Friday, December 13, 2002
Different year, same Heisman story for Brees
By Marc Connolly
NEW YORK -- Perhaps Pasadena will be a little kinder to Drew Brees than Manhattan has been the past two years.
As was the case last December, Purdue's quarterback and his family barnstormed Gotham on a whirlwind two-day tour after another triumphant season of accumulating passing yards at an alarming rate for the Boilermakers. Unlike his three peers, Brees knew his way around the ESPNZone on Friday night, and remembered that one must push the "H" button to get to the famed 13th floor at the Downtown Athletic Club. But once again, Brees will return home without anything to show for it but some new clothes, a few added pounds and a story or two on how he met a Marcus Allen or a Roger Staubach.
Though the bronzed statue was within his grasp for the better part of two seasons, the Heisman Trophy will leave this chaotic island in the hands of another All-Everything performer. Last year it was Wisconsin's bulldozing back Ron Dayne. And this year, it's fellow gunslinger Chris Weinke, the Old Man QB who led the Florida State Seminoles to an 11-1 mark and a shot at repeating as national champions on January 4 in the FedEx Orange Bowl.
Brees finished in third place with 619 votes after finishing fourth in 1999. In a year that started with Brees and Michael Vick being the only members in the top-tier of Heisman candidates, he finished the 2000 campaign as the third-best quarterback behind two fellow seniors whose teams' performances certainly served as the difference between the three.
"Maybe so, maybe not," said Brees, who was upbeat when talking to the media moments after Weinke accepted the trophy. 'Had we gone 9-2 -- let's say, we say we had won the Michigan State game -- we still wouldn't have been playing for the national championship like Josh and Chris. But you never know what would have happened. As long as you're a winning team, you should be OK."
Purdue's 8-3 mark, compared to the undefeated season Heupel's Sooners put up and the 11-1 mark posted by Weinke's Seminoles, didn't get in the way of the voters who select the Maxwell Award. His upset victory over both national championship-bound QBs gave him a new outlook on making another trip to the big city. Rather than just come back for the t-shirt, all of a sudden Brees felt like he had a chance considering eight of the past 10 Maxwell winners have gone on to win the Heisman.
"It jolted me a little bit," said the 6-foot-1 senior from Austin, Texas. "It seemed like it opened the race up a little bit just because it was a big shock. With all the talk you hear on ESPN or ABC or whoever you're watching, it seemed like it was a two-man race between Josh and Chris. The format for the Maxwell Award was that it was claimed as 'the nation's best player,' so when my name was called out I was shocked. It gave me a sense of pride, like 'maybe I'm still in this.'
"I hadn't counted myself out, but I realized that those two guys were probably ahead of me."
Though he strode into the DAC with a much better chance for a victory than last year when Dayne's name might as well have been engraved on that plaque after he broke Ricky Williams' career rushing mark, Brees claimed he was a lot more calm during that excruciating hour-long wait in the cozy Heisman room.
"I looked at my watch and it was 35 minutes into when it felt like we'd only been here for 10 minutes," said Brees, who just received word he scored his second 4.0 GPA in a row. "All of a sudden they're calling out Chris Weinke's name as a winner. It just flew by. I think that's because I've done it before and I know what sequence is coming next. It wasn't like last year when I was sitting there not knowing what was going on. Two minutes seemed like two hours last year."
Flanked all weekend by a contingent that included his parents (Mina and Chip), stepmom and boyfriend (Amy and Daniel Sowada), 10-year-old sister (Audrey) and girlfriend (Brittany Dudchenko), Brees said he enjoyed himself a lot more since he "knew the ropes" after being here last year. It was also apparent in his demeanor that finally having the Rose Bowl to look forward to made his life stress-free. That didn't mean he didn't want to bring the trophy back to West Lafayette and become part of the sport's ultimate fraternity, but he understands his place in history being a wire-to-wire candidate for his last two seasons at Purdue.
"I wanted to win it. If you're a competitive football player like I am, you want to be the best and the Heisman Trophy is the portrayal of who is the best," said Brees. "So many people can never claim that they've finished in the top four and were able to come once, and I've been able to come twice. To be associated with this elite group of candidates is a big honor."
Ultimately, he'll go down as one of the greatest collegiate quarterbacks to never win the Heisman Trophy, along with past greats such as Peyton Manning, Tommie Frazier, Chuck Long, John Elway and fellow Boilermaker Bob Griese.
Some will look back and notice how Brees threw for 3,393 yards and 24 TDs for Joe Tiller's club this season. What they may miss is how he somehow led his team to a share of the Big Ten Conference championship after losing his two top receivers from 1999 -- Chris Daniels (121 catches) and Randall Lane (52). In a fall that saw Brees set every Big Ten passing mark that means anything, they may also miss something that is near and dear to Brees' heart -- his 534 rushing yards and five TDs.
