It had all the makings of an exciting election night.
The polls showed the candidates neck and neck. Controversy swirled amid last-minute attacks and endorsements. Political ads and posturing threatened to carry more weight than the candidates' real achievements. And then the press gathered to watch the results.
And the winner was: Ty Detmer, first-ever BYU, WAC or Mountain Time Zone football player to win the Heisman Trophy.I'm mainly a political reporter and felt out of place at first covering a "sports event" like the Heisman announcement. But all the real Deseret News sports writers who cover BYU were in Hawaii with the team. I was a three-hour train ride away in Washington, so the assignment was mine.
And I found that politics is good training for covering the Heisman, its hype and second-guessing. In fact, maybe future Heisman candidates and their school's sports information directors should take a political science class or two in campaign politics.
Or maybe they already have.
Anyway, from a political perspective, Detmer won for the most basic and deserving of reasons: He convinced more voters that he was the most qualified.
But he had to overcome some major obstacles presented by the built-in political advantages of his oponents, such as:
REGIONAL FAVORITISM - In presidential politics, conventional wisdom is that candidates from small states can't win because they can't beat the favorite sons of heavily populated areas and their numerous votes.
Ditto for Heisman contenders.
They are elected by 917 sports journalists and former Heisman winners. The entire state of Utah has only a few more votes than just the University of Notre Dame has itself with its seven former Heisman winners - all of whom voted for Notre Dame's Raghib Ismail.
The only way to overcome that is to impress or excite voters enough for them to overlook regional ties, such as Detmer did by destroying all the records set by the previous Heisman winner, Houston's Andre Ware.
TV EXPOSURE - Modern candidates for major political office swear that winning elections is impossible without TV ads. Ditto again for Heisman contenders. The networks may not call their games of the week or highlight films advertisements, but they are in the Heisman race.
And Notre Dame's games are on television virtually every week. Teams from the Big 10, Pac 10, SEC, SWC and Big 8 are also either on television every week or have their game highlights prominently featured, while WAC scores often are flashed only as a segueway to commercials.
Detmer solved that this year by showing in the early game against Miami that he was a legitimate Heisman contender - on a TV game likely broadcast more for Miami fans. Detmer made people want to see him. Networks like to show games and highlights that people want to see - and Detmer gained sufficient coverage.
He kept it every week with consistent performances - such as always extending his streak of games with more than 300 yards passing, which now stands at 24.
PAID POLITICAL ADS - Money or powerful friends can make otherwise weak to mediocre political campaigns go far. Ditto once more for Heisman politics.
The University of Virginia spent $12,000 on ads and other material it sent to Heisman voters promoting quarterback Shawn Moore, who finished fourth. He had some fine numbers, including ranking No. 1 in passing efficiency.
But the ads and a few good numbers weren't enough to overcome bad press from jittery and losing performances against Georgia Tech and especially Maryland.
Notre Dame officially spent tiny amounts promoting Ismail. But it brought out big guns such as former Heisman winner Paul Hornung (who won even though his team was only 2-8) to claim Ismail is the best player ever.
And more papers probably carried Notre Dame Coach Lou Holtz's statement that they should quit giving the Heisman if Ismail didn't win than whatever George Bush said the same day.
But the posturing rang hollow because, as exciting as Ismail may be, he only ranked ninth in all-purpose yardage. Ismail suffered the fate of many politicians who sound good and have great promises but don't quite deliver.
BYU spent about $1,000 on Detmer's campaign, according to its sports information office. That included sending cardboard ties last year asking sports writers to watch the Holiday Bowl, another tie this year with Ty's statistics and one final follow-up statistics postcard. It got his message across.
In the end, Detmer matched rhetoric with results and did it better than any of the other top contenders - even with the lousy game against Hawaii just hours after he won the award.
He still passed for more yards in a season than anyone else ever has - 5,187. He has now extended to 24 his number of consecutive games over 300 yards passing (doubling the old record).
Voters like results. Words alone are not enough. Detmer used just enough words to show that he deserved to win - and voters rewarded him with a large, solid margin.