Dick Harmon: Penn State and Miami games catapulted Ty Detmer into the national spotlight

Published: Saturday, May 19 2012 8:04 p.m. MDT

This 2003 photo provided by the NFL shows Ty Detmer wearing a Detroit Lions jersey. Heisman Trophy winner and BYU star Detmer has been selected to the College Football Hall of Fame. The National Football Foundation announced on ESPN that Detmer will be part of a class of 14 former players and three former coaches who will be inducted into the Hall of Fame in December. The rest of the class will be revealed Tuesday, May 15, 2012, in New York. (AP Photo/NFL Photos)

Associated Press

Related list: Top 10 performances of Ty Detmer's BYU football career

Editor's note: This is the last of three columns reflecting on the career of College Hall of Fame inductee Ty Detmer.

It's been 22 years since the Downtown Athletic Club gave Ty Detmer the Heisman Trophy. But Friday, after all that time, Detmer's name came up 1,292 miles from his home in Austin, Texas, inside a Chevy Tahoe in motion on I-15 near St. George — like it always does with Marc Modersitzki of Highland.

You see, on Sept. 8, 1990, Modersitzki was on an LDS mission and his future wife Marci was a junior at BYU, perched on the third row of end zone seats in what was then called Cougar Stadium in Provo to watch BYU host defending national champion Miami.

Like many that night in living rooms across the country and in the packed stadium, Bountiful's Marci Larson was interested in seeing how Detmer stacked up against Heisman Trophy favorite Craig Erickson of Miami.

Detmer led No. 16 BYU to a thrilling upset of No. 1-ranked Miami that night. When Elder Modersitzki got off his mission, Marci told him, "If Ty Detmer is available, you are out — it is over."

Back then, Marci was serious. "She told me in no uncertain terms that if Detmer was available, it would be her and Ty," said Modersitzki. "She said, 'I love you, but another has my heart.' "

Since that revelation, it's become kind of a family joke in the Modersitzki home and Marci regularly teases her husband and kids about it.

Detmer had that kind of influence on people back in the day. It was a form of Jimmermania witnessed last year around the country — especially in Utah.

"When the Heisman Trophy came on campus at the end of that year, we decided to take it on a tour around the state and let people see it, have their picture taken with it and kind of share it with fans," said Val Hale, current Utah Valley University vice president for university relations, who at the time was an associate athletic director at BYU in charge of media relations and marketing.

"We'd go to little towns all over Utah and publicize it and we'd draw a crowd. At almost every stop, there would be these little older women who'd line up and announce they were BYU's biggest fan and they'd come to see the Heisman and tell us how much they loved Ty Detmer," said Hale.

There must have been a mulligan for idol worship in Utah circa 1990-1991 — perhaps even today.

"Detmer was and is just that kind of guy — easy to like," said Hale. "I think people have always wanted to see good things come his way."

The announcement of Detmer's induction into the Hall of Fame surprised few. After 59 NCAA records and a boatload of awards, it reflected the momentum Detmer gleaned during his college career from football experts, pundits and coaches across the country.

Detmer is a man difficult to dislike — hard not to cheer for. Both now and then.

His Heisman campaign kicked off with real traction at the end of his sophomore year with a record-setting performance against Penn State in the 1989 Holiday Bowl. The late Joe Paterno had a very good defense, but Detmer amassed a bowl record 576 yards passing on 42-of-59 passes, a completion percentage of .712 with two touchdowns.

It was Paterno's liberal praise for Detmer that night in San Diego that propelled Hale with enough ammunition to create a Heisman Trophy campaign to get Detmer momentum and publicity.

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