The Great Heisman Race of 1997

After years of airing other programming, ESPN will finally air a 30 for 30 after the Heisman Trophy ceremony in December.

On Tuesday, ESPN announced that The Great Heisman Race of 1997 will air on Saturday, December 9 after this year’s ceremony. It will also be available to stream on ESPN+.

Here’s a synopsis of the film from ESPN, which focuses on the 1997 Heisman Trophy race between Michigan’s Charles Woodson and Tennessee’s Peyton Manning.

Peyton Manning stunned the sports world in 1997 by deciding to return for his senior season at Tennessee and spurning the NFL, making him the Heisman front-runner as he set his sights on an SEC Championship. But while Manning would be the preseason favorite for the hallowed honor, other candidates would find their way into the conversation when the games began. There was Washington State quarterback Ryan Leaf, making a bid for an even more impressive season than Manning. In West Virginia, after troubled stints at Notre Dame and Florida State, Randy Moss had emerged as a seemingly unstoppable wide receiver at Marshall. And then there was Charles Woodson, the Michigan cornerback who was so talented that the Wolverines made him a two-way player, designing plays for him at wide receiver. All the debate and controversy would culminate on the first Saturday in December at the Downtown Athletic Club in New York.

The post-Heisman 30 for 30 used to be a staple on ESPN’s annual 30 for 30 calendar, usually focusing on a college football topic (2015’s Four Falls of Buffalo was an exception). But the last feature to air in the timeslot was 2016’s Catholics vs Convicts, with ESPN pivoting to other programming (including live boxing) in the years after.

ESPN’s schedule of 30 for 30 releases has been far more scattered in recent years. The Great Heisman Race of 1997 will be just the fourth release of this year, though two of the other three were multi-part releases. We got five releases (one multi-parter) in 2022 and three (one multi-parter) in 2021. That’s a long way from the 30 for 30 golden age of 2009-2014 when ESPN was releasing a new 30 for 30 each week for months on end.

While we’ll probably never get to that level again, at least the post-Heisman slot is back this year. Hopefully, it will remain on the schedule in future years and we’ll keep getting more high-level college football documentaries going forward.


About Joe Lucia

I hate your favorite team. I also sort of hate most of my favorite teams.