Spander: Heisman hype has shifted from Best to Gerhart

The Heisman Trophy often seems less a reward than a promotion. To be considered, you have to have talent, but you also have to have publicity, Hollywood-type stuff which catches the public’s imagination and schools hope catches the voters’ attention.

Cal went about it the right way with Jahvid Best, a superb running back, who played the hype game every bit as well as he played football, until he came crashing onto his head a couple of weeks ago, incurring a concussion which cost him not only any chance at the trophy, but also a chance at getting back on the field this season.

Now, it’s the guy across the Bay, Toby Gerhart of Stanford, who’s getting noticed, and while he won’t win it either, the shame is that two legitimate Heisman candidates could have been competing in the 112th Big Game on Saturday at Stanford Stadium.

Not that the Big Game, that tapestry of red and blue across the decades, full of myths, magic and a bent trombone, needs anything extra.

As even Gerhart reminds, alluding to a more tangible trophy for the  Bay Area, the one given to the winner of the game, “They [Cal] have The Axe, and we want it.”

Gerhart is this tank of a young man who is majoring in engineering and also starred for the Cardinal baseball team — “What’s the worst that can happen of my future?” he said of the options. He was hardly noticed east of Sacramento until the last couple of weeks.

“Based on what he’s accomplished to this point,” Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh said of the 19 touchdowns and 1,395 yards rushing by Gerhart, “he should win it. But the Heisman Trophy has evolved to 50 percent preseason hype, 25 percent of having an undefeated team and 25 percent actually of a player’s accomplishments.”

It is the first part in which the 235-pound Gerhart, well, failed is too strong a word. Stanford wanted to put up billboards touting the kid. Sorry, Toby said, in effect.

“I’ve always been really shy,” he explained. “I hardly talked until I got to college. I came home after my first year for a Christmas party and one my parents’ best friends told me, ‘That’s the most you’ve talked to me in the 19 years I’ve known you.’ It’s just my personality.”

Gerhart is from Norco (an abbreviation of North Corona), just west of Riverside, in Southern California. His father, Todd, who played at Cal State Fullerton and in the extinct USFL, coached Norco and thus Toby and brother Garth, who’s now at Arizona State.

“I held Toby back,” Todd once said.

Is that why Toby set the all-time California prep career rushing record of 9,662 yards? As Toby told the TV audience after slamming through USC last Saturday, the Trojans recruited him, but as a fullback or linebacker, not a running back.

“As a white running back,” Toby told Sports Illustrated last month, “you get stereotyped. When I tell people I play football, they say, ‘Oh, you’re a fullback.’”

After gaining 223 yards a week and a half ago against Oregon and then 178 Saturday against the Trojans, nobody around here is confused.

We’re just disappointed Best can’t be out there with Gerhart. That would be simply too much.

Art Spander has been covering Bay Area sports since 1965 and also writes on www.artspander.com and www.realclearsports.com. E-mail him at typoes@aol.com.

112th Big Game

Cal vs. Stanford

WHEN: Saturday, 4:30 p.m.
WHERE: Stanford Stadium
TV: Versus
RADIO: KGO (810 AM), KTRB (860 AM)
ALL-TIME: Stanford leads 55-45-1

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