Friday, December 13, 2002
Where Are They Now? Andre Ware
By Mike Diegnan
Everyone loves high-scoring affairs. And the University of Houston provided plenty of them in the late '80s and early '90s. Who knows how many the Cougars would score each Saturday: 60 points, 70, maybe 80? Would they ever reach 100? Whether or not they ran it up on teams, the Cougars peppered opponents at an eye-popping rate each weekend.
Playing in his own backyard, Andre Ware took the Cougars' run-and-shoot offense to new levels from 1987-89, and rode a record-breaking season to the 1989 Heisman Trophy, despite not playing one game on national television.
Ware, who grew up in Dickinson, Texas, which is 25 minutes south of Houston, chose to attend Houston over other more prestigious Southwest Conference programs to allow his friends and family to watch his games.
He got his first opportunity to play for the Cougars right away. In the opening game of the 1987 season against Oklahoma State, he was the third-string, but the first two quarterbacks -- both Junior College transfers -- struggled. Ware was called upon in for the fourth quarter and moved the ball better than his predecessors, and earned the starting nod for the next four games, but injuries forced him to miss the remainder of the season.
As a sophomore, Ware regained control of the Cougars and led Houston to nine wins and an appearance in the Aloha Bowl against Washington State.
Following the season, Houston was placed on probation for violations created by the 1978 squad. It could have derailed the Cougars, but the team stuck together.
"We all could have transferred out," Ware says. "Nobody left, not one player left. It was just a togetherness that was real special that year."
The main cog was Ware, who led the Cougars to a 9-2 record and a No. 14 ranking in the country in '89.
The quarterback set 26 NCAA passing and total offense records that season, including 517 passing yards in one half against SMU. In one quarter alone against the Mustangs that day, he threw for five touchdowns and 340 yards. He sat out the second half in the 95-21 win. Yes, 95-21.
But his favorite game that season was a visit to Texas. The Longhorns sought revenge on the Ware-led Cougars, who crushed Texas the year before 66-15. The stadium was packed, expecting Texas to silence Ware and the run-and-shoot. By halftime, Houston had a five-touchdown lead.
"We came back out for the second half, and instead of the stadium being packed, it was about a quarter full," Ware chuckles. "The fans had given up hope, afraid that we were going to put up 60 on them again like the year before."
While the Cougars did not put up 60 against Texas -- it was only a 47-9 victory -- Houston scored 60 points five times in '89, and averaged 53.5 points a game, which ranks second to the 1944 Army team for best ever. It remains one of the most prolific offenses the football world has ever seen.
"It was something that we all kind of fell in love with," Ware recalls. "It became a niche across the nation that when you talk about the University of Houston, the first thing you thought of was the run-and-shoot. Being a part of that and playing on a team that made that happen was kind of special. The attitude we took going into games was that nobody could stop us; only we could stop ourselves. We poured our hearts into practice and into what we did offensively."
|Andre Ware set 26 NCAA passing and total offense records in 1989.|
Because the Cougars were on probation and did not play on national television, few people saw Ware play on a weekly basis. Nonetheless, he edged Indiana running back Anthony Thompson for the Heisman in one of the closest votes of all time.
On the day of the Heisman presentation, Ware was busy torching one more opponent, Rice. In the locker room, he and his teammates celebrated the award.
"I don't know if you can put it in to words," Ware says. "It was such a fantastic honor. It kind of gets you speechless when you talk about what it means to you. More so it meant a lot to the guys I played with because we couldn't go to a bowl that season. Late in the season, you could see guys playing their hearts out because if there was recognition, it was almost like the whole team was playing for it."
Ware chose to turn pro after his junior year, and was drafted in the first round by the run-and-shoot Detroit Lions, who were one of only three teams in the league (Houston and Atlanta as well) trying to reinvent offense.
"I think at that point, the NFL wasn't willing to change," Ware says. "Now you see a lot of teams go to four and five wide sets a lot. Back then, there were one or two teams that ran a version of it. Now you see it everywhere."
Ware spent four years with Detroit, playing 14 games and starting six. His best stretch came late in the '92 season when the Lions were out of the playoffs, and he won two of three games. His only loss came on Monday Night Football when he almost led an upset of San Francisco.
After spending a few winters in the CFL, Ware tried to return to the NFL by playing with the Berlin Thunder in NFL Europe, but fractured his shoulder in the fifth game. After two days of training camp with the Oakland Raiders, he officially retired.
"My time was served there," says Ware. "I made the most of what I could under the circumstances. Looking back on it, there might be a few things that you would like to see have happened differently, but for the most part, I am fine with the way things are."
Retired from football, Ware is still involved with his alma mater, and his name was mentioned as a possible replacement when head coach Kim Helton was fired by Houston last year.
"When you are asked, of course you are interested," Ware says. "And I think it is because you are concerned with the condition the program is in and has been for the last seven years. Of course if you can help in any way, shape or form, you want to see the program do well.
"I certainly wouldn't turn my back on the idea or possibility of that some day, that it might be something I would like to do. I love the game, I love teaching the game, I love helping players get to a level that they want to play at, I like to motivate. It's something that fits all of those profiles."
In addition to watching his Cougars, Andre is a partner with a computer company, N3 Consulting. He still remains in Houston, where he lives with his wife, Donya, who he started dating early in his NFL career.
While Ware did not excel in the NFL as he did in college, memories of Ware directing the run-and-shoot continues to remain firmly in college football lore.
Mike Diegnan is the editor of BCSfootball.com.
|Andre Ware smiles with his Heisman Trophy.|