"I think my role changed a little bit this year," said Brees. "I felt like I had to run the ball more this year to help my team win. And I was able to do that, and it helped my team win."
In the end, the endless amount of hype surrounding Brees didn't help his Heisman dreams come true. The CD-Roms, the videotapes, the posters, the $10,000 Purdue spent on mass-mailings, the weekly press conferences all went for naught. As was the fact that he's got a cannon that Heupel would die for and mobility that Weinke could use at the next level.
It doesn't matter to Brees, though. He turned down first-round money by returning to campus to do one thing -- get Purdue back to the Rose Bowl for the first time in 34 years. And winning that, he believes, will leave a legacy behind bigger than any award could bring.
"Of course it will. I don't want to say I just got there, I want to say I was a Rose Bowl champion quarterback," said Brees, before leaving the DAC with his family. "That would be a huge honor for me and something Purdue would remember forever as well."
Down to the wire
|Drew Brees led Purdue to the Rose Bowl last year, but there is no clear favorite who will win the Big Ten this season.|
Weinke's margin of victory over Heupel of 76 points was the closest since Houston's Andre Ware beat out Indiana's Anthony Thompson in 1989 and the seventh closest of all-time. The tightest Heisman vote was in 1985 when Auburn's Bo Jackson edged Iowa's Chuck Long by 45 points; the second closest was in 1961 when Syracuse's Ernie Davis beat Ohio State's Bob Ferguson by 52 points.
FSU head coach Bobby Bowden called in to the Downtown Athletic Club since his team was having their football banquet back in Tallahasse. He told Florida State's SID Rob Wilson the following:
"I just had a feeling he wouldn't be able to win that thing. I don't know if anyone had a better feeling than me when he won. There were 1-2,000 watching the presentation. We all sat in awe watching to see who was going to win the Heisman. There was simultaneous screams and applause as soon as everyone heard 'Chris.' No one heard 'Weinke.'"
Bring on Mad Dog
When told he was going to be on New York's famed WFAN sports radio show on Sunday morning, Weinke said, "Is Mad Dog gonna be on there? I want Mad Dog." When he was told Chris "Mad Dog" Russo, the controversial personality of the widely popular "Mike and the Mad Dog" show, wasn't scheduled to be on the interview, Weinke said, "C'mon, can't we conference him in or something?"
In a Zone
|LaDainian Tomlinson became the third player to rush for 2000 yards in one season and not win the Heisman.|
In addition to taking a bus tour to Rockefeller Center, Radio City Music Hall and other major sites around town, three of the four finalists -- minus Weinke, who was in Louisville accepting the Johnny Unitas Award -- spent Friday evening at the popular ESPNZone restaurant in Times Square. Since Heupel was instructed not to use his arm in any sort of activity over the weekend due to a ruptured bursa sac in his throwing elbow, the now-annual passing contest on the football throwing machine on the Zone's third-floor arcade room was between Tomlinson and Brees. After TCU's All-American back upset Brees in the first round, the Maxwell Award winner stormed back to beat him, as well as several other fans that challenged him throughout the night.
Not a city boy
Heupel was the only one of the four finalists to have never stepped inside the intimidating boundaries of Manhattan before this weekend. In fact, he had never been in a building over six stories until taking a trek to the top of the World Trade Center with his family on Saturday afternoon.
Line of the night
Chris Fowler was quick to say this beauty when Chris Weinke told Kirk Herbstreit how it's tougher for a 28-year-old man to get up in the morning after a game than a 20-year-old kid: "It's even tougher to get out of bed when you're 30. I don't know how Mr. (Jay) Berwanger does it."
Brees mentioned that he struck up a friendship with Weinke right away when they were both at ESPN's award show on Thursday. Though he had read about him like most of the nation, and spent a considerable amount of time with him over the last few days, he admitted to learning a few knew things at the ceremony on Saturday.
"Chris is a helluva guy -- I think all-around," said Brees. "I think the nation didn't really realize what he had been through or what he had down until tonight when they heard him talk. Listening to him talk, a lot of things become known that I didn't even know and I'm a college football quarterback and you think I'd know everything about every college football quarterback in the nation."
Et Cetera ...
With Weinke, Heupel and Brees finishing in the top 3, it marked the first time in history that quarterbacks went No. 1, 2, and 3 ... Tomlinson had more second- and third-place votes than Brees, but due to receiving 22 less first-place votes than Purdue's QB, he finished 53 points (619 to 566) points behind him for third-place ... Weinke won four regions (Northeast, Midwest, Mid-Atlantic and the South), while Heupel won the Southwest and the Far West ... Thirty-three percent of the 922 ballots were received before last weekend's Championship Saturday.
Marc Connolly is a senior writer at ABC Sports Online.