For years, Heisman Trophy voters have found their mailboxes and desks filled with various promotional items during the autumn months:
Posters. Postcards. Trading cards. Bobbleheads. Magnets. Notepads. Buttons. Toy cars. View finders. Dumbbells. Leaves.
(Well, a single leaf. For Ryan Leaf, of course.)
One of the most famous Heisman Trophy campaigns was in 1970, when Notre Dame’s sports information director convinced Joe Theismann to change the pronunciation of his last name, so that it rhymed with the award. (It was originally pronounced THEEZ-man).
Oregon paid $250,000 for a 10-story billboard in Times Square to promote Joey Harrington in 2001. Northwestern last season put up a billboard in Bristol, Conn., — headquarters of ESPN — to get the word out on Dan Persa.
Nebraska, home of three Heisman Trophy winners, has generally relied on touchdowns, victories, press clippings and highlight reels; no gimmicks, slogans or general flamboyancy that now comes with promoting a Heisman hopeful.
So don’t look for Rex Burkhead pictured on the side of buildings in a Superman cape, a play off his nickname he earned in high school.
Do, however, look for Nebraska’s media relations department to promote Burkhead, a senior running back, more than they’ve showcased past Heisman candidates.
“You’ve got to be a little more aggressive,” said Nebraska media relations director Keith Mann, noting the media’s accelerated process for picking candidates.
“They’ve been talking about it since they gave away last year’s Heisman, who’s going to win it this year.”
And with more cost-effective ways to get the word out on candidates — namely, the Internet and social media — why not take advantage?
That’s why Nebraska will soon be launching a website dedicated to Rex Burkhead and his Heisman campaign.
Mann said the site, which will be available sometime before Nebraska’s season opener on Sept. 1, will feature a highlight video and sit-down interview, and focus on Burkhead as an all-around player and person.
So not only can you read about Burkhead’s 1,357 rushing yards last season, or his ability to throw the football out of the Wildcat, but you can also learn about his work with a young fan battling brain cancer and his academic All-American status.
“It will be a way to highlight everything he’s done on and off the field, but also to get some fan interaction talking about Rex,” Mann said. “It will be an easy way to see what’s being said and written about Rex.”
Nebraska had a similar site for 2009 Heisman finalist Ndamukong Suh, although Suh’s uphill campaign as a defensive tackle wasn’t really born until October, after a very rainy night and one very gimpy Missouri quarterback.
Burkhead’s more Heisman-like position of running back, combined with his accomplishments thus far, make him a darkhorse candidate, at least, giving Nebraska time to develop its strategy.
“It’s easier to plan when you have a guy being mentioned in the Heisman (in the preseason),” Mann said. “And he’s so marketable in so many ways.”
Kelly Mosier, director of Huskers.com, has been developing the site this summer, with assistance from Mann.
“We approached Rex just to make sure he was comfortable with us doing a website specifically to him, because, obviously, he’s not the guy to pat himself on the back or self-promote,” Mann said. “He was fine with it.”
Nebraska, of course, isn’t the only school already promoting Heisman candidates. Wisconsin has launched a website for running back Montee Ball, with the slogan (and Twitter hashtag) “This Fall belongs to Ball."
And according to the Los Angeles Times, USC quarterback Matt Barkley is tech-savvy enough that he’s helped develop a fan-friendly mobile app to promote Barkley. The name: “PROJECT TRO7AN,” a play on Barkley’s jersey number.
For now, Nebraska will focus its attention on the site — yet to be announced, but easily accessible through Huskers.com after its launch.
Burkhead’s performance throughout the season will dictate how much more Mann and his staff will promote, and with what.
“We’re prepared to do more as needed,” Mann said, “and hopefully we’ll need to do more.”