COMMENTARY : Ismail and Detmer: Thrills vs. Pure Production


Having been told so much, Ty Detmer finally decided last Saturday that he must see this Rocket fellow for himself. So on a free night, in the hours after throwing for another few million yards in the afternoon, he sat in his rented house in Orem, Utah, and watched Notre Dame play USC on television.

What he saw was the final act in an autumn-long curiosity. Notre Dame’s Raghib (Rocket) Ismail was involved in 15 plays and, save two, was ineffective. But those two, both in the fourth quarter, totaled 80 yards and were spectacular. The whole thing baffled Detmer, like it has baffled others. “He’s an exciting player,” Detmer said. “Doesn’t touch the ball very often, though.”

He cuts deftly, if unintentionally, to the root of the dilemma that will be resolved when the 56th Heisman Trophy is awarded Saturday at the Downtown Athletic Club. The field of a dozen or so is realistically whittled to two: a quarterback who loosed a blizzard of statistics and an all-purpose offensive player who accounted for only six touchdowns but whose on-field presence was cause for a collective breathlessness.

Detmer and Ismail are among five finalists and the only two given a real chance of winning the Heisman, awarded to the player judged the best in college football. The other finalists are tailback Eric Bieniemy of Colorado and quarterbacks David Klingler of Houston and Shawn Moore of Virginia.


The 917 Heisman voters (870 media members and 47 former Heisman winners) have a clear choice. A vote for Detmer is a vote for pure production. A vote for Ismail is a vote for fleeting thrills--his long-distance touchdowns and the anxious moment that prefaces his every act.

Detmer, with a season to play, already holds fistfuls of prominent NCAA records (single-season passing yardage) and obscure ones (most games of more than 300 yards passing).

Ismail shares only one (two kickoff returns for touchdowns in a game, in ’89 vs. Michigan). They keep no records for potential excitement unrealized.

“As to who is more exciting, I guess that’s all in what people perceive is exciting,” Brigham Young Coach LaVell Edwards said. “I think we depend on Ty Detmer a lot more than they depend on Rocket Ismail.”


Then again, maybe not. Notre Dame lost only two games: to Stanford when Ismail was in on only one play and to Penn State, when Ismail sat out the second half with a thigh injury and the Nittany Lions rallied from a 21-7 deficit.

Of the remaining finalists, Moore is twice handicapped, by Virginia’s three late-season losses and by a thumb injury, which caused him to miss the Cavaliers’ last regular-season game.

Klingler has passed for 4,424 yards in Houston’s high-tech offense, but a big loss to Texas (the Cougars’ only credible opponent) and 11 rub-it-in touchdown passes against Division I-AA Eastern Washington killed his chances.

Bieniemy rushed for 1,628 yards in 11 games and scored 17 touchdowns. He also missed the first game because of a suspension and benefits not at all from the scandal of Colorado’s fifth-down win at Missouri.