Tua Tagovailoa was the Heisman Trophy front-runner seemingly all season long. But non-Tua-like play and an injury in the SEC championship game opened the door. And Kyler Murray promptly walked through.
Murray’s season was nothing short of spectacular. The Oklahoma quarterback threw for 4,053 yards and 40 touchdowns — and ran for another 892 yards and 11 scores — to lead the Sooners to a Big 12 title and a trip to the College Football Playoff.
Tagovailoa was no slouch, either, throwing for 3,353 yards and 37 touchdowns while adding 190 yards and five scores on the ground for the undefeated and top-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide.
But despite all the accolades, with no Heisman to show for his performance, down the line will we remember just how great a year Tagovailoa had?
Here is a sampling of some other sensational seasons that were overshadowed by someone who just happened to — or was perceived to — do it a little bit better that year.
Toby Gerhart, Stanford Cardinal RB, 2009
Overshadowed by: Mark Ingram, Alabama Crimson Tide RB
Ingram may have gone on to the more successful NFL career, but Gerhart had a case for the Heisman in 2009. Gerhart ran for a Division 1A-best 1,871 yards and 28 touchdowns but fell short in voting to the Alabama star by 28 points, the closest margin in the trophy’s history. Ingram, the first Alabama player to win the Heisman, ran for 1,658 yards and 17 TDs and helped the undefeated Tide to the national title.
Vince Young, Texas Longhorns QB, 2005
Overshadowed by: Reggie Bush, USC Trojans RB
Young threw for 3,036 yards and 26 touchdowns — and rushed for 1,050 yards and 12 more TDs — while leading Texas to a 13-0 season and the Longhorns’ first national championship since 1970. But Bush came away with the Heisman, which was later stripped and the award for that season vacated.
Overshadowed by: Matt Leinart, USC Trojans QB
Peterson’s biggest opponent in Heisman voting might have been the fact he was a freshman — and freshmen just didn’t win the award. He ran for 1,925 yards and 15 touchdowns. Did we mention he ran for 100-plus yards in each of his first nine games and 11 of 13 overall, including three games of more than 200 yards rushing. Junior Matt Leinart threw for 3,322 yards and 33 TDs and took home the hardware.
LaDainian Tomlinson, TCU Horned Frogs RB, 2000
Overshadowed by: Chris Weinke, Florida State Seminoles QB
Twenty-eight-year-old Chris Weinke undoubtedly had a big year, throwing for 4,167 yards and 33 touchdowns for FSU. He had to beat out some stiff competition, including Oklahoma quarterback Josh Heupel and Purdue quarterback Drew Brees, who finished second and third in voting. Who finished fourth? TCU running back LaDainian Tomlinson, who ran for a measly 2,158 yards and 22 touchdowns. One odd note: LT had only 10 receptions for 40 yards that season. Only twice in his NFL career did he have less than 50 catches in a season.
Overshadowed by: Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers QB
Rodgers took home MVP honors after throwing 38 TDs and only five INTs with a 112.2 passer rating. Watt had maybe the best defensive season since Lawrence Taylor in 1986, racking up 20.5 sacks and scoring five touchdowns, three of which came on offense.
Kurt Warner, Arizona Cardinals QB, 2008
Overshadowed by: Peyton Manning, Indianapolis Colts QB
Warner threw for more yards than Manning (4,583 to 4,002), more TDs (30 to 27) and had a better passer rating (96.9 to 95) and led the Cardinals to a Super Bowl berth. Also notable: Drew Brees became the first player since 1984 to eclipse 5,000 passing yards, and Adrian Peterson ran for 1,760 yards.
Priest Holmes, Kansas City Chiefs RB, 2002
Overshadowed by: Rich Gannon, Oakland Raiders QB
Yes, Gannon led his team to the Super Bowl and took home MVP honors. What did Holmes do? Despite missing two games, he piled up 2,287 yards from scrimmage and 24 TDs. For his efforts, Holmes received one MVP vote. (Oh, and he got no votes after leading the NFL in rushing in 2001.)
Randall Cunningham, Philadelphia Eagles QB, 1990
Overshadowed by: Joe Montana, San Francisco 49ers QB
Cunningham threw for 3,466 and 30 TDs with a 9.16 passer rating — and ran for 942 yards! Montana (3,944 yards passing, 26 TDs, 89.0 passer rating) threw 16 INTs in a season that was nowhere close to his best.
Jerry Rice, San Francisco 49ers WR, 1987
Overshadowed by: John Elway, Denver Broncos QB
Elway won MVP and led the Broncos to the Super Bowl, but it was not his best season. Rice, who never won an MVP, caught 22 TD passes (in 12 games!).
