2015 Best Column, by Ted Miller

ffaw_redesignComment by the judge, Alan Cox: Great look at the change in attitude and expectations of Oregon’s football program. Solid argument as to why they needed to win the championship to validate the program and to show the Playoff would expand the sport. Even more interesting in hindsight as we will see what happens to Oregon going forward having lost the championship.

By Ted Miller

ESPN.com

Coach Rich Brooks led Oregon to an 8-4 finish in 1989, his 13th season in Eugene. If that elicits a “so what,” understand the Ducks hadn’t won that many games since 1963. Five seasons — and two losing records — later, Oregon played in the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1958, losing to Penn State by 18 points, though the Ducks’ media guide celebrated the program’s effort as proving it “belonged in Pasadena.”

Ted Miller, ESPN.com

Ted Miller, ESPN.com

In 2013, Oregon went 11-2, beat Texas 30-7 in the Alamo Bowl and finished ranked No. 9 in the nation. It was considered a down season, and some wondered if first-year coach Mark Helfrich had what it takes to lead the Ducks, post-Chip Kelly.

Times change and so do expectations.

“We do sit back every now and then and kind of laugh at it, us that have been around here a long time,” said first-year Ducks defensive coordinator Don Pellum, who’s accumulated 31 seasons with his alma mater as a player, administrator and assistant coach.

For the vast majority of its 119 seasons of football, a winning record was an ambitious wish for Oregon. Yet now, as the Ducks eyeball defending national champion Florida State, winner of 29 consecutive games, as more than a touchdown favorites in the Rose Bowl Game Presented By Northwestern Mutual, the simple reality is Oregon needs to win the national title.

After going 69-10 over the past six seasons, playing for a national title in 2010 and finishing ranked in the top five three times, the Ducks need to finish the deal and be the last team standing. They need to make this their year.

That need is not only about program validation, though that’s a big part of it, as the Ducks have accomplished everything else. It’s not only about opportunity, though the greatest player in program history — Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Marcus Mariota — is likely off to the NFL next year.

More…

2015 Best Enterprise, by Rustin Dodd

ffaw_redesignComment by the judge, Gene Duffey: Good inside look at how fast and why Kansas fell from a Top 10 program to the bottom. Excellent lead. Good quotes, particularly from the players, and everyone involved. Told exactly what started Mangino’s downfall and why Gill never got the program going again. Story turned out to be very prophetic with Weis being fired only four games into the season.

By Rustin Dodd

The Kansas City Star

Rustin Dodd of The Kansas City Star

Rustin Dodd of The Kansas City Star

LAWRENCE — On a warm evening in May, Charlie Weis pressed through a set of interior doors at Sporting Park and waited to make his case. Inside the Members Club, in the soccer stadium’s lower level, close to 150 Kansas alums, boosters and fans gathered to hear a springtime state-of-the-program update from their beleaguered football coach.

KU balloons adorned tables. Cheerleaders greeted fans at the door. A hype video played. And finally, Weis took the stage and offered his vision for the program.

Then there was one more thing.

“For the last month or so, I’ve been listening to the Kansas football fans feel like the sky is falling,” Weis said, pausing for a beat.

“Shut the hell up! I’m tired of listening to it. I really am. We’re all in this together.”

After the worst four-year stretch in school history — a 9-39 record and just two Big 12 victories — a head coach coming off a 3-9 season was telling the fans to stop being so negative.

More…

Photo gallery: FWAA annual meeting, breakfast

There photos by Melissa Macatee were shot at the FWAA’s annual meeting and breakfast on Tuesday Jan. 13, 2015, in Dallas.

Winners of 2014 FWAA Best Writing Contest announced

Longtime FWAA members Ivan Maisel and Dennis Dodd were joined by two relatively new members, Andrew Greif of The Oregonian and Kevin Armstrong of the New York Daily News, in the winner’s circle of  the 22nd annual Best Writing Contest results that were released Wednesday.

Maisel from ESPN.com won the Game Story category for the second straight year, this time for his description of the Auburn-Alabama football game. Dodd from CBSSports.com claimed the Column category for his decision to renounce his Heisman Trophy vote in the aftermath of new voting regulations.

Greif won in Features for a moving story on the death of Oregon assistant coach Gary Campbell’s son after a lifelong battle with illnesses.  Armstrong’s account of one of the nation’s top quarterback gurus was tops in Enterprise. Both were first-time winners.

Maisel also claimed a third place in Features for a story on how the state of Alabama still reveres Bear Bryant 30 years after his death.  Dodd picked up an Honorable Mention in Enterprise.

Harry Minium of the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot took a second place in Features for a story on how the sick brother of former Old Dominion offensive tackle D.J. Morrell finally got to see his brother play in person. Minium also collected a third place in Enterprise with his detailed account of how Old Dominion jumped to the FBS and Conference USA.  Blair Kerkhoff of The Kansas City Star picked up Honorable Mentions in Game and Column.

