Saturday, December 8, 2012

Of Bo Jackson and Joe Dudek

Just in time for this year's Heisman presentation, Michael Weinreb looks at the unlikely story of Joe Dudek and his 15 minutes of fame in 1985:
Reilly was in his first year at SI, covering college football. He was unimpressed by the Heisman Trophy field, and more than that, he and editor Mark Mulvoy were seeking to make a statement. College football was seething with blatant and in-your-face corruption, punctuated by the sordid happenings at Southern Methodist University. And even though Bo's career at Auburn had nothing to do with this — even though the supposedly inconsequential injuries, like a thigh bruise that kept Jackson out of certain games and that Reilly cited as the primary reason for Bo's lack of qualifications, were, in fact, very real — he and Iowa quarterback Chuck Long became symbols of the Heisman's insistent celebration of mediocrity. By extension, they became symbols of college football's inevitable degeneration into a semiprofessional avocation. In search of an anti-antihero, Reilly happened upon Joe Dudek, who had the name, and the car, and the lack of scholarship money — one of the myths that made the rounds was that Dudek actually worked cleaning up the stadium after the games (he's still not sure where that came from) — and who had run for 265 yards in his final game at Plymouth. Then, suffering from injuries and exhaustion, he had to be carted from the field by ambulance. Thigh bruise, indeed, Reilly sneered at Bo.
The cover: A mug shot of Bo, and a mug shot of Chuck Long. And at the bottom, a mug shot of Joe Dudek. Check boxes next to each; only the bottom box marked. Headline: The Thinking Fan's Vote for the 1985 Heisman Trophy. Inside, a shot of Joe posing next to the brown jalopy he drove, the totem of purity and innocence SI was seeking. The article's headline: "What the Heck, Why Not Dudek?"
"At a time of growing suspicion about the money side of big-time college football," wrote the Christian Science Monitor after the issue was published, "Joe Dudek has emerged as a symbol of the virtues and appeal of the game's purely amateur version."
"There's nothing wrong with creating a hero," Mulvoy told a few years ago. "Let's face it: Madison Avenue did it, everybody did it."
The whole thing is entertaining to read.

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