America, Meet Kyler Murray: Part II

Back in September, when I wrote about Oklahoma's dual-sport superstar Kyler Murray, I can honestly say I expected him to put up big numbers. Talented both through the air and on the ground, competing in the wide open offensive paradise that is the Big 12, it wasn't much of a stretch.

I placed more emphasis on his ability to potentially lead OU to their first national title in two decades, and even said "It's premature to say if Murray will enter into the Heisman discussion this year." I figured someone like Alabama's Tua Tagovailoa would certainly be a contender, if not the runaway favorite.

Well, here we are three months later, and Oklahoma is on their way to the CFP for the second straight year, and for the second straight year they'll be led by a Heisman trophy winner at quarterback. If I didn't know better I might say I know what I'm talking about. Then again, just two weeks prior to the major conference title games, I predicted Ohio State would sneak in to the playoff ahead of Oklahoma.

But back to Murray, who has officially become a national headline after he beat out Tagovailoa and Ohio State's Dwayne Haskins for college football's top individual award last week. Should Oklahoma manage to somehow get past the juggernauts that are Alabama and Clemson to secure a national title, we could be looking at one of the greatest sports debates in years.

As has been well-publicized, Murray has played this season on borrowed time. After being selected by the Oakland Athletics with the 9th overall pick in the June MLB draft, Murray signed a hefty $4.66 million dollar signing bonus, but was allowed to play football this season under a contractual obligation to return to the diamond for good this spring.

Can you imagine a Heisman winner and national champion skipping the NFL entirely? As insane as it may sound, it has happened before.

To date, there have been 14 Heisman trophy winners who never played in the NFL. Most of whom played prior to 1960, when professional football wasn't nearly the multi-billion dollar industry it is today. Some were drafted to the league, but never signed or appeared in a game, choosing business or the armed forces instead.

Then there was the tragic story of Ernie Davis, the first black player to win the Heisman, who was selected No. 1 overall in the 1962 NFL draft, but was diagnosed with leukemia that ultimately took his life before he could ever step on a pro field.

The most recent Heisman winner to go undrafted was fellow Sooner alum Jason White, who won the award in 2003 and was again a finalist in 2004 after being granted a second senior season due to medical hardship. White tore his ACL in both knees during his collegiate career, and as a result drew little interest from NFL teams. He was eventually signed to the Tennessee Titans practice squad as a free agent, but retired from football without ever appearing in a game.

Should Murray cap this magical season with a championship, and fulfill his obligation to the A's, he would join Florida State's Charlie Ward in 1993 as the only Heisman recipient and national title winner to ever forego the NFL.

The story of Ward is quite similar to Murray, except it was the NBA that led the Seminole great away from the gridiron for good. After topping Nebraska to secure Florida State's first football championship, the multi-sport star remained undecided whether he would enter the NFL draft or pursue a professional basketball career. Ward famously gave NFL owners an ultimatum that he would only choose football if he was chosen in the first round.

At 6'2, 190 pounds, Ward was considered under-sized to be a first-round QB, and was projected to be a third to fifth-round pick. With his commitment to football heavily in question, he went undrafted, and was later selected 26th overall by the New York Knicks. Ward never looked back, and went on to play 11 seasons in the NBA.

Another fun fact about super athlete Ward, he was also twice selected as a pitcher in the MLB draft, but never signed. Talk about a guy with options.

So there is a small precedent for what could transpire with Murray, who has previously stated he would like to play both in the NFL and MLB, but admitted the chances of that occurring are slim. That being said, should he wash out from pro baseball, the door could remain open for the Texas native to return to the football field down the line.

Regardless of what ultimately goes down, Murray's time in the spotlight has only just begun. And while Billy Beane and Co. have probably watched every Oklahoma game this year with rosary beads in their hands, praying their $5 million dollar investment stays healthy, a superstar of Murray's stature could certainly help fill some of those empty seats in the Oakland Coliseum in the near future.

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