Overshadowed by: Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers 1B
OK, to be fair, Cabrera won the Triple Crown on his way to his first MVP. But Trout had an incredible year and higher WAR. Trout finished second in voting in his first full season and had career-bests in batting average (.326), runs scored (129) and stolen bases (49) and added 30 home runs and 83 RBIs. With two MVPs and three other second-place finishes on his ledger, it’s easy to forget just how good he was in 2012.
Overshadowed by: Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers OF
Braun won the MVP over Kemp, who came within one HR of a 40/40 season. Braun, who tested positive for PEDs that season, hit for a higher average than Kemp (.332 to .324), but Kemp had a higher WAR (7.8-7.7), more home runs (39-33), more RBIs (126-111), more runs scored (115-109) and more stolen bases (40-33). The Dodgers won only 82 games that season, however, while Milwaukee went 96-66 for its first division title in nearly three decades.
Overshadowed by: Ryan Howard, Philadelphia Phillies 1B
It’s not often that Pujols was overshadowed during the prime of his career, but it happened in 2006. Pujols had a career-high 49 homes runs and 137 RBIs, but Howard hit 58 homes runs and drove in 149.
Pick an NL player, 2001-04
Overshadowed by: Barry Bonds, San Francisco Giants OF
You could basically pick any Bonds season plus any other big-time NL slugger here. Pujols could have easily won two MVPs in his first three years if not for Bonds. Sammy Sosa and Luis Gonzalez had monster 2001 seasons and Adrian Beltre had a ridiculous 2004 — and all of them got overshadowed by Bonds, who won four straight MVPs. — Dan Mullen
Jason Giambi, Oakland A’s 1B/DH, 2001
Overshadowed by: Ichiro Suzuki, Seattle Mariners OF
Ichiro was an immediate sensation when he made his MLB debut and took home MVP honors in 2001 after hitting .350 with eight HRs, 69 RBIs, 127 runs and 53 stolen bases in his rookie season. Giambi, who had won MVP the previous season, hit .342 with 38 home runs and 120 RBIs.
Todd Helton, Colorado Rockies 1B, 2000
Overshadowed by: Jeff Kent, San Francisco Giants 2B
Helton put up eye-popping numbers in 2000, bashing 42 home runs and leading the majors in batting average (.372), RBIs (147), slugging percentage (.698), on-base percentage (.463), doubles (59), hits (216) and total bases (405). For his efforts, he finished fifth in NL MVP voting behind winner Jeff Kent, Barry Bonds, Mike Piazza and Jim Edmonds.
Mark McGwire, St. Louis Cardinals 1B, 1998
Overshadowed by: Sammy Sosa, Chicago Cubs OF
To be fair, no one will ever forget the 1998 season and the home run chase between McGwire and Sosa. McGwire set the new standard at the time for home runs (70 to Sosa’s 66), but it was Sosa who went home with the MVP. Big Mac finished second.
Alex Rodriguez, Seattle Mariners SS, 1996
Overshadowed by: Juan Gonzalez, Texas Rangers OF
In his first full season in the majors, Alex Rodriguez hit .358 with 36 home runs, 123 RBIs and 141 runs. It wasn’t enough. The Rangers’ Juan Gonzalez won the first of his two MVP awards by three votes after hitting 47 home runs and driving in 144 for the AL West champions.
Overshadowed by: Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder G
Harden had a spectacular season and nearly averaged a triple-double, posting 29.1 points, 8.1 rebounds and 11.2 assists per game. But Westbrook
LeBron James, Miami Heat F, 2010-11
Overshadowed by: Derrick Rose, Chicago Bulls G
Rose had the best season of his career, averaging 25 points, 7.7 assists and 4.1 rebounds while leading the Bulls to the top record in the NBA and a trip to the Eastern Conference finals, where they lost to … James’ Heat. It wasn’t LeBron’s best season, but he averaged 26.7 points, 7.0 assists and 7.5 rebounds and helped the Heat improve by 11 wins and reach the NBA Finals.
Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers SG, 2005-06
Overshadowed by: Steve Nash, Phoenix Suns PG
Bryant averaged a career-best 35.4 points per game while chipping in 5.3 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 1.8 steals per game in 2005-06. But Nash took home MVP honors for a second straight season after averaging 18.8 PPG and 10.5 APG. Bryant’s only MVP award came in 2007-08 when he averaged 28.3 points, 6.3 boards and 5.4 helpers.
