Flashback: The Hunt for the Heisman Begins

The 2012 Brigham Young Cougars don’t have any players garnering serious Heisman talk going into the season. Neither did the 1962 Cougars. At season’s end, however, one BYU player was in the Heisman discussion.

Fifty years ago, BYU fantasized of winning seasons and beating Utah. In its 40 year history, BYU had won less than 42 percent of its games. You could count on one hand the total number of games that BYU had won the last two seasons. In this respect, the 1962 season was just more of the same. BYU lost to Utah 35-20, and finished with just a 4-6 record.

In other respects, the 1962 season was unlike any that came before. It was the year that BYU’s hunt for the Heisman Trophy began.

Senior tailback Eldon Fortie came out of the blue to lead the nation in total offense for the first eight weeks of the season. He would finish second in the nation with 1,963 yards. He was also the nation’s second leading rusher with 1,149 yards, and did it with an impressive 5.8 average yards per carry.

It was a 272-yard rushing performance in game three against George Washington on September 29 that catapulted Fortie to top of the national charts. His 272 yards was a BYU single-game record that still stands today.

BYU may not have been winning many games, but Fortie was scoring points. He finished fifth in the nation with 86 points from 14 touchdowns and two extra points.

Fortie was instrumental in BYU upsetting the WAC leading New Mexico Lobos. New Mexico came to town with a 5-1-1 record. Behind Fortie’s 232 total yards, two touchdown passes, and a 5-yard touchdown run, the Cougars scored a 27-0 win over the eventual WAC Champions giving the Lobos their only loss in WAC play.

As the tailback in BYU’s single wing offense, Fortie was the Cougars’ primary passer as well. He completed 43 of 100 pass attempts on the season for 814 yards, 7 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions.

Fortie’s play 50 years ago was easily the best season by any BYU Cougar in the history of the program. He was the first 1,000 yard rusher in school history. He was the first player to be first-team All-American.

On November 27, 1962, Fortie became the first BYU player to receive votes for the Heisman Trophy. It was 64 votes, to be exact: 25 first place votes, 22 second place votes, and 17 third place votes. His 136 points was good enough for 10th place.

It was a groundbreaking achievement. BYU and Heisman could now be mentioned in the same sentence.

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