Former IU quarterback Antwaan Randle El has announced his retirement after a ten-year professional career as a receiver and trick play quarterback. Anyone who remembers Randle El as a Hoosiers knows that he was one of the most electric and productive players in the history of IU and probably in the history of the Big Ten. He was the first player in NCAA history with 40 career passing touchdowns and 40 career rushing touchdowns. No other player in college football history has accounted for 2500 total yards in four separate seasons. He finished 6th in Heisman Trophy voting for a team that finished 5-6.
Since 2001, only one other player, Jerome Harrison of Washington State in 2005, has finished in the top ten in Heisman voting while playing for a team with a losing record. Yet, the numbers don't tell the story. Here's what I said about Randle El last year
(with excerpts below the fold):
Unfortunately, the final score of his first game [a home win over Western Michigan] should have been a red flag. Thanks to ARE's six touchdowns plus a field goal, IU scored 45 points, but allowed 30. I can't find the numbers for 1998, but in 1999, IU ranked #34 in total offense but #104 in total offense. In 2000, IU ranked #13 in total offense and #112 (of 114 teams!) in total defense. In 2001, IU ranked #19 in total offense and #73 in total defense. Despite one of the most amazing offensive careers in the history of college football, Randle El never played on a winning team or in a bowl game. His best chances were in his freshman year and his senior year. In 1998, IU finished 4-7, with some excrutiating losses, most notably a loss at Kentucky despite picking off Tim Couch four times, and an overtime loss to Michigan State in East Lansing. In 2001, IU finished 5-6, winning on the road against both Wisconsin and Michigan State (scoring 63 on the Badgers). Unfortunately, Randle El started the season at wide receiver in a disastrous debut at NC State. Randle El returned to QB the next week, but IU lost a home game 28-26 to Utah. In a play that was perfectly emblematic of the Cameron era, IU appeared to tie that game on a two point conversion, but it was voided because of an illegal formation penalty.
For all of his gaudy statistics, Randle El's incredible performance cannot truly be captured by statistics. One announcer used to call him a "waterbug," and that was a very good description. Every offensive play was exciting. What looked like a run might be a pass downfield. What looked like a pass might turn into a spectacular run, either by scramble or by design. He is not a large man (his NFL specs are 5'10", 190) and often placed himself in harm's way for a few extra yards. He produced electrifying offensive performances, and had IU managed to field even moderately below-average defenses during his time, he would have won a bunch of games. Instead, Cameron, an offensive coordinator posing as a head coach, fielded some of the worst defenses in the country.
After he left IU, Randle El's quarterbacking days were over. He has spent his NFL career as a wide receiver and kick returner for the Pittsburgh Steelers and Washington Redskins. Fortunately, Randle El has been a part of the sort of team success that eluded him as a college player. Unsurprisingly, the Steelers and Redskins have taken advantage of his passing ability. For his career, Randle El is 22-27 for 323 yards, 6 touchdowns, and no interceptions. The most famous pass of his career, of course, came in Super Bowl XL, when Randle El helped the Steelers overcome an execrable performance by Ben Roethlisberger by throwing a decisive, 43-yard touchdown pass to Hines Ward. Randle El has the highest passer rating of any NFL player with more than 20 attempts, and is the only non-quarterback to have thrown a touchdown pass in the Super Bowl.
So, here's to a happy and healthy retirement for Antwaan Randle El. While at the time I was focused on the Steelers' shocking upset of the Colts, I'm glad that Randle El was able to more than compensate for a losing collegiate record by winning a Super Bowl. Like everyone else here, I hope to someday see an era when IU's football program is a consistent winner. But even if that happens, I doubt that we will ever see the likes of Randle El again.