ronald McClendon is a legitimate game breaking back," Cutcliffe said. "He’s still rehabilitating from knee surgery following an injury during spring, but should be ready for the season. He has great hands out of the backfield and if he breaks through the line, no one will catch him from behind."
As for Zeigler, Cutcliffe said he is just happy to have him back in the line-up.
"I’m not sure many people know how good he (Zeigler) really is," Cutcliffe explained. "When he went out last season, it really, really hurt us.
"He is just so fast for a big man and has great hands. He’s also a good blocker. We’re glad he’s back with us."
Robert Williams, the most experienced running back returning for Ole Miss will likely get the start, but will be pushed by McClendon.