Florida State’s electrifying freshman quarterback, Jameis Winston, is the Heisman Trophy frontrunner. He’s also battling allegations that a sexual battery accusation was covered up by football-friendly police. So let’s take a moment to recall past winners who prove greatness on the gridiron doesn’t guarantee goodness off it…
1. Johnny Manziel (2012)
Johnny Football had a first year for the ages, shattering records and becoming the only freshman to win the Heisman. He’s been exciting off the field too, as he’s been arrested, nearly cost himself his eligibility after allegedly signing autographs for money, hung out with LeBron, expressed a desire to leave his school as soon as possible, and generally done his best to prove that top football “student-athletes” should just be called “athletes.”
2. Charlie Ward (1993)
Like many Heisman winners, he never made it in the NFL, but that’s only because he decided to enter the NBA instead. The former FSU QB had a lengthy if unspectacular career with an average of just over 6 points per game. Even so, there was one moment he made headlines: he decided to pose some questions about Jews, including “why did they persecute Jesus unless he knew something they didn’t want to accept.” He later apologized, explaining “my friend is a Jewish guy, and his name is Jesus Christ.” Controversy over.
3. Paul Hornung (1956)
Notre Dame’s Golden Boy found equal stardom with the Green Bay Packers, winning the 1961 MVP. There is one black mark on his career: he was suspended by the NFL for a year for betting on league games and associating with “known hoodlums.” That said, you can’t permanently tarnish the Golden Boy: he’s now a member of both the College and Pro Hall of Fames and taught a new generation the key to a great pep rally speech: having your pants fall down.
4. Cam Newton (2010)
An undeniable winner with a junior college national title, a college national title and immediate success in the NFL, the star quarterback was also booted from Florida University for possession of a stolen laptop (his $22-million rookie contract ensured he can now afford all the Dells his heart desires) and very nearly lost his Auburn eligibility over allegations his father had been seeking payments from the schools recruiting his son. Oh, Dad!
Say this for the Juice: he puts everything in perspective. The winner of the Heisman by a record margin, he later became the first man to run for over 2,000 yards in an NFL season. A truly bizarre bit of karma saw him beat the wrap for killing two people only to be sent away for “stealing” memorabilia that appears to have been stolen from him (to recap, in the American justice system, it’s easier to get away with stabbing a waiter than swiping a jersey). He continues to be in prison/make watching The Naked Gun movies a really weird experience.
6. Ricky Williams (1998)
A beast of a running back for the University of Texas, Williams isn’t to blame that Mike Ditka traded everything but the Superdome to get him on the Saints. He ran for over 10,000 yards during his NFL career, an accomplishment that might get a bit more respect if he didn’t consistently give off the impression he’d have traded it all for a particularly snazzy bong.
7. Matt Leinart (2004)
Incredibly, he played on three straight national champs. Er, two straight, as his USC Trojans had a title snatched away in the closing seconds by Vince Young. Er, one straight, as they were stripped of one of those titles. (More on that momentarily.) When he entered the NFL he was viewed as the second coming of Broadway Joe due to his hard-partying lifestyle, and sure enough he was… minus the ability to win a Super Bowl. Or hold down a starting job. Or, for the moment, make a pro roster. That said, his version of the “I want to kiss you!” Suzy Kolber years should be delightful.
8. Reggie Bush (2005, vacated)
It was clear to anyone who watched him that the USC running back was going to make a ton of money. Unfortunately for the Trojans, he didn’t have the patience to wait until the NFL draft for that to happen. Sued by a sports agent alleging that Bush and his family owed him for hundreds of thousands in gifts, the NCAA investigation led to USC being stripped of a national title and Bush returning his Heisman. Meaning he technically isn’t a Heisman winner and isn’t even eligible for this list. Let your brain explode now.
9. Johnny Rodgers (1972)
One of the most celebrated Nebraska Cornhuskers ever, the 1972 Heisman winner was a running back, receiver and a return man. Unfortunately, he was something else: a robber. (Well, technically a felony larcenist.) Rodgers blamed the holdup of a gas station on a night of youthful drinking that got out of hand—he was a freshman at the time—and this year Nebraska’s Board of Pardons agreed, voting 3-0 in his favor. Rodgers’ subsequent decades have included much charity work and a 1997 drunken-driving conviction, reminding us all you’re never too old to do stupid things while wasted.
10. Billy Cannon (1959)
College football players often go on to make big money, but not the way Cannon did. He led LSU to its first national title and won the 1959 Heisman at halfback (while achieving legendary status with “The Punt Return”: ask a Tiger fan) before playing for the Houston Oilers, Oakland Raiders and Kansas City Chiefs. Unfortunately, post-football he got involved in a scheme that manufactured more than $6 million in fake hundreds. Sentenced to five years, he has since said it was a chapter of his life during which he had to learn that some people are “really not good guys” and the lesson cost him “more than you want to talk about.” And you can take that to the bank!