The winners in each category will receive a personalized football from The Big Game and a cash prize.  Second and third places win cash prizes and certificates. Honorable mentions receive certificates.  All will be recognized at the FWAA’s Annual Award Breakfast on Jan. 13, 2015,  in Dallas.

For a complete list of the winners and links to the first-place stories, CLICK HERE.

2014 Best Game Story, by Ivan Maisel

Comment by the judge: Great look at the most compelling game and play of the entire 2013 college football season that helps readers picture it perfectly in their heads. The story featured a great sampling of quotes from all those involved, including great snippets from Chris Davis. However, I especially enjoyed the quotes from Alabama tight end Brian Vogler, who was covering on the play, which provided a unique perspective I had not seen in any other articles about this game.

By Ivan Maisel

ESPN.com

Ivan Maisel

Ivan Maisel

AUBURN, Ala. — Someday, someday, there will be a greater Iron Bowl finish than this one. Babe Ruth died, and the Yankees continue to play. Sinatra has come and gone, and people still sing. Forty-one years after “Punt Bama Punt,” Chris Davis caught a field goal attempt nine yards deep in the end zone, and started running.

So it’s possible that the way that No. 4 Auburn dethroned No. 1 Alabama 34-28, will be eclipsed. But at this moment Saturday night, with the cheers at Jordan-Hare Stadium still reverberating from here to Columbus, Ohio, it doesn’t seem possible at all. With the clock showing all zeroes, Davis returned Adam Griffith’s Hail Mary of a 57-yard field goal attempt 109 yards for a touchdown.

“We saw they had a guy back there,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “Everybody knew they had to cover him. We just didn’t, we didn’t cover it right.”

In the 15 seconds or so that it took Davis to sprint from end line to end line, Alabama lost its chance at a third consecutive BCS championship; Auburn won the SEC West and planted itself in the BCS title debate, No. 3 Ohio State saw its BCS hopes come to life, and the spectrum of emotions that college football can elicit stretched a little beyond its limit.

“I knew when I caught the ball I would have room to run,” Davis said, “and I knew we had bigger guys on the field to protect and that was all after that.”

The game unfolded as Alabama’s toughest games have unfolded all season long. The Tide started slow, fell behind, warmed up and took the lead in the fourth quarter thanks to a 99½-yard touchdown pass from AJ McCarron to Amari Cooper. In any other Iron Bowl, that would’ve been the stuff of legend. But then Alabama’s karma got run over by Auburn’s karma, in which the Tigers keep believing until they pull off a miracle finish. That’s what happened against Georgia, when Ricardo Louis caught a deflected pass for a 73-yard touchdown in the final minute.

More…

2014 Best Column, by Dennis Dodd

Comment by the judge: Well researched, compelling look at the problems with the Heisman system. Did due diligence in trying to get comments from all of the Heisman trustees and provided great reasoning for giving up his Heisman vote. Especially liked the reference to how media members writing freely about their Heisman votes has only helped publicize the award.

By Dennis Dodd

CBSSports.com

Dennis Dodd

Dennis Dodd

To: William Dockery

President, Heisman Trust

17 Battery Place, Suite 1226

New York, NY 10004

Bill:

I respectfully resign my Heisman vote effective immediately.

This is my way of getting out on my own terms before the Heisman Trustees can throw me out. Monday is the deadline in your organization’s ham-handed attempt (in my opinion) to make secret a process that has been a joyful, celebrated American sports tradition for decades.

As you know, in August voters were notified if they didn’t agree to hide their Heisman ballots, voting privileges would be up for review. A heretofore unenforced “non-disclosure requirement” was mentioned.

Last month about 50 of the 928 voters from 2012 were admonished for revealing their ballots. I was one of them. Your letter arrived with the names “Johnny Manziel,” “Manti Teo” and “Collin Klein” highlighted from my column with a yellow marker like I had cheated in class.

We had until April 8 to atone for our sins — aka promise “in writing” we would hide our ballots from public consumption after the voting deadline (early December). Even then, you stated regional and state representatives “will take your explanation into consideration when determining the 2013 electorate.”

So this is what Heisman double-secret probation feels like. It’s not worth it.

More…

2014 Best Feature, by Andrew Greif 1

Comment by the judge: Touching piece of the incredible support that Oregon assistant Gary Campbell and his wife gave to their chronically ill son. Excellent description of the boy’s room and how it was the center of the house. Gently weaves in how football was the only escape for Campbell.

By Andrew Greif

The Oregonian

EUGENE — Among the unshakeable habits that instantly transport Gary Campbell to the memory of his only son, there is one that pulls him from his bed, leads him downstairs and into the room he dreaded entering for months.

Andrew Greif

Andrew Greif

Campbell estimates he hasn’t slept soundly through a night since 1984, the year Bryan was born with a neuromuscular disease that required a ventilator to breathe air into his lungs and demanded 24-hour vigilance from Gary and wife, Alola. It was his second year as Oregon’s running backs coach, a title he still holds as dean of the Ducks’ staff.

Four months have passed since Bryan died at 29 on Aug. 15 from complications from Werdnig-Hoffman syndrome and only now is Alola able to block out most of the noises of the night.

