NEW YORK -- Reggie Bush took slow, deliberate steps to the
podium -- a gear most people didn't know he had.
Then he began his acceptance speech with a huge sigh of relief
and a hand over his heart.
Bush may have been the only one in the packed room with any
doubt about who would win the Heisman Trophy because once again,
the sensational Southern California tailback left the competition
far, far behind.
Flashing uncanny acceleration and ability to change direction,
the junior has conjured up memories of Gale Sayers, drawn
comparisons to Marshall Faulk, Barry Sanders and Tony Dorsett, and
is the favorite to be the No. 1 pick in April's NFL draft.
"Oh man, this is amazing," Bush said, a row of former winners
lining the stage behind him. "It's truly an honor to be elected to
this fraternity. I've been in college for three years and it's the
first time I've been invited into a fraternity."
Bush received 2,541 points to finish 933 points ahead of Young,
with Leinart a distant third. Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn
The 784 first-place votes received by Bush was the second-most
in Heisman history, topped only by another famous USC runner -- O.J.
Simpson, who had 855 in 1968. Bush was first in all six regions and
appeared on 99 percent of the ballots, also a Heisman record.
"I was in shock because Vince Young and Matt are such great
players," Bush said.
Bush and Leinart will be the first Heisman winners to play in a
college game together when USC goes for a third straight national
title against Texas in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 4.
"It's a special opportunity," Bush said. "It'd be even more
special if we win this game."
Bush and Leinart are the third teammates to win the award in
consecutive seasons and the first since Army's Doc Blanchard and
Glenn Davis did it in 1945-46.
When Bush's name was called, he bent over in his chair, clasped
his hands and slowly headed for the podium after hugging his
mother, stepfather and brother.
Dressed in a three-piece pinstriped suit, Bush choked back tears
while thanking his family "for their unconditional love and
support throughout my life."
This year's Heisman race appeared tight for much of the season,
with Bush making a big statement in mid-October against Notre Dame.
He ran for 160 yards and three touchdowns in South Bend, and
provided the final push Leinart needed to score the winning TD in
the closing seconds of a classic 34-31 victory.
But Bush was relatively low-key after the Notre Dame game and
Young seemed to have pulled ahead, with talk that two candidates
from USC would cancel each other out.
That was until Nov. 19, when Bush left Fresno State repeatedly
grasping at air and onlookers grasping for superlatives to describe
a performance that had to be seen to be truly appreciated.
He ran for 295 yards, racked up 513 all-purpose yards -- the
second-highest total in NCAA history -- and USC escaped with a 50-42
If there was still any doubt Bush was best, he dispelled it
against UCLA, running for 260 yards and two touchdowns in a 66-19
victory. Only the lopsided score kept Bush from doing even more
Asked for a Heisman moment from the season, Bush said, "I don't
think I can pick one."
Of course not. He's already ripped off 36 plays of at least 20
yards this season.
As the Trojans completed another perfect regular season, it
seemed a foregone conclusion Bush would become the fifth USC
tailback to win the Heisman, following Mike Garrett, Simpson,
Charles White and Marcus Allen.
The 200-pounder from Spring Valley, Calif., just outside of San
Diego, ran for 1,658 yards this season, a dizzying average of 8.9
yards per carry, while leading the nation in all-purpose yards with
217.9 per game.
USC now has produced seven Heisman winners, matching the record
held by Notre Dame, and an unprecedented three in four years,
starting with quarterback Carson Palmer in 2002.
Now Bush will have to make the kind of decision Leinart did last
season: Stay in school or go.
Leinart surprised many by returning to USC for his senior year
when he could have entered the NFL draft and become an instant
"Matt, what more can I say?" Bush said. "Your decision to
come back has changed my life."
By staying, Leinart made a run at joining Ohio State's Archie
Griffin as the only other two-time Heisman winner, and helped USC
extend its winning streak to 34 straight games, heading into the
Leinart said he voted for Bush first, Young second and left his
third-place vote blank.
"I knew I was going to get third," Leinart said. "I wanted to
go on stage as a past winner because I knew I wasn't going to win.
The right guy won."
Bush has said he'll decide about the NFL after the BCS title
Young, also a junior, appears to have a bright NFL future,
though he isn't quite the can't-miss prospect Bush and Leinart have
Young said he intends to stay at Texas for another year -- and
perhaps another shot at the Heisman.
"Right now, I feel like I let my guys down," Young said.
"Right now, I feel like I let my family down."
Bush's career has been in a steady ascent since he arrived at
USC. He rushed for 537 yards as a freshman and 908 as a sophomore,
when he finished fifth in the Heisman voting.
Heading into the 2005 season, Bush was determined to show he was
more than just a scatback with fancy moves. He worked out with San Diego Chargers star LaDainian Tomlinson, harder than he's ever
He returned to school bigger and stronger and, on a team filled
with All-Americans, became the No. 1 attraction in the nation.