Reggie Bush should have packed his Heisman in a box, shipped it back to New York, and been done with it.

Or sent it to Vince Young and let him decide what to do with it.

The best part is that it would have arrived with just a mailing label, and perhaps some crumpled up newspapers from 2005 to make sure it didn't get scratched.

No sanctimonious statements about how painful the media had made it for him. No self-serving proclamations of someday teaming with the Heisman Trophy Trust to educate youngsters about taking gifts from strangers.

Just give it up and shut up.

That didn't happen, of course, because Bush obviously has some advisers who understand how necessary it is to try to spin things even when there is no real spin possible. The truth is Bush brought down a powerful football program, and his Heisman was as good as gone the minute USC returned its copy of the trophy.

So he pulled a Nixon and gave it back just before the equally sanctimonious people whose job it is to hand out trophies could decide whether to snatch it from him. He saved us the long national nightmare of the status of his trophy being debated endlessly on airwaves. For this we should be grateful.

Guess we should all be happy, too, that Bush settled a lawsuit against one of his wannabe agents from his USC days so that we were spared the details of how he allegedly took nearly $300,000 in cars, cash and housing to support a proper lifestyle for himself and his family as he chased the Heisman.

The NCAA says some of that money even went to buy Bush a new suit to wear to — you guessed it — his Heisman selection ceremony.

On the take then, he's on the make now. The new Reggie Bush is all about helping others, not helping himself.

Interesting, then, that he offered no apology to either the Heisman folks or USC for the problems his greediness caused. Nary a contrite word about the four years' probation nor the two-year bowl ban that will make the college careers of a lot of others who followed him to USC a lot less fulfilling.

They played by the rules, only to be punished by someone who didn't. They're paying the price, while Bush is paying PR people to write nice things on his behalf.

There is a compelling argument to be made about the hypocrisy of coaches and schools making millions off athletes who toil for little more than tuition and meal money with no guarantee their years in college will lead anywhere.

But Bush knew the score going in.

The announcement Wednesday by the Heisman Trophy Trust that the 2005 award will be vacated is probably the right one, though it doesn't settle the debate. Young said he didn't want the hand-me-down anyway, and third-place finisher Matt Leinart already has one.

Meanwhile, a chorus of former Heisman winners said they still regard Bush as one of them. Most fans surely do, too, if they even care about the stiff-armed trophy or events that happened five years ago away from the football field.

The Heisman people had little choice but to strip Bush if they wanted to maintain any kind of legitimacy for their award. Other Heisman winners have done things to disgrace themselves (think O.J. Simpson, who still has a Heisman vote even though his trophy was auctioned off), but Bush not being in good standing with the NCAA violated one of the few rules of the contest.

Whether the Heisman is even relevant anymore might be a better debate than whether Bush should have kept his award. The trophy for the best player in college football serves not just as an award but as a symbol of the bloated excess that typifies the sport today.

Now it's little more than an "American Idol" in cleats, with 900-plus voters casting ballots not necessarily on what they've seen, but on what they've heard TV talking heads say. Like "American Idol" it culminates in staged dramatics during an hour-long prime time special that runs about 59 minutes too long.

Bush was the star of the show in 2005. Heisman or not, he was still the best player in football that year, and that can't be taken away.

His consolation now that it's gone? He gets to keep his Super Bowl ring and the $52 million he's due from the New Orleans Saints.

Not such a bad deal after all.


Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org