Surprise, surprise! Heisman Trophy goes to Charles Woodson

Published: Sunday, Dec. 14 1997 12:00 a.m. MST

Charles Woodson came up with the interception of a lifetime Saturday night - the Heisman Trophy.

Woodson, Michigan's All-American cornerback who also starred as a wide receiver and punt returner, made Heisman history as he became the first primarily defensive player to win college football's most prestigious award.In one of the biggest surprises in the 63-year history of the Heisman, Woodson won over Tennessee quarterback Peyton Manning, who had become the preseason favorite for the trophy when he announced last spring he was returning for his senior season.

"This will be with me the rest of my life," Woodson said at the Downtown Athletic Club. "I was sitting in that chair and saying to myself, `Do I really have a shot?' "

While Manning threw for 3,819 yards, 36 touchdowns and led the third-ranked Vols (11-1) to the Southeastern Conference title and an Orange Bowl, the Heisman voters chose Woodson, who went from sublime to sensational whenever Michigan was on national TV.

Woodson's dominance in the Wolverines' 20-14 win over Ohio State on Nov. 22 may have been the Heisman clincher. He intercepted a pass in the end zone to stop a Buckeyes' scoring threat, caught a 37-yard pass to set up Michigan's first touchdown and then broke open a tight defensive struggle with a 78-yard punt return for a score - his fourth TD of the season.

After the TD, Woodson looked as if he were ready to strike the Heisman pose, but he was swarmed by celebrating teammates.

When asked if he'd like another shot at it after winning the Heisman, Woodson said "I'd love to strike the pose." And he did.

He also struck a decisive blow for defense.

"Defensive players can now go out and play their games," Woodson said. "This has opened doors."

The closest a defensive player had come to winning was in 1980, when Pittsburgh defensive end Hugh Green finished second behind South Carolina running back George Rogers in 1980.

Since then, other defensive players have finished in the top five, including Marvin Jones (fourth, '92); Steve Emtman (fourth, '91); Brian Bosworth (fourth, '86); and Terry Hoage (fifth, '83).

But this year, the 6-foot-1, 198-pound Woodson came out on top - and it wasn't really close.

Woodson beat Manning by 272 points, with Washington State quarterback Ryan Leaf third, Marshall wide receiver Randy Moss fourth and Texas running back Ricky Williams fifth.

Woodson, from Fremont, Ohio, received 433 first-place votes and 1,815 points in balloting by the media and former Heisman winners.

Manning, who finished eighth last year behind winner Danny Wuerffel, had 281 first-place votes and 1,543 points.

"I'm disappointed for them (Tennessee fans)," Manning said. "I'd be less then honest if I said I didn't want to win it for them.

"I didn't know what to expect, I was excited just to be here as a candidate. I really had a lot of fun this year. I have one game left and I'm going to cherish it and cherish the days leading up to it."

Penn State running back Curtis Enis was sixth, followed by Iowa wide receiver Tim Dwight, UCLA quarterback Cade McNown, Kentucky QB Tim Couch and West Virginia running back Amos Zereoue.

In the regional breakdown, Woodson won five of the six voting regions, with Manning taking only the South.

This year, it was Woodson's turn. The former Mr. Ohio Football - he is Ross High School's all-time leading rusher with 3,861 yards - had seven interceptions, caught 11 passes for 231 yards and two TDs and scored on a 33-yard reverse and his punt return.

Woodson became the third Michigan player to win the Heisman. Desmond Howard won in 1991 and Tom Harmon won the award in 1940.

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