The Top 10 Heisman Trophy Winners Who Failed at Life

November 20, 2009

Just like the overachieving sorority girl who ends up working in the accounts receivable department of an insurance brokerage who resorts to internet dating in her late 30s, some college athletes peak early in life and rarely enjoy the success they had while attending university. Here's a look at 10 of the former football studs who ended up as recurring characters on ESPN's less-than-popular Is He Still Alive? trivia show.

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10. Matt Leinart


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This guy had everything necessary to become the next great NFL quarterback from California. A girlfriend on a high school reality show, hot tubs that required regular free clinic testing, and a ton of money left over from his USC signing bonus. By the time Leinart left Trojan Town he had a Heisman trophy, national title, and only one illegitimate child with a girl on the basketball team. Along with teammate Reggie Bush (whose reality show girlfriend was at least 18 years old when she made her sex tape), Leinart entered the NFL as a can’t-miss prospect who would become the savior of the Arizona Cardinals - instantly giving him more sex symbol sizzle than the alleged John McCain-Tempo Numminen sex tape and Sam Keller unemployment calendar combined. Only problem was, Leinart forgot that being a football stud is tough to do without playing football.

Since joining the Cardinals four years ago, the suspected porn enthusiast has notched just 14 total career touchdowns, one cameo on Ashton Kutcher’s Punk’d, a completion percentage not much higher than his blood alcohol level and is now the poster boy for just how much damage a single beer bong can do. He is, however, still the all-time leader in Pac-10 touchdown passes – a stat that he claims “still totally gets him laid at the Theta house.”

9. Eric Crouch


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One of the most prolific players to ever come out of Nebraska (a state which has featured three of their all-time leading running backs in the federal prison system), Crouch’s unbelievable speed, ability to avoid getting stabbed by Lawrence Phillips and unparalleled agility made him the school’s all-time leading rusher in 2001. During that storied season, the talented Husker marched his team all the way to a Rose Bowl that nobody wanted to see them play in before getting crushed by a Miami Hurricanes team that many consider the greatest college football team of all time. Not exactly the collegiate swan song he was looking for, but the ABC broadcast team did shatter the “running for his life” and “you’ve got to feel sorry for” reference made in the broadcast booth that night. (It's almost like Tim Couch doesn't have a single record left!)

After ending his highly heralded college career with a Heisman trophy, Crouch was immediately dismissed as an NFL quarterback by every NFL team, and was mercifully drafted in the third round by the St. Louis Rams as a wide receiver. Due to various injuries and a delusional belief that he could play quarterback at the professional level, Crouch left the team before playing a single regular season game. It would be years before resurfaced at the 2004 Heisman ceremony in some casual Gap clothing during the "Where are they now?" montage, a cameo that made him a punch line by the sharply dressed Tony Kornheiser on Pardon the Interruption. Eventually Crouch would realize his dream of being a top-level signal caller as the fourth string quarterback for the Toronto Argonauts behind Marcus Allen’s little brother, Michael Bishop, and Spergon Wynn – all of whom spent a lot of time in the film room comparing “thanks, but no thanks” NFL letters.

8. Chris Weinke


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The only Heisman trophy winner to grace the stage 10 years after graduating high school, Chris Weinke won college football’s top honor a little before his 30th birthday thanks to an amazing season at a school called Florida State - which according to Wikipedia, used to be a relevant Division I football program that didn’t struggle against schools like Jacksonville State. Much like Danny Almonte and the 36-year-old former high school star who still wears his letterman’s jacket while practicing with the local junior varsity football team, Weinke dominated the much younger competition while amassing a .914 winning percentage and setting school records for career passing yards and touchdowns - a mark that Chris Rix and Drew Weatherford shockingly failed to break.

Following his Rodney Dangerfield-inspired return to college, Weinke was drafted in the fourth round by the Carolina Panthers before backing up NFL legends like Alex Smith, Jake Delhomme, and Trent Dilfer. Currently Weinke is out of football and approaching his 40th birthday, but remains optimistic that the last remaining year of eligibility for his junior high school wrestling team is a viable option if he fails to make the Miss Teen USA circuit.

7. Johnny Rodgers


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The speedy running back was one of the best overall players the University of Nebraska had ever seen. In his final college game, Rodgers handed Notre Dame their most embarrassing non-Charlie Weis loss in history with a 40-6 drubbing in the Orange Bowl thanks to his three touchdown runs, touchdown reception, and touchdown pass. Rodgers, like all great players, parlayed this success into a sweet contract with the Montreal Alouettes where he would win the highly coveted “Most Outstanding Rookie Award,” All-Canadian honors, and was even named and Eastern Division MVP in 1975!

Though he was one of the top players to ever suit up for three-down football, Rodgers fell on some hard times in the 1980s when he retired while facing prison time for threatening a cable repair man with a gun as he tried to shut off his service. Unlike most athletes, Rodgers was found guilty, but just before the judge sentenced him, the former college star brought his Heisman trophy to court in an effort to remind the jury that he was, in fact, a football star and was above the law. With the exception of an alibi, decent lawyer and “not already having a felony record,” a shiny trophy is the best thing you can bring to court. If only they had let him bring it to the six months of jail the judge sentenced him to after calling him a complete tool for the stunt – he may have gotten a second helping of pudding in the cafeteria.

(On a side note, growing up in Canada my father used to talk about the 1974 Edmonton-Montreal Grey Cup as one of the most exciting games he's ever seen.)


