Benson covets Heisman, but beating OU wouldn't hurt
I'd rather take the Heisman Trophy." -- Cedric Benson, Sept. 14, 2004
In Texas, it's hard to tell which statement was more heretical.
Cedric Benson has 746 yards rushing, better than 86 of 117 I-A team rushing totals.(AP)
The state, like the rest of the South, eventually stopped burning Beatles records. Even the Vatican forgave Lennon, whose statement caused a major stir 30 years before conservative talk radio even debuted.
Different time, different stir. Same basic reaction.
Benson, the nation's leading rusher, recently said during a radio interview that he would rather win the Heisman than beat Oklahoma.
First, remember this is an age when merely uttering the words "Pete Rose" is good for three hours worth of calls from Todd in Scarsdale. This morning's press conference has been filleted into mind-numbing detail by the time you sit down for tonight's filet.
Hosts don't even ask questions anymore, preferring to press emotional buttons by screaming, "The Chargers! Your reaction ..."
Benson choosing the hardware over the hated rival kind of hung in the air for three weeks. Columnists opined on it as an eyebrow raiser. But here it is Oklahoma week and, well, some of the Lennon rules still apply. It's funny how quickly a throwaway comment can become sacrilege.
"If I could win the football game entirely by myself, both offense and defense, punt returns, kickoffs, kicking field goals, do everything," Benson said during the interview, "then I'd take the win over OU.
"But for me personally, the hard work I've been through, growing up as a kid and the dream I've had, I'd love nothing more than to win the Heisman."
Give the kid credit for honesty, if not a precise understanding of his surroundings. There are Texas loyalists who would sell their left, uh, gut to beat Oklahoma. The Sooners' current four-game winning streak in the Red River Shootout is an ignominious wart on the Texas program. It needs to be burned off and disposed of.
Twice Oklahoma has hung at least 60 on the 'Horns. Two conference titles and a national championship have been built on top of those Texas carcasses.
Someday, maybe even Saturday, Texas will beat Oklahoma. Benson does understand that a Heisman lasts a lifetime, unless you're O.J. and you need the money.
Texas -- the team -- is trying to end an embarrassing streak, win a conference title and challenge for a national championship. Those goals won't ever change and will eventually be accomplished no matter what happens Saturday in Dallas.
Benson is merely speaking from the heart.
He came to Texas, in part, because it pumped out Heisman winners like Earl Campbell and Ricky Williams. When Benson moved past Campbell on Saturday into second place on the school's all-time rushing chart, "he had tears in his eyes," coach Mack Brown said.
More than that, Benson really could win the Heisman. He is vastly improved as a senior averaging 186.5 yards per game. His total of 746 yards is better than 86 I-A schools. Only one other Longhorn back has rushed for at least 100 yards in four consecutive games to open the season.
There is breakaway speed that wasn't there. Texas leads the nation in rushing, which pretty much sums up what Oklahoma will have to do to make it five in a row. And what Benson will have to do to win the Heisman:
Carry the 'Horns -- along with some Oklahoma defenders -- on his back.
"He's not working like he doesn't want to win against OU this week," Brown said.
Benson has been derided by some for not having his priorities straight. Coaches stress team-team-team. But what does it say when that same coach abruptly leaves the players he recruited for a $1 million contract somewhere else?
Then it's suddenly me-me-me -- or what any of us would do in that situation -- take care of ourselves.
It was a Heisman show that night. What was Benson supposed to say? The host gulped hard and gave Benson an out by asking the question again. The running back fully understood what he was saying. Benson did say later he'd much rather win a national championship than a Heisman.
"I didn't say I wanted to lose to OU," Benson said.
Priorities? Benson could have jumped to the NFL after 2003, but stayed because he wanted to play in games like this. He has a lot of experience at life-or-death football struggles. Benson grew up participating in the high school version of Texas-OU -- Midland Lee vs. Odessa Permian.
If you're not familiar with it, you soon will be. It is part of the basis of the movie Friday Night Lights, which opens nationwide 24 hours before Benson takes the field in Dallas.
You couldn't have scripted it better, unless, of course, Texas wins the game two months before Benson wins the Heisman.
"I didn't grow up wanting to beat Oklahoma," Benson said explaining himself to the Austin American-Statesman. "I know it's a big thing around here and I want to play my (backside) off, but the fans have got to understand.
"What would they want to do, knowing how great an opportunity it is to win the Heisman?"