Top 10 Ty Detmer Moments: #1-Winning the Heisman Trophy

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When December 1, 1990, arrived, Brigham Young Cougars fans had harbored serious Heisman hopes for 14 years. Gifford Nielsen, another quarterback who wore number 14, finished 6th in Heisman voting in 1976. Nielsen tore up the competition during the final seven games that season, and it was very clear that he would be a top contender for the Heisman next year. Sure enough, Nielsen picked up in 1977 where he left off in 1976. Four games into the season, however, Nielsen suffered a season ending knee injury.

Ever since that time, the BYU quarterback was a perennial Heisman hopeful. None, however, was able to bring the Heisman home.

As is the case for many Heisman winners, Detmer started his bid for the bronze statue a year early. He had gotten his name out nationally with a sensational sophomore season. In fact, although he started the season unknown, his play had garnered enough attention to finish 9th in Heisman voting. BYU wrapped up 1989 in the Holiday Bowl against the Penn State Nittany Lions. Penn State was Linebacker U and had built a reputation of always fielding one of the best defenses in the nation. After Detmer tamed the Nittany Lions to the tune of 576 yards passing while completing 71% of his throws, he was on the 1990 short list of Heisman trophy candidates.

Detmer separated himself from the lead group two weeks into the 1990 season when he dissected the #1 ranked Miami Hurricanes defense on ESPN. This win alone was probably enough for Detmer to win the Heisman.

Not one to be complacent, Detmer beefed up his resume with the already documented Washington State comeback, with 514 yards and a 208.1 pass efficiency rating in the San Diego State game broadcast on ABC, and with plenty of style points along the way.

Nevertheless, when the day came, the Cougar faithful were not taking anything for granted. They knew the uphill battle that BYU quarterbacks faced when it came to the Heisman. Detmer’s main competition was the electrifying Raghib “Rocket” Ismail from Notre Dame. Ismail was a wide receiver and return specialist. Just three years earlier, Fighting Irish wide receiver and return specialist Tim Brown won Notre Dame’s seventh Heisman Trophy. You know what they say about history, that it tends to repeat itself.

On this day, history was not repeated; it was made. When the magic words were uttered, “Ty Detmer, Ty Detmer of BYU,” Detmer became BYU’s first Heisman Trophy winner. He also became the first player from the Rocky Mountain region to win. Detmer brought a Heisman to BYU before Big 8 school Colorado and Pac-10 schools Arizona and Arizona State.

The voting wasn’t very close, either. Detmer received 1,482 points to Ismail’s 1,177. Detmer was the leading vote getter in all six voting regions.

Sports Illustrated put Detmer on the cover of its December 10 issue, another historic first. BYU had never been the cover story of the nation’s leading sports magazine.

Detmer exonerated the ghosts of all the past BYU quarterbacks who had paved the way, but came up short themselves. The one remaining hole in the BYU quarterback factory’s resume was filled.

Later in the day, Detmer explained that he would rather win a national championship than the Heisman Trophy. While that should be every player’s preference, the truth is it is easier to win a national championship than to win the Heisman Trophy. Winning the Heisman Trophy is the most difficult thing to do in college football, and Ty Detmer did it.

Detmer was the most outstanding football player in 1990, and winning the Heisman was the most outstanding moment in his monumental BYU career.

Ty’s Take
If anything, I was happy for LaVell Edwards and happy for the program. There have been a lot of guys who were close—2nd place and 3rd place. I was excited that finally the program had gotten the attention. I was excited for all the guys who had come before who probably should have won it, but didn’t, and the fact that I was able to carry the torch for them.

10. The Essence of Ty Detmer
9. BYU Retires Ty Detmer's Jersey
8. Down, But Never Out
7. Unstoppable and Unprecedented
6. First Career Start
5. Final Home Game
4. Winning The Starting Quarterback Job
3. Joining the BYU Quarterback Club
2. Beating the Best--#1 Miami
1. Winning the Heisman Trophy

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  1. Just curios, why do you say that winning the Heisman is harder than winning a National Championship?

  2. Good question. First, there is the obvious that each year one heisman goes to one player, while one national championship goes to 100 players.

    The other reason I made the statement was that more schools have won the national championship than schools that have had the Heisman Trophy winner. I don't have the exact numbers with me, but I think it was somehting like 49 to 42.


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