I come up with my best ideas when driving on longish trips. Unfortunately, I also come up with my worst ideas when driving on longish trips. And I'm not smart enough to know which is which. This is why often I will come home from a long drive and I will say to my wife something like: "We should start raising ostriches," or "I think I'm going to build a water park in our backyard."
Anyway: I was driving by the giant peach water tower on I-85 near Gaffney, S.C.* when I came up with the idea for the Grandex Award.
*That tower has always had special meaning for me -- in 1988, I was driving by it when I heard Jack Buck's "I don't believe what I just saw" call of Kirk Gibson's home run.
What is the Grandex Award? I'm so glad you asked. A couple of weeks ago, I was at the Big 10 Media Days. And the most striking moment -- other than the many opportunities I had to snicker at the absurd Leaders and Legends thing -- happened at the luncheon when Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins spoke about privilege and responsibility and what it means to be a college football player. It was a marvelous speech, one that drew a two-minute standing ovation and a personal thanks from Joe Paterno, but I thought it was more than that. It was a brief glimpse at what some of us wish college football could be about -- a quarterback, a student, a young man who seems to be working hard to make a difference.
As it turns out, I'm in Atlanta today working on a college football story I've been thinking about for probably 15 years. And by pure chance, I saw a video of Kirk's speech again. And it was just as compelling, just as uplifting, and just as promising as the first time I saw it.
I love college football. And I despise it. I love the energy, the enthusiasm, the passion. And I despise the conference blow-ups, the cash grabs, the recruiting madness. I love the feeling of 100,000 people together in Columbus, the checkered end zones, the hedges, the white outs, the blue field, the Michigan fight song. I despise the way coaches are paid like sheiks and the way coaches are discarded like half-eaten sandwiches. I love that so many young men use college football as way to kick off their lives -- that so many get educations they might not have afforded, that so many get experiences that will guide them forever, that so many have a blast. And I despise that so many don't get that education, don't enjoy their experience, don't or can't embrace the chance.
And, of course, we can talk endlessly about the corruption and so on …
I love and despise the Heisman Trophy for many of the same reasons. I love it for its history, for the players they have chosen, for Pete Dawkins and Roger Staubach and Mike Garrett and Herschel, for Johnny Rodgers' punt return, for Doug Flutie's fling, for Reggie Bush's hallucinogenic moves (which cannot be vacated), for Tim Tebow plowing into the end zone. And I despise it because for the hype, the weekly countdowns, the arguments over what it is and what it should be.
And so: The Grandex Award. I'm giving the Grandex to the player who best represents what is admittedly my ideal of college football. That is: The award will go to the player who excels on the field, in the classroom and in the community. It is open to all divisions of college football, but all three categories count. Excels on the field. Excels in the classroom. Excels in the community. The whole thing.
Joe Paterno -- who you have undoubtedly figured out is the inspiration for the Grandex Award name -- always said that you shouldn't have to give up one thing to get another. It's all attainable. And even if it's not all attainable, well, it's all worth striving for.
So I'm putting out this challenge to Sports Information Directors around the country -- stop sending me your Heisman postcards and flyers. I don't want those. Instead, pitch your player for the Grandex here. Obviously, even if you are not a sports information director or connected with a school, you are welcome to pitch a favorite player. I'll keep everyone updated throughout the college football season as I share some of these stories …
… unless, of course, I figure out that this was really one of the raising ostriches ideas.