Gary still cannot.

“I don’t sleep,” he says. “I guarantee I wake up three, four times at least.”

He is torn between half-rest, half high alert, instinctually awakening to ensure his son is safe only to realize he is listening for cues that are no longer there.

The whoosh-whir of Bryan’s ventilator; and its beep-beep-beep that signaled a problem; the buzz from the intercom connecting Bryan’s customized first-floor room to Gary and Alola’s upstairs; a mother’s frantic feet when the round-the-clock nursing staff needed help.

More…

2014 Best Enterprise, by Kevin Armstrong

Comment by the judge: Well-crafted story about one of the top quarterback gurus in the country. Writer presents a lot of detail about a topic that is one of the new trends in college football as well as provides insight into the behind-the-scenes dealings and relationships.

By Kevin Armstrong

New York Daily News

MOBILE, Ala. — Half-hour to kickoff at St. Paul’s Episcopal School on a Friday in October, and there’s a caller on WNSP 105.5 FM claiming Mother Nature’s keeping Hurricane Karen at bay in order for a varsity football game to be played. The top-ranked Toros from Spanish Fort are in The Port City to march against the No. 8 Saints, and David Morris, the one-time Alabama state record holder for yards and touchdowns in a season, pulls his gray Yukon — the one with the smile-shaped crack across the windshield — into the packed lot, pays $4 to park and walks on past tailgaters. St. Paul’s Headmaster Marty Lester greets Morris, a tutor to St. Paul’s sophomore starting quarterback Miller Mosley.

kevin armstrong

Kevin Armstrong

“David, don’t you have the other quarterback tonight, too?” Lester asks.

Morris nods. Truth be told, Morris tinkers with the mechanics of the starters on both teams, as well as the backups. There is a pipeline at St. Paul’s for Morris to tap into and he does so regularly, having helped along the careers of past preps stars such as Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron and Florida State backup Jacob Coker.  All the better to the mothers and fathers whose children he instructs. As the private teacher and not a coach, Morris is undefeated on Friday nights and decides no controversies. Saints reserve Drew Wing’s father, Andrew, double checks with Morris on the next appointment.

“Nine thirty tomorrow morning, right?” Wing asks.

“Yessir,” Morris says.

Morris holds a unique position in Mobile’s quarterback boom. Once a three-year reserve behind Eli Manning at Ole Miss, Morris left the game after graduation, burnt out from being one snap away for three seasons behind the immovable Manning. Morris fought depression, took a job at his father’s real estate agency and moonlighted as a throwing instructor with teenagers in town upon request. Now 33, Morris is all in on growing his program — “Quarterback Country” — into a year-round, nationwide business. His experiences range from pushing Manning through the paces in the offseason to working with Tim Tebow to readying now-Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Matt Barkley for the NFL draft. Top prospects — including University of Miami recruit Malik Rosier — tout Morris’ ability to boost their confidence and identify flaws.

More…

2013 Best Feature, by Adam Lucas

Comment by the judge, Alan Abrahamson: A great feature should be a journey of discovery. This story is just that. It is full of not just connections but a series of incredible moments of revealing truths, each one taking the reader along through the story of one family’s incredible journey to and through the American dream. The cast of characters is rich and diverse. The action pieces are well-told and the back stories riveting. Finally, this piece also serves as compelling evidence that even in a world increasingly turning to bursts of 140 or fewer characters there thankfully remains a place for long-form journalism and the art of the well-told narrative. 

By Adam Lucas

Tar Heel Monthly

Adam Lucas

Adam Lucas

On the most famous play in modern Carolina football history, it looked like Gio Bernard was finally going to be caught by his history.

He’d spent twenty years outrunning it. He’d lived in Haiti with no running water. He’d sat in a tiny bathroom with his brother and father, all three men in tears over the loss of Gio’s mother. He’d shared an apartment in Ft. Lauderdale with rats.
More…

2013 Best Enterprise, by Matt Hayes

Comment by the judge, Alan Abrahamson: In this era of 24/7, instant-access, always-on journalism, the enterprise story offers something different. It takes us behind the curtain — tells us something we didn’t already know, couldn’t possibly have known without the diligence and the purpose of the reporters’ craft. Often, these stories rely on years of experience or a network of sources. When you finish reading such a story, a complex subject has been made simple or what was once hidden has been revealed. Even when, as was the case with Florida’s championship football team during the Urban Meyer years, it was hiding in plain sight. As the years go by, and the headlines about who was on that team continue to vie for attention, this story may prove to be even all the more illuminating.

By Matt Hayes

Sporting News

Matt Hayes

Matt Hayes

The uproar and controversy of Urban Meyer’s stunning recruiting coup at Ohio State settled in and Stefon Diggs, still on the Buckeyes’ wish list, was debating his future.

Diggs, the second-highest rated wide receiver in the country, had narrowed his list of potential schools to Maryland, Florida and Ohio State. For more than a week following National Signing Day on Feb. 1, and before Diggs eventually signed with Maryland, Meyer relentlessly pursued Diggs.
More…