Reggie Bush gets Heisman Trophy back 14 years after forfeiting

Damien Woody reacts to the news that the 2005 Heisman Trophy will be returned to Reggie Bush. (0:50)

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Reggie Bush has his 2005 Heisman Trophy back, as the Heisman Trust announced Wednesday the formal “reinstatement” of the trophy to Bush amid what it calls “enormous changes in the college football landscape.”

The Heisman Trust’s decision comes after Bush forfeited his Heisman Trophy in 2010 in the wake of significant NCAA sanctions for USC, which included Bush receiving improper benefits during a Trojans career that spanned from 2003 to 2005.

As part of the decision Wednesday, the Heisman Trust is returning the Heisman Trophy to Bush and a replica to USC. Bush will again be invited to all future Heisman Trophy ceremonies, beginning in the 2024 season.

“Personally, I’m thrilled to reunite with my fellow Heisman winners and be a part of the storied legacy of the Heisman Trophy, and I’m honored to return to the Heisman family,” Bush said in a statement to ESPN. “I also look forward to working together with the Heisman Trust to advance the values and mission of the organization.”

Reggie Bush’s campaign to have his Heisman Trophy restored was ultimately successful, with the former USC running back saying he was “thrilled” to get the award back. Courtesy The Heisman Trophy Trust

Bush received his Heisman Trophy at the end of a previously scheduled summit meeting of the Trust on Wednesday morning outside Jacksonville, Florida. Tim Henning, associate director of the Heisman Trust, described a “celebratory atmosphere” to ESPN’s Coley Harvey, as about 15 Heisman winners were in attendance at the meeting.

“The other winners were all very excited to see him,” Henning said.

The decision to reinstate the Heisman Trophy was based on a “deliberative process” by the Heisman Trust to monitor a sea change in college athletics in recent years. The Trust cited “fundamental changes in college athletics” in which rules that have allowed “student athlete compensation” to become “an accepted practice and appears here to stay.”

“We are thrilled to welcome Reggie Bush back to the Heisman family in recognition of his collegiate accomplishments,” Michael Comerford, president of The Heisman Trophy Trust, said in a statement. “We considered the enormous changes in college athletics over the last several years in deciding that now is the right time to reinstate the trophy for Reggie. We are so happy to welcome him back.”

As rules allowing athletes to be compensated for their name, image and likeness were enacted in 2021, Bush began lobbying for his trophy to be returned. He released a statement in July 2021 that included criticism of the Heisman Trust, including Comerford not returning Bush’s calls.

There had been a flurry of recent support from Heisman winners for Bush to get the trophy back. The most public came from former Texas A&M star Johnny Manziel, who said earlier this year that he would skip the Heisman Trophy ceremony until Bush’s trophy was returned. Both USC’s Matt Leinart, Bush’s former teammate, and Notre Dame’s Tim Brown are Heisman winners who have been outspoken publicly about Bush’s trophy being returned.

Manziel reacted to Wednesday’s news on social media, thanking the Heisman Trust for “doing what’s right and welcoming a storied member of our history back into the fold.”

Thank you to the @HeismanTrophy for doing what’s right and welcoming a storied member of our history back into the fold. There were many voices throughout this process that stood on the table for Reggie simply because of the kind of human being he is. I look forward to being on… — Johnny Manziel (@JManziel2) April 24, 2024

In its decision-making, the Heisman Trust noted the 2021 Supreme Court decision against the NCAA in the Alston case, which the Trust said “questioned the legality of the NCAA’s amateurism model and opened the door to student athlete compensation.”

“Recognizing that the compensation of student athletes is an accepted practice and appears here to stay, these fundamental changes in college athletics led the Trust to decide that now is the right time to return the Trophy to Bush, who unquestionably was the most outstanding college football player of 2005,” the Heisman Trophy Trust said.

USC now officially has eight Heisman Trophies, giving it the most of any school in the country ahead of the seven each at Ohio State, Oklahoma and Notre Dame.

“I am so happy for Reggie and the entire Trojan Family,” USC president Carol Folt said in a statement. “He won our hearts during his illustrious career and deserved to have his well-earned honor restored. We are looking forward to celebrating with him and his family and are proud we were able to stand with him as an advocate.”

Bush had forfeited the trophy in September 2010, marking the first time college football’s top award was returned by a recipient. Months earlier, in July, USC gave back its replica of Bush’s trophy in one of the early actions of former athletic director Pat Haden’s tenure.

USC’s sanctions from that investigation included the Bowl Championship Series vacating the 2004 national title, the first time a major college football champion had been stripped of a championship. The NCAA stripped USC of victories in 14 games Bush played, including that BCS title blowout victory over Oklahoma after the 2004 season. (Bush filed a defamation lawsuit against the NCAA in August 2023.)

USC athletic director Jen Cohen called the Heisman return “a momentous day for Reggie Bush and the entire USC community.”

Bush’s play on the field at USC made him one of this century’s most transcendent college athletes. He averaged 8.5 yards per touch from scrimmage over his career, including rushing for 1,740 yards and 8.7 yards per carry on 200 carries in 2005.

He accounted for 42 career touchdowns over three seasons — 25 rushing, 13 receiving and four on special teams returns. Bush was selected No. 2 overall in the 2006 NFL draft, and only one tailback has been picked that high in the draft since: Saquon Barkley in 2018.

“What a historic day!” USC coach Lincoln Riley said in a statement. “Reggie’s reintroduction to the Heisman Family is a special moment for every person that has been associated with USC football. We are thrilled that Reggie’s athletic accomplishments as one of the greatest to ever play the game can officially be recognized. For a long time, the Heisman and USC have been synonymous and being able to acknowledge all eight of our winners is extraordinary.”

Bush was so dominant in 2005, accounting for 2,890 all-purpose yards, that his 784 first-place votes are the fifth most in Heisman Trophy history.

Nearly two decades after that peerless season, Bush again has his Heisman Trophy.

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