Flashback: Ty Detmer Wins The Heisman Trophy (1990)

Exactly 20 years ago, today, Brigham Young Cougars quarterback Ty Detmer filled the only hole in the BYU Quarterback Factory’s resume. BYU had quarterbacks who were All-Americans, record setters, Sammy Baugh and Davey O’Brien award winners, a national championship winner, NFL first round draft picks, and even a Super Bowl winner. Yet, none of them had brought home the Heisman.

Detmer finished 9th in the balloting as a sophomore. He immediately started campaigning for the award the next year by passing for 576 yards in the Holiday Bowl against independent giant Penn State. Heisman voters took notice. Poll voters helped the cause when they voted the Miami Hurricanes the preseason number one in 1990. The Hurricanes were scheduled to come to Provo on September 8. BYU sent out thousands of blue ties to Heisman voters and media members that cited “5 Reasons the Heisman Should End in a Ty.”

The groundwork had been laid. All that was left was for Detmer to show, on the field, how outstanding he was.

The first, and biggest, high profile game was the match up with #1 Miami. Not only did Detmer get the signature win that he needed, he had two Heisman moments during the game. The first came with less than two minutes to play in the first half. Miami had just scored to go ahead 14-10. Detmer marched the Cougars down the field in a perfectly executed two minute drill. With 10 seconds left, Detmer rolled right and found Andy Boyce in the back of the end zone to put BYU up 17-14. The second Heisman moment came on the game winning touchdown. It was a play that could not be choreographed any better. Detmer was about to become the meat in a Hurricane sack-wich, but he danced out of both defenders’ grasp and found Mike Salido coming out of the backfield. Detmer finished the game 38-54, 406 yards, and 3 TDs with 1 interception. To further his cause, Detmer had out played Miami’s Heisman hopeful Craig Erickson.

The Miami game catapulted Detmer to the front of the pack. ABC helped keep Detmer visible to Heisman voters, at least those in the West, by regionally broadcasting the games against San Diego State (26-38, 514 yards, 3 TDs, in a 62-34 win) and Oregon (33-57, 442 yards, 2 TD, 5 Int., in a 32-16 loss). Fortunately, for Detmer, the Oregon game came early enough in the year that BYU would climb back to number 4 in the polls when the Heisman was awarded. It also gave Detmer time to do enough damage control to overcome those 5 interceptions against the Ducks.

The big concern going into the Heisman ceremony was that in his last chance to impress voters, Detmer threw another 5 interceptions against Utah State. This time, however, Detmer mitigated those picks by throwing 5 touchdown passes. He also passed for 560 yards and broke the single season passing yardage record set by 1989 Heisman Trophy winner Andre Ware. BYU also won 45-10.

BYU was scheduled to play in Hawaii the same day that the winner would be announced from the Downtown Athletic Club in New York City. With coaches, teammates, and even Athletic Director Glen Tuckett surrounding him poolside at the Princess Kaiulani Hotel, Detmer was the only one plugged in with an audio feed of the awards ceremony. When it was announced that the most outstanding player for 1990 was “Ty Detmer, Ty Detmer of BYU,” Detmer pumped his fist and mumbled, “We got it.” Pandemonium ensued.

Detmer’s main competition in 1990 was the electrifying Notre Dame return man and wide receiver Raghib "Rocket" Ismail. After the announcement was made, and the votes were revealed, Detmer had won by a comfortable margin 1,482 to 1,177. He placed first in all six regions of the country.

All those who preceded Detmer could claim a part in this monumental achievement. They all helped pave the way. Gifford Nielsen was running away with the award before getting injured in 1977. Jim McMahon was more than outstanding, he was spectacular, in 1980, but still finished 5th. Steve Young wound up 2nd to Mike Rozier, who later admitted to receiving illegal benefits. A #1 ranking was only good enough to get Robbie Bosco a 3rd place finish. Virgil Carter, Gary Sheide, and Marc Wilson also received votes for the Heisman.

It was the final feather in the cap for Quarterback U. The quarterback position at BYU had reached the summit of Mount Everest, and Detmer had distinguished himself as not just a great BYU quarterback. He was the most outstanding player in the nation.

Links for Ty Detmer and the Heisman:
BYU Media Guide
Official Heisman Trophy Website
Sports Illustrated Article

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