It’s not exactly a secret that winning the Heisman trophy doesn’t promise success in the NFL. However, recent history of quarterbacks that have won the award and started in NFL playoff games like Tim Tebow, Robert Griffin III and Carson Palmer teaches us that there might be some sort of curse involved, which doesn’t bode well for Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers.
Since 2000, three Heisman winning quarterbacks have started in a playoff game. Things haven’t turned out too well for them.
Carson Palmer finished his college career leading USC to 11 wins and winning the Orange Bowl. He came away with the Heisman trophy before becoming the number one pick in the 2003 NFL draft, making his debut for the Cincinnati Bengals a year later. In 2005 he led them to their first winning season since 1990, finishing with an 11-5 record, notching a spot in the playoffs, getting themselves a chance to play the Pittsburgh Steelers for the third time that season. On the Bengals’ first pass play, Carson Palmer threw a 66-yard pass to rookie receiver Chris Henry. It was the longest completion in Bengals playoff history. After Palmer released the pass, Steelers defensive tackle Kimo von Oelhoffenwas pushed from behind while diving for Palmer, violently wrenching Palmer’s knee, and he was forced to leave the game. Palmer tore his ACL and MCL. The Bengals lost 31-17.
Tim Tebow didn’t get injured, but his career wasn’t the same after his second season, in which he led the Denver Broncos to the playoffs where he also started against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Tebow actually led the Broncos to an overtime win, throwing the game winning touchdown pass, but he started only one game after that before his career in the NFL pretty much faded away. Tebow won the Heisman trophy when playing for Florida in 2007, helping them win two national titles. It got him a first round pick by the Denver Broncos, but he didn’t become a meaningful part of the team until 2011, helping them make the postseason after a 1-4 start. Tebow posted the lowest passing completion rate in the NFL during the regular season. He did look good against the Steelers in that win, but awful against the Patriots a week later, completing only 9 of 26 passes for 136 yards. Peyton Manning was signed, Tebow was traded to the Jets and never started again. He’s out of the league now, and isn’t likely to return.
Robert Griffin III won his Heisman after the 2011 season with Baylor, leading the Bears to a 10-3 season which included beating Washington in the Alambo Bowl 67-56. He was the second pick in the 2012 NFL draft by the Washington Redskins, and went on to lead them to the postseason despite a 3-6 start, winning the offensive rookie of the year and posting the 59th perfect passer rating game in NFL history. The Redskins hosted the Seahawks for the Wild Card Playoff game, with Griffin playing after already sustaining an injury to his knee previously in the season. The Redskins led 14-0 in the first quarter, but lost 24-14. Griffin was hurt again in the fourth quarter but wasn’t taken out. A few plays later he fumbled the snap and re-injured his knee, this time not getting up, resulting in an ACL and LCL tears. He and the Redskins were very different this season.
Cam Newton? He won the Heisman trophy in 2010 after leading Auburn to the national title. The number one pick in the 2011 draft, he’s been starting for the Carolina Panthers since, this year finally making the playoffs after the team won the NFC South with a 12-4 record, earning a first round bye. He needs to hope that what comes during their game against the 49ers and after is better than how it’s been for the aforementioned players.