On Saturday night Tua Tagovailoa will finish either first or second in the Heisman voting. Either way, he has been groomed for a greater purpose.
Alabama football fans develop deep attachments to Crimson Tide players. Star quarterbacks, like Tua Tagovailoa, are especially deified. Those that measure up to the mantle of greatness are bathed in affection and admiration. Alabama football has been led by many great quarterbacks. A list of all of them would be too long and go back too far to be included here.
We have never had one like Tua Tagovailoa.
Measuring solely quarterbacking skills, can we say Tua is the best of them all? It is hard to compare players of different eras. Harry Gilmer is just a historical memory. Pat Trammell may have been the Tide’s greatest field general but even Bear Bryant admitted his favorite player was not much of a runner or a thrower. Joe Namath and Kenny Stabler are the two most sensational Crimson Tide QBs. Both are members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Saving readers from a deep dive into Crimson Tide history and having seen all but Gilmer play, I think Tua can become the best Tide college QB of them all. He is not far from it already. Joe Namath, until he hurt his knees was the best athlete among his teammates. The quickness of his release and zip on the ball were unparalleled. Stabler became one of the most accurate passers in the history of the NFL but he threw only 303 passes in his Alabama football career.
Pushed to rate them, I have to say Namath at No. 1 with Tua a close second, followed by Gilmer, Stabler and Trammell. And Tua is far from finished.
On Saturday night Tua will or will not win the Heisman. He deserves the honor. His stats are comparable to Kyler Murray, achieved by playing less and throwing far fewer passes. Plus Tua did it against SEC defenses. The aggregations of 11 players Murray faced in the Big 12 barely deserve being called defenses.
If Tua finishes second, it will be his toughness, his determination and his family upbringing that both brought him far, but by Heisman standards, let him down in the Georgia game. Tua left the game in the fourth quarter, having injured a second ankle. His first ankle injury in the game came not in the fourth quarter but on the fourth play of the Tide’s first possession. It was the high ankle sprain that subsequently required surgery.
Tua played on in considerable pain, unable to solidly push off from his feet on throws. Many players would have given up. Asked later if he realized his physically hampered performance might hurt his Heisman chances, Tua responded,
It was never about that in the first place. We worked too hard as a team for me to just give up on my brothers.
That is the way his father, Galu, and Seu, his grandfather raised him. Tua was raised in Hawaii but in traditional Samoan culture. That heritage values God, the village, the clan, the family above all else. It is easy to understand how, for Tua, team becomes the next extension of loyalty. Never give up on your ‘brothers.’
Tua’s life has been a preparation for something greater than individual recognition. For a greatness that is yet to be achieved. A greatness that will not be defined by winning or not winning a Heisman trophy.
Winning the Maxwell and the Walter Camp awards should mean Tua wins the Heisman. He certainly deserves it.