6. Rashaan Salaam


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Like most great college running backs, Rashaan Salaam put up big numbers, embarrassed Notre Dame in a bowl game, and was eligible for the Reggie Bush “free homes for your family” program the second he walked on campus. During his career at Colorado, Salaam became one of the most successful backs in conference history (and we’re not talking Division I-AA or the Big East here) en route to being selected by the Chicago Bears behind Heisman runner-up Ki-Jana Carter. It’s like they couldn’t have gone wrong with the pick!

With all the hype surrounding his start with the Bears, Salaam narrowly missed becoming the next Walter Payton after leaving the NFL within 48 months before becoming, as his biography notes, “the fourth most prolific rusher in XFL History as a member of the Memphis Maniax.” It’s hard to believe that little tidbit didn’t help him avoid getting cut by the Detroit Lions in 1997, or let him stick around the CFL long enough to visit the friendly folks in Regina.

5. Paul Crewe


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After a storied football career and assumed Heisman victory, Paul Crewe went on to become a successful NFL quarterback, winning various honors and rocking one of the all-time greatest moustaches the game had ever seen. He had talent, style, an uncanny resemblance to the guy from Evening Shade, and even a Super Bowl ring or two.

However, like most great fictional quarterbacks not played by James Van Der Beek, Crewe suffered from moral dilemmas and substance abuse problems that led him down a dangerous path. In 1967, Crewe was caught shaving points in the NFL – a charge that inevitably led to his dismissal from the league. Crewe’s problems escalated after that when he stole his girlfriend’s Citroen SM and took it for a joyride that led to 18 months in jail, where, by many accounts he was responsible for the murder of a loveable janitor, foiled the evil plans of the Warden, and may or may not have contracted a sexually transmitted disease during clothing optional choir practice.

(Note: Is it weird that the actor who played the point-shaving, bribe taking, scandal-laden quarterback (Burt Reynolds) played football at Florida State University? Where could he possibly have gotten his inspiration from?)

4. Andre Ware


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While playing at the University of Houston, Andre Ware was the type of quarterback that USC would have secretly paid tons of money to have run their offense. He set all kinds of records while putting up 4,699 yards, 44 touchdowns, seven awkward postgame interviews, and reportedly attended “some” classes during his Heisman trophy year in 1989 (which some people say is the reason the Berlin Wall came down).

Ware, however, realized that this collegiate success would be his plateau when he heard the seven most daunting words in the football world: “The Detroit Lions are proud to select…” With Barry Sanders being the only person elusive enough to avoid this horrific curse, Ware never stood a chance and was out of the league within 48 months before Al Davis (the guy who saw potential in JaMarcus Russell) dismissed him. Ware bounced around the Canadian Football League for a while but was unable to secure a starting job, eventually retiring after a brief stop in Germany. Admittedly, he has gone on to become one of the least annoying broadcasters on the 9:00 a.m. college football rotation, but it’s tough to ignore what an absolute flame out he was in the pros.

3. Billy Cannon


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Much like Jesus Christ and Olivia Manning’s uterus, nobody in the state of Louisiana will forget what Billy Cannon did for Bayou football. As the 1959 Heisman trophy winner, Cannon was one of the most electric players in the nation while leading the LSU Tigers to their first ever National Championship. During that season, Cannon made several memorable plays, including an 89-yard punt return for a victory over the third-ranked Mississippi Rebels.

As a pro, Cannon might have been even better. He had speed, strength, size and the moral flexibility required to be a professional athlete. The only thing he didn’t have was an aversion to white collar crime. In 1983, Cannon was caught with $50 million worth of counterfeit currency that he buried in his backyard like some sort of Middle Eastern oil tycoon or crooked Scrooge McDuck-type character. He ended up serving two-and-a-half years in a Federal Penitentiary before being released and doing what every other convicted felon does: become a dentist.

2. Jason White


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Looking at his doughy, misshapen body and an appearance that would fit in perfectly with the cast of Children of the Corn III, it’s easy to forget just how remarkable of a career Jason White had at the University of Oklahoma. He received the Heisman Trophy in 2003 after throwing 40 touchdown passes while collecting his first of two “Quarterback of the Year” Awards during the Sooners memorable “Just Give it to Adrian Peterson” season that nearly won a national title.

Unfortunately, due to a pair of bad knees and arm strength that redefined the word “questionable,” White became one of the only modern winners of the award not to be selected, at all, by any team during the NFL Draft. In fact, White only got one try-out after graduating college and was quickly cut by the Kansas City Chiefs who decided to go in more of a “Todd Collins Direction.” Today, White is living the dream as a shoe store employee who has the ability to talk about the time he scored four touchdowns in a single game. (He is, quite literally, Al Bundy.)

1. OJ Simpson


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One of the most awkward things to watch in professional sports is when broadcasters have to read over O.J. Simpson’s name after somebody accomplishes any sort of rushing record.

“Wow, he truly is an incredible talent. It takes a special kind of person to rush for 2,000 yards in a season. The only people to have done that are Barry Sanders, Eric Dickerson, Terrell Davis and…oh, O.J. Simpson.”

What most people forget, is that before Simpson became an alleged murderer (yup, we still have to legally sprinkle an allegedly in front of it) and convicted kidnapper, Simpson was one of the single greatest running backs in NCAA and NFL history. Unlike his highway chase with half of the Los Angeles police department, when Simpson was on the field he was fast, agile, and never got caught.

It’s a shame that by the time everything is said and done, nobody is going to remember O.J. for dominating on the football field and his impressive work in The Naked Gun series. Instead, people will simply focus on his inability to “catch the real killers” and poorly executed kidnapping plans.




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