If Heismans could talk: Strange stories about what where trophies wind up

Who will win the Heisman? (2:55)

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Matt Leinart can't remember the last time he saw his Heisman Trophy.

He knows exactly where it is, but it's been years since he picked up the award that he won at USC in 2004.

"It's at my parents' house in a closet," Leinart said. "It's tucked away in the corner. I think a towel is covering it."

Leinart's parents live in Santa Ana, California, about 40 miles from his home in Manhattan Beach. While the former quarterback has a small area in his den dedicated to photos and mementos from his playing career, his most significant prize has remained hidden for much of the past decade. He has only taken it out to bring to kids' camps and other public appearances.

"I'm just not the type of guy to have my Heisman Trophy displayed as soon as you walk into my house," he said. "I like to keep it tucked away. It's hibernating."

While it might seem odd to keep the nation's most recognizable individual sports trophy out of sight, Leinart isn't alone in doing so. There have been 80 Heismans delivered to players, and each has a story -- but it's not always glamorous.

The Heisman Trophy has been awarded to college football's top player every year since University of Chicago running back Jay Berwanger won it in 1935, when it was called the Downtown Athletic Club Trophy. It was renamed the next year following the death of John Heisman, a college coaching pioneer and the club's first athletic director. Berwanger's trophy once was used as a doorstop, but it now is on display at the Gerald Ratner Athletics Center at his alma mater.

Some Heisman winners keep their trophy with their parents until they get a place of their own -- or longer. Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Sam Bradford's Heisman is displayed in his home office in Oklahoma City, but it was with his parents for years after he won it at Oklahoma in 2008.

"My mom put it in the middle of the dining room table," Bradford said. "It stayed there for a while. It had some decorations around it and things. When she got tired of it, she gave it back to me."

Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer, who won the Heisman at USC in 2002, said his trophy has been in a box inside a storage room at his home in Del Mar, California, for the past decade. Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton's Heisman has been at his parents' home in suburban Atlanta since he won it at Auburn in 2010. Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota, last year's Heisman winner, keeps his trophy in a storage locker, but he plans to have it displayed in his parents' new house.

Eric Crouch still has his Heisman in the steel case it came in back in 2001.

"I like to preserve it a little bit," Crouch said. "I've never displayed it. Each year, I think displaying it interests me a little bit more and more. I just battle with where I'd put it. Do I put it in the living room? Does it go in an office?"

Crouch is one of only three quarterbacks in FBS history to rush for 3,000 yards and pass for 4,000 yards, but nothing from his Nebraska playing days is on display at his home in Omaha.

"If you came to my house, you'd never even probably know that I've ever played a down of football," Crouch said. "It's all family pictures. I've just never been one to display all my stuff that I've won over the years.

"I think it's an awesome award and achievement and a great fraternity of people. I don't want it to sound like I'm not proud. I'm extremely proud. But I guess I don't have a really good place to put it right now that I feel comfortable with."

Jim Plunkett's Heisman spent some time at his mother's house after he won it at Stanford in 1970, but it hasn't stayed out of sight. It's been on display at the Pro Football Hall of Fame for the past year after originally being sent there for Hispanic Heritage Month. It will head to the San Francisco Bay Area next month to be displayed at the NFL Experience during Super Bowl week and then eventually return to Plunkett's home in Atherton, California.

"We have a little trophy area in the house," Plunkett said. "It's all glass and mirrors, but over the years the kids' trophies have taken over and mine are in the background. It was in my mom's house for a long time after I won it, but I displayed it after we remodeled the house"

The Heisman Trust commissions two bronze trophies each year, one for the winner and one for his school. While players can have a hard time deciding what to do with their 45-pound statues, colleges often erect shrines for their copies.

No school has a more interesting Heisman tale than USC.

The centerpiece of a $35 million renovation of USC's Heritage Hall last year is a kneeling Trojan surrounded by six Heismans. USC used to have seven trophies, of course; and one that remains is a replacement copy.

Reggie Bush was the seventh Trojan to win a Heisman in 2005, but an investigation later found that the running back and his family received gifts from agents while he was at USC, violating NCAA rules. As part of the sanctions handed down in 2010, the NCAA ordered the school to disassociate itself from the Bush. That included returning the trophy, which was done after the Heisman Trust sent USC a steel case normally used to deliver the award.

"We had received the case so many times with the trophy in it, but this time we received an empty case and had to put Reggie's trophy in it and send it back to them," USC sports information director Tim Tessalone said. "It was very unceremonious. That was the last we've seen of it. I don't know what's become of it."

Bush, who in the wake of the scandal decided to forfeit his Heisman, was sent a similar steel case, although he took his time -- about two years -- before sending it back. The returned trophies now sit in storage units outside New York City, according to Heisman Trust spokesman Tim Henning.

Years before the Bush brouhaha at USC, there was the O.J. Simpson saga. The running back was ordered to sell his 1968 Heisman to help cover the $33.5 million judgment against him in the 1997 wrongful death civil suit brought by the families of Nicole Simpson and Ronald Goldman. Philadelphia businessman Tom Kriessman spent $255,000 to buy it at auction in 1999.

That happened after the school's copy of Simpson's Heisman was stolen from its Heritage Hall display case in 1994, about a month after Simpson's ex-wife and her friend were murdered. The Heisman Trust provided USC with a replacement, which is part of the school's current shrine. The stolen Heisman was finally recovered last year. No arrest has been made for its theft, but the California man who tried to sell it in December 2014 was arrested in September on suspicion of receiving stolen property.

"The trophy was in several pieces," Tessalone said. "The base, the statue and the nameplate were separated, so it was in three pieces. The story of where that trophy has been is pretty amazing. I can't really talk about it now, because it's still an ongoing investigation and an open case, but the trophy was in fairly good condition considering the places it had been. I'll leave it at that."

Simpson is one of five Heisman winners whose trophies were auctioned off between 1999 and 2005. The statues won by Larry Kelley (1936), Bruce P. Smith (1941), Charles White (1979) and Paul Hornung (1956) also were sold in public auctions, with the winning bids ranging from $184,000 for White's to $395,000 for Smith's. Don't expect to see any recent recipients try to turn their trophies into cash, however.

"New winners have to sign an agreement stating that they understand they cannot sell their trophies," Henning said. "This agreement has been in place for about 10 years."

The story of the next Heisman Trophy will begin on Saturday night, when the award will go to either Alabama running back Derrick Henry, Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson or Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey.

Not surprisingly, past Heisman recipients -- who get a vote in deciding each new winner -- often pull for their alma mater's candidate. Bradford voted for Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield, who is not a finalist. Plunkett, Stanford's only winner, cast his ballot for McCaffrey.

"A few years ago, I was there with Toby Gerhart and two years with Andrew Luck where we came up short," Plunkett said. "It would be great to have another player from Stanford win the Heisman Trophy and be able to relive our experiences.

"It's always fun to go back there and meet the other Heisman winners, and a lot of them have other players from their school, and it would be great to share that with Christian. It's a great fraternity to be a part of."

ESPN.com's Thomas Neumann, Paul Kuharsky, David Newton and Phil Sheridan contributed to this report.