Overshadowed by: Magic Johnson, Los Angeles Lakers G/F; Karl Malone, Utah Jazz F
Jordan is generally regarded as the best to ever play the game, but some of his best seasons didn’t end with MVP awards. In 1986-87, he averaged 37 points per game, but Magic Johnson won the award after averaging 23.9 points and 12.2 assists. Jordan followed up that season by averaging 32.5 points, 8 rebounds, 8 assists and 2.9 steals … and lost to Magic again. Jordan also had a case over Karl Malone in 1996-97.
Overshadowed by: Bill Russell, Boston Celtics C
Really, who could forget a season in which Chamberlain scored 100 points in a game and averaged 50.4 PPG and 25.7 rebounds? But he didn’t take home the MVP award. That went to Russell, who averaged 18.9 points and 23.6 rebounds. The Celtics beat Wilt’s Warriors in the Eastern Conference finals and went on to win their fourth straight NBA championship on their way to eight in a row. That same season, Oscar Robertson averaged 30.8 points, 12.5 rebounds and 11.4 assists. No MVP for him, either.
Overshadowed by: Jose Theodore, Montreal Canadiens G
Iginla led the NHL in goals and points — but finished second in Hart Trophy voting to Canadiens goalie Jose Theodore. In the 95 times the MVP has been awarded since 1923-24, a goalie has won just eight times. Among players to lead the NHL in goals and points in the same season (12 have done so), Iginla and Lemieux (mentioned below) are the only two to not win the Hart. — Tim Kavanagh
Overshadowed by: Wayne Gretzky, Los Angeles Kings C
Lemieux won his first Hart Trophy the prior season and then went out and put up even better numbers in 1988-89. But the award that season went to Gretzky, who had won eight straight Harts before Lemieux’s win. This might have been Lemieux’s best season. He scored 85 goals (leading the league by 15), recorded 114 assists (tied for the league lead with Gretzky) and finished with 199 points (leading the league by 31). But Gretzky, who finished with 31 fewer points, won MVP, receiving 40 first-place votes to Lemieux’s 18.
Overshadowed by: Lionel Messi, FC Barcelona F and Cristiano Ronaldo, Real Madrid F
Luis Suarez was the top scorer in Spain with 40 goals in 35 games and also won the European Golden Shoe, yet was fourth in the 2016 Ballon d’Or (his highest-ever finish for the award). — Andrew Hush
Overshadowed by: Messi and Ronaldo
Xavi was third in the Ballon d’Or for three straight years from 2009-11, while between 2008-17, Andres Iniesta (second in 2010 when he scored the World Cup winner) was the only player not named Messi or Ronaldo to finish in the top two during that span. — Andrew Hush
Overshadowed by: Jimmie Johnson
Carl Edwards had a nine-win season, one of two nine-plus win seasons since 2000 (it gets overshadowed because Johnson won 10 times the year before). His 27 top-10’s don’t look as impressive now, but nobody hit that mark again until 2015. Yet Edwards still finished 69 points back of Johnson (who had two fewer wins, four fewer top-5’s and five fewer top-10’s). — Matt Willis
Overshadowed by: Jimmie Johnson, Terry Labonte
The runner-up in 2007, Gordon racked up six wins, 21 top-5’s and 30 top-10’s with a 7.3 average finish. The 30 top-10’s is still the most in the modern era, and his average finish is the best since 2000. — Matt Willis
Gordon (10 wins, 21 top-5’s, 24 top-10’s) led considerably more than twice the laps of Labonte in 1996. Gordon and the No. 24 were the cream of the crop regardless of which discipline track they competed at week in and week out. — Ricky Craven
Overshadowed by: Dale Earnhardt
Wallace had nearly twice the number of wins (10) of anyone else but was nickeled and dimed to death by Earnhardt (six wins), who won his sixth championship. — Ryan McGee
Overshadowed by: Darrell Waltrip
Elliott was as dominating on the large tracks as any driver I have ever witnessed. He truly had the most amazing season — but was overshadowed by Waltrip’s consistency. — Ricky Craven
Elliott in 1985 is definitely the winner, and what I like about it is that you could argue it both ways. People remember Elliott winning all the races (11) and the Winston Million and probably assume he also won the championship, but he did not. So, Elliott’s real season is forgotten and Waltrip’s championship season is also forgotten. — Ryan McGee
I actually think Waltrip’s title was overshadowed by Elliott’s season-long dominance. Elliott’s 1985 season, in which he won the Daytona 500 and Winston Million, is considered one of the best of the modern era and still gets talked about a lot. — Scott Symmes