There are some sports accomplishments that may never be touched.
Will anyone ever break Joe Dimaggio’s 56-game hitting streak? What about UCLA’s 88-consecutive victories in men’s basketball? Usain Bolt’s 9.58 second 100 meter dash?
Consider also Archie Griffin‘s two Heisman victories in the years 1974 and 1975. In the 39 years prior to that feat and in the 42 years since, few have come close to pulling it off.
Could it happen in 2017? We have the main prerequisite: A returning Heisman winner in Louisville’s Lamar Jackson.
Is this the year?
Let’s take a look back at how previous returning Heisman winners fared:
1946 – Felix “Doc” Blanchard, Army
Blanchard — Army’s Mr. Inside — was the first junior to win the award, so he was the first returning Heisman winner to have a shot at a second trophy. His top competition in 1946 turned out to be his teammate, Glenn Davis (Mr. Outside), who finished as the Heisman runner up the previous two seasons. Staying healthy is a key component of winning the Heisman, but the injury bug hit Blanchard right out the gate, as a knee injury cost him his first two games. He still rushed for 612 yards and a 5.2 average as Army went 9-0-1. Many thought it was Davis’ turn to win the Heisman and they were right, as he took home the award and Blanchard finished a respectable fourth in the race.
1949 – Doak Walker, SMU
The legendary halfback was the second junior to win the Heisman, but team woes hurt his chances for a repeat. He rushed for 449 yards and 10 touchdowns and threw for 605 yards and five scores, but SMU fell to 5-4-1 after finishing 8-1-1 the previous year and Walker placed third in the Heisman vote behind Leon Hart of Notre Dame.
1951 – Vic Janowicz, Ohio State
One of the great mulitiple threats of his time and one of two Heisman winners to play major league baseball, Janowicz won the Heisman in a runaway as a 1950 junior. But, once again, injuries and the team situation the Buckeyes doomed a repeat Heisman effort. New Ohio State coach Woody Hayes changed the offense, which reduced the impact of Janowicz, and he failed to place in the top 10 of the vote.
1964 – Roger Staubach, Navy
Staubach had a brilliant 1963 campaign to win Navy’s second Heisman in four years, but he injured his heel in the 1964 opener against Penn State and missed the next four games as a result. He did not finish in the top 10 of the 1964 Heisman vote as another quarterback, Notre Dame’s John Huarte, rose to the occasion.
1979 – Billy Sims, Oklahoma
Injuries and team success didn’t hurt Billy Sim’s quest for a second Heisman as a 1979 senior. Indeed, he rushed for 1,506 yards as Oklahoma finished 11-1. However, 529 of those yards came in the last two games, which was not enough to stave off the more productive Charles White of USC, who rushed for 1,803 yards while finishing second in NCAA career rushing yardage. Sims finished as the distant Heisman runner up — still best finish by a returning Heisman winner (outside of Griffin).
1991 – Ty Detmer, BYU
Detmer broke a string of three consecutive junior Heisman winners leaving college early by coming back for his senior year in 1991. He had another fine season, passing for 4,031 yards and 35 scores, but this was a significant drop from his previous year, when he produced 5,188 yards and 41 touchdown passes. Still, he was once again a Heisman finalist and finished a respectable third in the vote behind Desmond Howard.
2005 – Matt Leinart, USC
Leinart shocked the college football world by declining to declare for the 2005 NFL draft after winning the Heisman Trophy and a national championship for USC as a junior in 2004. The quarterback improved his passing yardage total as a senior, jumping from 2,990 yards to 3,450, but his interceptions increased slightly while his touchdowns dropped a notch. More importantly, his play was often overshadowed by the spectacular performances of teammate, Reggie Bush, who went on to win the Heisman only to later have it vacated due to his being in violation of NCAA rules. Leinart finished third in the Heisman vote behind Bush and Texas quarterback Vince Young.
2008, 2009 – Tim Tebow, Florida
Tebow shattered all kinds of records in 2007 on his way to becoming the first sophomore to win the Heisman Trophy. In theory, this gave him two more shots to win a second Heisman and he made a strong run at Griffin’s feat. While his overall yardage and touchdown numbers dropped as a 2008 junior, he led the nation in passing efficiency and guided the Gators to the BCS title game. While he finished third in the Heisman vote behind winner Sam Bradford and runner up Colt McCoy, Tebow actually received the most first-place votes, putting him tantalizingly close to that second Heisman with just 151 points separating him from Bradford. Tebow returned in 2009 for another shot, but he again failed to each the stratospheric standard he set as a sophomore. He finished fifth in the vote as a senior, making him one of five players to notch three top 5 Heisman finishes. His 2008 effort marks the closest any player has come since Griffin to winning a second Heisman.
2009 – Sam Bradford, Oklahoma
After winning the Heisman in a remarkable sophomore season, Bradford returned for another year only to be felled by a shoulder injury in the 2009 season opener. He made only two more appearances the rest of the way, throwing for a total of 562 yards, then declared for the NFL draft.
2010 – Mark Ingram, Alabama
Another attempt at a repeat Heisman was dashed as Ingram suffered nagging injuries all throughout the 2010 campaign. He missed the entirety of the first two games due to a knee injury and never really got untracked the rest of the way, rushing for 875 yards and 13 touchdowns. Like Bradford, Ingram skipped his senior year and opted for the NFL draft.
2013 – Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M
Manziel was the first redshirt freshman to win the Heisman, producing 4,600 yards of offense and 43 touchdowns while leading the Aggies to a 10-2 record in 2012. With a return to school mandate by NFL rules, another Heisman seemed within his grasp. Manziel produced another fine season in 2013, passing for 3,732 yards while rushing for 686, but A&M dropped to 8-4 and the sophomore was unable to reproduce the magic that resulted in an upset win over Alabama the previous season. Nonetheless, he was once again a Heisman finalist, finishing fifth in the vote behind Jameis Winston.
2014 – Jameis Winston, Florida State
Winston had a tall order to replicate the circumstances that led to his Heisman win in 2013. Not only did he lead the nation in passing efficiency while throwing for 3,820 yards and 38 touchdowns, he also willed Florida State to its first national title since 1999. Winston returned in 2014 and had another outstanding season, throwing for 3,559 yards while leading the Seminoles to another undefeated regular season. But his touchdown total dropped to 25 while his interceptions rose to 18 and Winston placed sixth in the Heisman vote, well behind winner Marcus Mariota.
How will Lamar Jackson fare in 2017? Stay tuned…