July 13, 2005

Universities get creative with player promotion

Media guides and postcards? Passe. Posters and e-mail updates? Snoooooze.

If you're going to start a campaign for the Heisman Trophy, it needs some sizzle, some originality.

University of Memphis Sports Information Director Jennifer Rodrigues sent the first Heisman salvo this season on behalf of running back DeAngelo Williams. It's a 1:24 scale die-cast stock car with a special paint scheme touting the Tigers' star and carrying his No. 20 on the side. Memphis has a website up in conjunction with the NASCAR theme, www.racefortheheisman.com.

"I haven't seen anything like that in the years I've been a voter," said Joe Biddle of The (Nashville) Tennessean, who has had a ballot for about 15 years. "I think it's neat, very creative. It's hard to find something different to do."

Longtime Heisman voter Pat Dooley of the Gainesville (Fla.) Sun said the car was "very well done" but unnecessary.

"You don't need to promote anybody anymore," Dooley said. "We all know who the best players are. We have cable."

Rodrigues came up with the idea one day when she passed by the entertainment center in her house. It's where her husband keeps his collection of Dale Earnhardt Sr. cars.

"I just thought it would be kind of cool, and it went with the race for the Heisman and DeAngelo's speed," Rodrigues said.

Rodrigues said five minutes after telling Williams the entire idea he called her back on her cell phone and suggested the school take a picture of the offense line as his "pit crew" and put it on the website. That's still in the works.

Rodrigues says feedback has been mostly positive. She explained that the school ordered about 3,500 cars and made about 2,400 available to the public, with the others being mailed to Heisman voters and other influential media.

"Some people think we spent a ton of money, but we turned a profit of more than $30,000 and had the money in the bank before the cars even came in," Rodrigues said.

Is the ploy going to win any votes for Williams? Not likely. Does it give him some early visibility? Absolutely. So does a season opener against Ole Miss on ESPN. Williams' performance against the Rebels will go a long way toward determining whether he actually has a chance to get the checkered flag or will be only so much paint on Matt Leinart's back bumper.

Speaking of the holder of the Heisman, Southern Cal feels no need to campaign for its man. Really, it would be overkill. What more do you need to say besides: "Umm, we believe he has the Heisman now, doesn't he? We suppose bookends would be nice."

Still, the model cars touting Williams got us thinking about Heisman Trophy campaigns past. Here is a list of some of the most memorable moments of Heisman hype:

1. Notre Dame Sports Information Director Roger Valdiserri changes the pronunciation of QB Joe Theismann's surname to rhyme with Heisman. A couple of years later Theismann finishes second in the Heisman voting to Jim Plunkett (1970).
Comment: Lingers in college lore to this day. Deserving of top spot.

2. Oregon spends $250,000 on a 10-story Times Square billboard that features QB Joey Harrington. Where it reads "Joey Harrington" in black is painted through and "Heisman" is painted above it in green. Alas, "Joey Heisman" finishes fourth (2001).
Comment: Ranks highly because of its bravado.

3. Pitt promotes LB Hugh Green by sending voters a life-sized poster of the 6-foot-2 senior posed as the Jolly Green Giant. He makes the strongest showing to date for a defense-only player, coming in second to South Carolina's George Rogers (1980).
Comment: Kind of funny and it helped propel a runner-up finish.

4. Brigham Young mails felt blue ties touting junior QB Ty Detmer, who goes on to win the award that year (1990).
Comment: These were not real neckties. They actually were kind of lame. But you can't argue with the result.

5. Memphis kick-starts the campaign of senior RB DeAngelo Williams with a die-cast car. The school orders about 3,500 and what it doesn't send to Heisman voters it sells to fans. Finish: TBD (2005).
Comment: Could rank higher if Williams has big season.

6. Washington State puts leaves in envelopes along with a mailer to remind voters of QB Ryan Leaf. Which is fine, as long as no one reminds the San Diego Chargers. Leaf hits the high note of his career with a third-place finish (1997).
Comment: Understated campaign for overbearing candidate.

7. Indiana sends out about 1,000 Antwaan Randle-El mousepads, hyping its shifty QB. The school should have sent thousand-dollar bills: He comes in a distant sixth (2001).
Comment: Topical and useful.

8. Marshall (again?) and Louisville go the bobblehead route on behalf of their talented QBs, Byron Leftwich of the Thundering Herd and Dave Ragone of the Cardinals. The bobbleheads even get national airtime when the teams meet on ESPN. But all the schools can do is scratch their heads: Leftwich lands sixth and Ragone is nowhere to be found (2002).
Comment: You can never go wrong with bobbleheads.

9. Ohio State produces weekly statistics and mails them on a cardboard pancake to list the number of times massive left tackle Orlando Pace has flattened the opposition. A fourth-place finish leaves him hungry (1996).
Comment: Real pancakes would have played better in most sports departments.

10. The first Heisman campaign website makes its debut to tout a certain wide receiver when Marshall unveils www.RandyMoss.com. Moss comes in fourth (1997).
Comment: Somebody had to be first.


Bob McClellan can be reached via email at bmcclellan@rivals.com.





 

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