The Heisman Is For The Best, But Best At What?

The best college football player in the country will be awarded the Heisman Trophy Saturday, but it won't be without controversy. Host Scott Simon talks with NPR's Tom Goldman about what to expect during the award ceremony and the latest news regarding Brett Favre of the Minnesota Vikings.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. And time for sports.

(Soundbite of music)

SIMON: The Heisman Trophy for best college football player in the United States is handed out tonight.

NPR's Tom Goldman, his name is on the list, but I think just for a press ticket.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: He's here to talk about that and other sporting morsels.

Tom, morning. Did you appreciate the fact that we had Barbra Streisand as your warm-up act?

TOM GOLDMAN: Yeah. And I just wanted to say that closing duet, that was not me.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: No, it was the Chairman of the Board.

GOLDMAN: That's right, yeah.

SIMON: What can we expect at tonight's ceremony?

GOLDMAN: Well, I'm a little offended that you don't think I can win. But, you know, considering that, Scott, we can expect Cam Newton to win. Even his...

(Soundbite of laughter)

GOLDMAN: Even his competition is waving the white flag. LaMichael James, the Oregon running back is on record as saying he'd vote for Newton to win. And Boise State quarterback Kellen Moore said yesterday: I don't expect to win, certainly Cam is deserving of this.

Newton is the first Southeastern Conference player ever to throw for 2,000 yards and rush for a thousand yards in a single season. He had 48 touchdowns. He's this massive guy at 6'6", 250 pounds, kind of represents the latest evolution of the quarterback position.

You know, he's a quarterback. He's a running back. I call him a quanningback(ph), if I can coin that. And that's why he'll win. And, you know, also last week's decision by the NCAA Student-Athlete Reinstatement staff, declaring Newton eligible amidst this pay-for-play scandal that implicated his father, that decision allows the Heisman voters to vote with a clear conscience.

Although some may be affected by the fact that the investigation continues and bad stuff may be revealed down the road.

SIMON: Well, so this raises the question: What can he possibly say tonight in his remarks. I mean is he going to ignore that controversy? And this is a sensitive time for the Heisman, isn't it?

GOLDMAN: Yeah. I mean, you know, I'm sure he will kind of, you know, dance around it. I mean he's already given a few interviews and he's talked about his dad. And he said that, you know, he didn't know what his dad was up to and he's not disappointed in his father.

You know, I think Newton will be careful not to say anything that could be ridiculed or replayed over and over - if at a later date it's found he was, you know, in fact, ineligible and therefore he has to return the trophy.

But what you say about the sensitivity is true. You know, just remember in September, Reggie Bush - now playing for the New Orleans Saints - had to give back his 2005 Heisman Trophy, because he'd been declared ineligible.

You know, the Heisman Trophy, Scott, is steeped in this aura of goodness. On the Web site it says: The Heisman Memorial Trophy annually recognizes the outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity.

And I think the trust would like to shore-up that integrity part a little bit.

SIMON: Well, it's kind of an awkward segue to talk about Brett Favre.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: But is - is he, look - a great quarterback, but has he reached the point where he might have to give that up to pursue his career as an amateur self-portrait photographer?

(Soundbite of laughter)

GOLDMAN: That's really rude. Well, you know, I think most immediately we want to know if he'll play tomorrow. He has this shoulder joint problem. He got creamed in the Buffalo game last week and, you know, he sprained his shoulder joint. And apparently can reach back to throw, but following through and completing the throwing motion is really painful.

He hasn't thrown any strong passes in practice. They may give him a painkiller injection to get him through the game.

You know, this is the most serious threat to his streak of consecutive regular season starts. It's currently at 297 games, which is amazing. And bad news is, he's going against the New York Giants tomorrow, a team that has already knocked five opposing quarterbacks out of games this season.

SIMON: Any chance that Leslie Frazier, the new coach, will, you know, put him in to take a couple of snaps and then get him out before he can get hurt, just to keep the streak going?

GOLDMAN: No. Leslie Frazier says the only way Favre will play is if he can protect himself, make all his throws, and play the entire game.

And Brett Favre, as you know, doesn't want to go...

SIMON: Yeah.

GOLDMAN: He doesn't want to do that. He's the gunslinger. It's not his style to limp out for some ceremonial snaps and then trot off the field.

SIMON: NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman. Thanks so much, Chairman.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome.

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