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College Football / Richard Hoffer : Although White Made a Run for It, Early Returns Favor Brown

December 04, 1987|Richard Hoffer

Lorenzo White, dressed in a red sweat suit, was a colorful sight along the Miami sidelines last week.

Home for Thanksgiving, he was watching the Hurricanes reduce this year's Heisman Trophy winner--we're pretty sure--to just another guy. Just seeing Brown drop all those passes made White green with envy. We said he was a colorful sight.

You hardly knew whom to feel sorrier for, though. It's true, Michigan State's tailback is probably the more deserving of the candidates. He gained 1,459 yards this season and had a 292-yard game when the Spartans beat Indiana for the Rose Bowl berth. Except for a game or two, he was a reliable runner week in, week out.

Still, Notre Dame's Tim Brown, who has not drowned any household pets that we know of, probably doesn't deserve the violent backlash that's coming his way. Neither Notre Dame nor Brown really sought the trophy. The school was astonished when Sports Illustrated chose Brown for a cover subject at the beginning of the season.

Furthermore, contrary to the opinion of some backlashers, Notre Dame didn't invent the all-purpose yardage category. They kept mighty good track of Brown's, no question, but the Irish didn't invent it.

Said Michigan State Coach George Perles: "I wouldn't even consider the guy who's going to win it as the toughest competition unless it's a special teams award." Ouch.

That said, we have to say we feel sorrier for White. Brown is a sensational athlete and he wins some votes just because his presence alone forces coaches to come up with comical kicking games.

After Brown had returned consecutive punts for touchdowns earlier this season, he became involved in a complicated, season-long game of keep-away. As a receiver, he was loudly hailed as a decoy, thereby explaining his lack of numbers there.

Well, we never heard a National Football League personnel director say he chose a player because he was the best decoy available. The best athletes go ahead and challenge opponents. White, no secret coming into this season, did. Largely, Brown did not.

Brown's all-purpose yardage this season was actually down by about 100 yards from last season's. His season finale against Miami, when he was muffled by a defense that played him straight up, showed he can be stopped.

"I don't think Tim Brown deserves the trophy," Miami cornerback Bennie Blades said. "In my opinion, you have to prove it week after week."

White, who watched as Brown was held to 95 all-purpose yards in that game, agreed and said this all-purpose business was . . . well, he rolled his eyes majestically.

"If I wanted to run back kickoffs or punts, would they count those yards?" he asked.

Clearly, he could have added a few football fields to his totals--and presumably Heisman votes--had he done so.

Most ballots, however, had been turned in by last week, when the backlash might have gained its greatest force. And White was left standing on the sideline.

Still, here's White's ballot: "I would have (Pitt's) Craig Heyward first, (Syracuse quarterback) Don McPherson second, and No. 3, I will say Tim."

Counting Lorenzo White?

"Oh, I would put myself first."

We would, too.

Add all-purpose yards: Eric Metcalf, a Texas Shorthorn--he's 5 feet 9 inches--gained 1,925 yards by rushing, receiving and returning punts and kickoffs, breaking Earl Campbell's 10-year-old school record and exceeding Brown's figures.

The junior tailback--next year's decoy, we presume--enters the all-purpose category genetically. His father, Terry, set an NFL record of 2,462 all-purpose yards running way back in 1975. Hey, we said Notre Dame didn't invent the category.

Ever wonder what it is about Oklahoma and Nebraska that allows for their Big Eight dominance? How about linemen.

Those two teams--which have won or shared the conference championship in each of the last 25 years--filled eight of the nine interior line positions, offense and defense, on the all-conference team. If you count tight end, as in Oklahoma's Keith Jackson, that's 9 of 10.

The Miami players are alternately arrogant and refreshing. After a day of barking at Notre Dame's decoy--"His eyes got wide," Blades reported--they returned to the dressing room to consider their achievements.

"Anybody know how many yards I had?" Melvin Bratton inquired of newsmen.

Said linebacker George Mira Jr.: "I needed this game. There's been a lot of question whether I can play after college."

They say what's on their minds, which is rare in college football.

Second-ranked Miami, whose Orange Bowl game with top-ranked Oklahoma has, as they say, national championship implications, has been taking it on the chin for its schedule. The Hurricanes had a six-game stretch in which each team had a losing record.

On the other hand, including Oklahoma, Miami will have faced six bowl-bound teams. In fact, the Hurricanes will wind up their season with South Carolina, which will play in the Gator Bowl.

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