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Michigan's Do-It-All Cornerback
1997 Heisman winner Charles Woodson
Every Heisman winner has a piece of history. But even among that select company, Charles Woodson's piece is -- for now -- unique.
The Michigan Wolverines cornerback is the only primarily defensive player to win the award. That alone is impressive -- but the fact that he beat out superstar Tennessee quarterback Peyton Manning to do it in 1997 ratchets Woodson's achievement to another level.
To this day, some Volunteers fans remain outraged on Manning's behalf, especially as he's blossomed into a sure-fire NFL Hall of Famer. Tennessee sports information director Bud Ford was so disillusioned after Manning lost out to a cornerback that he all but swore off Heisman publicity campaigns (Ford relented in 2009 with Eric Berry -- a defensive back, ironically). And some with memories that stretched all the way back to Paul Hornung of 2-8 Notre Dame beating out the Volunteers' Johnny Majors in 1956 simply declared an anti-Tennessee conspiracy.
But you have to give Woodson credit for what he accomplished in the '97 season.
Woodson was everywhere for the Michigan Wolverines. He was the best cornerback in college football (eight interceptions, nine other passes broken up). He was a stellar tackler (44 total tackles, five for loss, one sack). He was a dangerous punt returner (301 return yards and one touchdown). He was a big-play performer while dabbling on offense (238 receiving yards, 41 rushing yards, three touchdowns). He made memorable plays in big games (a one-handed interception against rival Michigan State; a punt-return touchdown and 37-yard reception against Ohio State).
There was nothing Woodson could not do and there was nobody on the schedule Michigan could not beat. Combine his versatility with the Wolverines' undefeated record and its share of the national title, plus Manning's four-year failure to beat Florida, and you had a cocktail of components capable of producing an unprecedented Heisman decision.
-- Pat Forde