Heroics on the gridiron come throughout the season, but always seem to have a bit more shine in November.
And it definitely feels that way during the Heisman race, as the college football world drills down on the handful of hopefuls who have a shot at the award.
While many of the fabled exploits of Heisman greats are about what transpires over Thanksgiving weekend the nation is doing little outside of turkey and football, the week before has its own cache.
In 1965, USC’s Mike Garrett posted season-highs in rushing yards (210) and carries (40) against rival UCLA on Nov 20 at the L.A. Coliseum, giving his Heisman credentials a major boost before his season-finale.
Not all big games have happy endings however, and this one came at the hands of a future Heisman winner.
The Trojans built a 16-6 lead with just four minutes to play and a trip to the Rose Bowl seemed imminent. But the Bruins, led by 1967 winner-to-be Gary Beban, roared back, taking advantage of, first, a USC fumble and then a recovered onside kick. Beban threw two late TD passes as UCLA won 20-16 to snatch a trip to Pasadena from the Trojans’ grasp.
Still, Garrett’s huge game against the Bruins left little doubt in Heisman voters’ minds.
John Cappelletti, who will be honored at the Heisman Gala this year for the 50th anniversary of his award, was humming along at top speed during this stretch of his 1973 trophy-winning season.
He completed a three-game stretch of rushing for 200 yards or more on this day 50 years ago, ambling for 204 yards and four touchdowns in a win that clinched an Orange Bowl berth for Penn State.
Late in 1988, Barry Sanders’ epic Heisman season was in overdrive, which saw the Oklahoma State great finish with over 200 yards in his final five games, four of which were 293 or more.
In the Cowboys’ Nov. 19 win at Iowa State, Sanders’ rushed for that amount on 32 carries, averaging 9.15 yards per attempt and scoring four touchdowns on the ground.
That, of course, was his last game in the states that year and the last one voters saw before sealing him as a Heisman winner. The Cowboys wrapped the regular season against Texas Tech in Japan on Dec. 4 and Sanders accepted the Heisman the day before via satellite.
On Nov. 17, BYU’s 1990 winner, quarterback Ty Detmer, completed 28 of 50 passes for 451 yards and five touchdowns, the third time that season he had thrown for at least that many TD passes in a game. It was also the seventh of eight games he surpassed the 400-yard mark on the season.
Colorado running back Rashaan Salaam was a leading favorite for the Heisman when he entered the Buffaloes’ 1994 regular season finale, a Nov. 19 home date against Iowa State.
Playing in near-freezing temperatures in Boulder, the No. 7 Buffs, at 9-1, were having a hard time heating up enough to put away the 0-9-1 visiting Cyclone team.
So they leaned on Salaam. The back had close to 200 yards through three quarters and was closing in on 2,000 for the season.
That’s when CU QB Kordell Stewart, early in the fourth quarter, handed the ball off to Salaam on a first down from the 33-yard line. The powerful back broke around right tackle and sprinted down the sideline, stampeding 67 yards for a game-sealing touchdown.
His final carry of the contest gave him 259 yards for the game (his second-most of the season) and 2,055 yards for the season. He finished as the nation’s leading rusher, scorer and all-purpose runner. Soon after, the Heisman was his.
Quarterback Jameis Winston, the Heisman 10-year anniversary winner this year who is having his No. 13 retired by Florida State on Saturday, barely missed a pass during this weekend in 2013.
He completed 19-of-21 aerials for 277 yards and two touchdowns in a partial day’s work, as the Seminoles blew out Syracuse, 59-3.
On Nov. 17, 2018, Kyler Murray kept his Heisman campaign churning right along with an offensive outburst that typified his season in a 55-40 win over Kansas.
Murray passed for 272 yards and two scores while all rushing for 99 yards on eight carries, scoring a season-best three touchdowns on the ground.
On Nov. 19, 2022, our most recent winner, Caleb Williams, clearly took the lead in the Heisman race with a dominant offensive performance in USC’s 48-45 win over UCLA.
Williams completed 32-of-43 passes for 470 yards and two scores and also rushed for 33 yards and another touchdown. He helped USC rack up a season-high 648 yards in total offense as the Trojans clinched a berth in the Pac-12 title game.
It gave him a five-game span of 2,027 yards of total offense and 23 touchdowns accounted for. A week later, Williams sealed the Heisman by leading USC to a win over Notre Dame.
Not all games by Heisman winners are masterpieces. Sometimes they’re more finger paintings or chicken scratches.
Heisman winner Doug Flutie threw for 254 yards or more in all but every game of the season (and over 300 yards six times), but on Nov. 17, 1984, Syracuse held him to 136 yards and no touchdowns on 10-of-21 passing with one interception. But Flutie and the Eagles had the last laugh, still winning, 24-16, as the quarterback did contribute 81 yards rushing toward the cause.
Six days later, of course, Flutie made everyone forget about his modest performance by completing one of the most famous passes in the sports history, the “Hail Flutie”, to lift Boston College to a 47-45 win over defending national champion Miami.