HOOVER, Ala. — Arkansas running back Darren McFadden likes to dress up for Halloween.
If you just asked, “So what?” you know nothing about running a Heisman Trophy campaign.
You can’t just show the video or print out the statistics. You need to personalize the candidate.
Arkansas coach Houston Nutt tried his best to do that Wednesday afternoon at the SEC Media Days.
He said McFadden has “a tremendous smile.” He also said that McFadden “dresses up for Halloween, things like that.”
The media contingent alertly pursued the Halloween theme when McFadden followed his coach to the dais.
The questions came in threes: What were you for Halloween? Why do you enjoy the holiday? Do you eat a lot of candy?”
Do you eat a lot of candy?
Having sat through more than 20 years of SEC Media Days, I strained to remember if any other player had been asked, “Do you eat a lot of candy?”
My conclusion: Hopefully not.
McFadden responded with the smile of which his coach has been so complimentary and answered: “I just have a nice sense of humor, so I like dressing up for Halloween, to put on a costume.”
That wasn’t enough for the media, which pressed onward: “What were you (for Halloween)?”
“A clown,” McFadden said.
“What kind of clown?” a relentless reporter fired back.
“A big one,” McFadden said.
With that, the big clown drew a big laugh from a tough crowd. He also demonstrated the work ethic of which his coach spoke.
Nutt talks more about McFadden’s work ethic than he does his size and speed, which are so impressive that he could become the first player taken in the 2008 NFL draft.
“He loves to practice,” Nutt said. “He loves to go to school. He loves to go to the weight room.
“I don’t know if he likes all the cameras, but he’s doing a better job each and every time he gets in front of them. So I’ve been real proud of him.”
Apparently, McFadden has included media relations in his workout regimen. He does his best to accommodate every questioner, and flashes his smile at the appropriate time.
None of that comes as natural as his stiff-arm, but the media should give a camera-shy guy credit for trying. And it should have given him the Heisman last year.
Never mind the passing efficiency of Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith. Or the Buckeyes’ unbeaten regular season. McFadden was the best player in the country. The majority of Heisman voters might have figured that out after they watched Smith unravel against Florida’s defense in the national championship game.
By then, it was too late. Smith got the Heisman; McFadden, a distant runner-up, got a trip to New York for the ceremony.
He returns for his junior season as a popular preseason pick for the Heisman. He’s 6-foot-2, 215 pounds and looks bigger with a football under his arm and a defender between him and the goal line. He looks bigger still when he unfurls the stiff-arm that has held so many would-be tacklers at bay while McFadden has rushed for 2,760 yards in two years of college football.
I’m not sure media in other areas of the country realize how difficult it is for an SEC player to rush for 1,647 yards in a season, as McFadden did in 2006. Not only did he accomplish that against some of the nation’s staunchest defenses, he did it in an offense whose passing was pedestrian at best.
If McFadden puts up similar numbers this season and again finishes no better than a runner-up, his clown suit would be appropriate attire for the ceremony.
Sports editor John Adams may be reached at 865-342-6284 or firstname.lastname@example.org.