COLUMBIA — Although Chase Daniel didn’t win the Heisman Trophy, he has done something remarkable: Made headlines in New York City.
It was 1939 when a Missouri quarterback last did that. Before we embark on a history lesson, let’s consider Saturday’s ceremony.
It wasn’t a surprise that Daniel’s name wasn’t called. After he failed to throw a touchdown pass in the loss against Oklahoma, the only bona fide contenders were Arkansas running back Darren McFadden and Florida quarterback Tim Tebow.
But earning an invitation was a historic accomplishment for a program formerly mired in mediocrity. Daniel is like a young actor surprising the Hollywood establishment with an Oscar nomination. His performances had fans buzzing about the Tigers, eager to watch a winner. He has also boosted recruiting, marked by quarterback prospect Blaine Gabbert, who backed away from his commitment to floundering Nebraska to join Daniel.
It’s been a long time since any MU player got within reach of the Heisman. Defensive end Danny LaRose placed eighth in 1960, but quarterback Paul Christman got closer in 1939, finishing third and then fifth in 1940. His campaign began on Nov. 11, 1939, in Yankee Stadium.
Christman and the unranked Tigers traveled to the Bronx to take on the No. 17 New York University Violets. The Tigers won 20-7, vaulting them to No. 12 in the AP rankings. It was the team’s first appearance in the poll, which started in 1936.
It’s always been about media exposure for the Heisman — even before the advent of television. Christman was the only player on theMissouri team, if you listened to sportswriters. “This was a one-man show if there ever was one, a personal triumph for Christman, who did everything required of him and did it superbly,” Arthur J. Daley wrote in the New York Times. Collier’s Weekly, a popular magazine, coined Christman the Dizzy Dean of football.
The praise was deafening in Time magazine. “Of the 15,000 or more college players who put on a show for U.S. football fans last Saturday, most fabulous was big, blond Paul Christman, quarterback for Missouri. In New York City’s Yankee Stadium, Christman’s hipper-dipper passes and lunging plunges were the margin between victory and defeat over New York University,” Time Magazine reported.
The raves returned this season. Some sportswriters tried alliteration instead of rhyme. “This sawed-off Texan with a saddle full of swagger and savoir-faire is the best quarterback in the nation,” Tom Dienhart wrote in The Sporting News on Nov. 14.
Although he convinced enough Heisman voters on the field, Daniel realized he had to impress in another fashion. He went shopping, but had fewer options for menswear than receivers in his spread offense. “There’s not too many places you can go in Columbia,” he said in a phone interview Friday. He chose Binghams downtown.
This weekend was Daniel’s first time in New York. He said he wanted to check out Rockefeller Center and Central Park.
But will he get a chance to stroll down Fifth Avenue again next year?
Some players have returned to claim the 25-pound bronze statue. Twenty of the 73 Heisman winners finished in the top five the year before they won.
But others have tumbled. Rex Grossman’s career at Florida foreshadowed his dual personality with the Chicago Bears. As a sophomore in 2001, he finished second to Nebraska’s Eric Crouch. But Bad Rex scared off voters in 2002 and didn’t crack the top 10.
Daniel has proved consistent however, except when he faces Oklahoma. But the Tigers don’t play the Sooners in the regular season next year. Daniel will lose several of his targets — tight end Martin Rucker and wide receiver Will Franklin — as well as tailback Tony Temple. But more importantly, two key offensive linemen are leaving, center Adam Spieker and left tackle Tyler Luellen, who protects Daniel’s blind side.
But Daniel isn’t dwelling on that, of course, or even thinking about how he will try to dissect Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl.
“It’s a relaxing time,” Daniel said. “I’m enjoying the moment, that’s for sure.”