The first time Sonny Demter knew was in 1980, when his oldest son, Ty, went to Dallas with his San Antonio YMCA little league football team.

The opponent was a Dallas team that was undefeated and unscored-on all season. Undaunted, Ty's team scored 35 points on the way to a 35-0 road win. Ty threw five touchdown passes and, as Sonny recalls, "he threw a total of 11 passes and completed nine of them and the other two were dropped.""Anyway," said Sonny, continuing, "on one of the touchdowns, he dropped the pass in over a defensive back who was right on top of the receiver. He just lobbed it over the top. I'm sitting in the stands watching and I'm thinking, `I've got high school quarterbacks who wouldn't even think to throw that pass.' So after the game I said to Ty, `What about that pass?' And he said, `Well, the defensive back was tight so I had to lay it in there.' "He'd done it on purpose! I said right then, `Wherever he plays, I'm coaching him."'

Since they lived in the same house, that proved to be no problem. When Ty got to high school at San Antonio's Southwest High, he indeed played for his father/coach. They won more than 80 percent of their games as Ty dropped in passes all over Texas. That won him a fullride scholarship to Brigham Young University, where he proceeded to drop in so many passes they gave him the Heisman Trophy.

And if that isn't storybook enough, on Thursday night, when they held the ceremony in New York to give Ty Detmer his Heisman Trophy, they drove Sonny to the banquet in a limo that he shared with football legends Jim Brown and Jim Taylor.

"I'm having a hard time believing all this," said Sonny. "I have a golf ball in my throat."

Even though he knew he had a natural on his hands almost a decade ago, he still couldn't quite believe it had come to this.

All the perserverance, all the hard work, all the practice - all that had paid off. Had it ever.

There had been a time, and not long ago, when there was a question just how happy the endings were going to be. Ty had gone off to BYU, where he was redshirted his freshman year and was then placed behind Sean Covey, the junior starter, on the quarterback depth chart.

And Sonny had been fired by Southwest High.

His teams had gone 12-1 and 7-3 during Ty's junior and senior seasons, and the Dragons had gone 7-3 the year after Ty left. But Southwest was upgrading from 4A to 5A status, and several members of the school board wanted a coaching change.

They came up with five reasons why Sonny Detmer should be relieved of his coaching duties.

"Four of them weren't true, and the fifth was because I played for him," remembers Ty.

Remembers Betty Detmer, Ty's mother and Sonny's wife, "They felt like Ty had gotten too much attention - and their kids hadn't. It was a political thing."

Sonny took a job offer in Arizona. After one season there he moved back to Texas, to the town of Mission, where he took over as coach of the Mission High School Eagles, a 5A school. He started his second son, Koy, at quarterback. Koy proceeded to throw for even more yards than his famous brother, and at last report, the Eagles were one of four teams left in the race for the 1990 Texas 5A state championship.

On Thursday, Sonny left his team long enough to fly to New York. It isn't everyday your son wins the Heisman Trophy.

"He never says anything about what happened at Southwest," said Ty as he waited for his dad, flanked by Brown and Taylor, to drive in from the airport. "That's his way."

Nor is it Ty's way to dwell on the past or the negatives, either. But he does admit, "I got some congratulations from a lot of those people at Southwest. I don't accept those."

"Aw, you go through that kind of stuff every place," said Sonny. "I don't think anyone (at Southwest) doubted that he should have been our quarterback; they just wanted more attention for their own kids."

Still, Southwest's firing is destined to take its place alongside the most ill-advised coaching changes in Texas football history. Hindsight ensures that. The coach they questioned has gone on to pound on the door of the Texas state championship, led by yet another quarterback/son who has The Knack.

And the quarterback they questioned? He's one of 56 players to win the Heisman Memorial Trophy as the best college football player in America.

"I owe a lot to my dad," said Ty as he tucked his Heisman under his arm Thursday night. "He turned me loose when I was young and let me play. He didn't let me get burned out on football. I've heard all the war stories about parents who overdo it. With me, it was just the opposite. My dad couldn't have been better."

"I've always thought kids ought to be kids and play football as a game," said Sonny. "When it stops being a game, they should stop playing. Ty always played it as a game. He still is. He's just blessed that he can do it so well. He has something special."

The Heisman knows it now. Sonny Detmer knew it a decade ago in Dallas.