The Heisman Trophy is still the most prestigious award in sports

Dec 12, 2015; New York, NY, USA; The Heisman Trophy sits on a pedestal during a press conference at the New York Marriott Marquis prior to the 81st annual Heisman Trophy presentation. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 12, 2015; New York, NY, USA; The Heisman Trophy sits on a pedestal during a press conference at the New York Marriott Marquis prior to the 81st annual Heisman Trophy presentation. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports /

The historic Heisman Trophy, given annually to the best individual player in college football, stands out as the top award in all of college sports.

One player will have his name forever etched in college football history on Saturday night when the Heisman Trophy is awarded in a ceremony in New York City.

Named after legendary football innovator John Heisman, the trophy has been given out to the most outstanding individual college player annually since 1935. Winners are announced at a grand ceremony in Times Square, with the entire college football world watching.

Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson is the heavy favorite to take home the 2016 award after piling up 51 touchdowns this season. Jackson will be joined by fellow finalists Jabrill Peppers of Michigan –who could join fellow Wolverine Charles Woodson as the second defensive player to win the Heisman– Clemson quarterback Deshuan Watson and the Oklahoma duo of Baker Mayfield and Dede Westbrook.

In the age of wall-to-wall TV coverage and non-stop award campaigning on social media, some feel the Heisman’s shine has worn off. However, the Heisman Trophy remains the most prestigious award in all of sports.

A big part of the Heisman’s allure is the design of the trophy itself, which generally sticks out in every football fan’s mind. Standing 13.5 inches tall and weighing 25 pounds, the bronze trophy was designed by 20-year-old sculptor Frank Eliscu and is modeled after New York University running back Ed Smith making a stiff-arm pose.

Of course, the pose is now imitated by countless players at every level of football. Michigan’s Desmond Howard started the trend after striking the Heisman pose following a punt return touchdown against Ohio State to seal his 1991 award win, only to be later mocked by Washington cornerback Mario Bailey in the Huskies’ Rose Bowl win over the Wolverines.

Just about every winner since has a photo of them making the Heisman pose, including Jackson this year. No other trophy has produced such iconic sports photos, as players can’t exactly imitate the Naismith Award or NFL MVP trophy.

Over the years, some of the greatest players in football history have won the Heisman Trophy before heading off to the professional ranks. The likes of Barry Sanders, Tony Dorsett, Roger Staubach and many others all won college football’s most prestigious award to set them up nicely for NFL careers that would result in inductions to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Marcus Allen won a college national championship, Super Bowl, Super Bowl MVP and NFL MVP, but his overall resume just wouldn’t be quite as legendary without the 1981 Heisman win.

While those winners were unforgettable, the Heisman champions who didn’t become productive players at the next level are more special in a sense. Winners like Tim Tebow and Andre Ware would just be viewed as NFL busts without their Heisman victories, but instead rightfully own a place in sports history. Instead of primarily being viewed as part of a notorious draft day trade, Ricky Williams is known more for being one of the most beloved players in the history of the storied Texas football program for his 1998 win.

College football fandom runs deep, ensuring the legend of every Heisman winner is passed down from generation-to-generation. The connection between a college player and his school is more meaningful than a professional with a team, and the Heisman brings more pride to the winning university than any other award in sports.

Of course, a few controversial decisions in Heisman voting history will also not be forgotten by fans around the country anytime soon. USC’s O.J. Simpson narrowly lost the 1967 Heisman to UCLA’s Gary Beban despite scoring the game-winning touchdown against the arch rival Bruins just hours before, while every fan followed Cam Newton’s eligibility controversy in the weeks leading up to the 2010 ceremony. Reggie Bush being stripped of the 2005 Heisman was a huge news story five years later, even with the former USC running back enjoying a successful career in the NFL.

What really makes the Heisman so prestigious is the fact that it’s the most difficult award in sports to win. A Heisman winner must stand out as the most impressive individual among 128 FBS programs, and typically has the added pressure of needing to lead their team to a successful season.

Even with all the great players to come through college football since 1935, Ohio State’s Archie Griffin is the only two-time winner, showing just how hard surviving the Heisman race can be. Alabama, a college football blue blood which is currently in the middle of one of the greatest dynasties the sport has ever seen, has produced just two winners.

Next: Ranking The Best Heisman Trophy Winners Of All-Time

One bad game or critical mistake can erase an entire season’s worth of highlights in the award race, while every candidate is also searching for that signature “Heisman moment.” While Jackson has enjoyed the best statistical season of any candidate, some think the door for Peppers or Watson may be open after Louisville suffered a bad loss to Kentucky to end the season.

No matter which finalist emerges victorious, one candidate will join the pantheon of legendary players to win the most prestigious award in sports — the Heisman Trophy.