When Sonny and Betty Detmer welcomed their first son into this world, they hoped he would be a good person, play football and love to hunt and fish.
They had no idea someday Ty Hubert Detmer would break most the passing records in the city of San Antonio and set the Texas state passing mark with 8,005 yards as a high school All-American at Southwest High. They didn't know Ty would be named the Texas High School Player of the Year as a junior. They didn’t expect that baby boy would someday win the Davey O’Brien, Sammy Baugh and Maxwell awards and be voted the winner of the coveted Heisman Trophy.
On Tuesday, their son will be inducted into the College Football Hall of fame during ceremonies in the Empire Room at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel on Park Avenue in New York City. Sonny and Betty, now in their late 60s, will have witnessed it all.
In part, the honor comes because Ty Detmer became the first college quarterback to pass for more than 15,000 yards — a feat that stood unmatched for 13 years until Hawaii’s Timmy Chang amassed 17,072 in 2004. In part, it comes because Detmer broke nearly 50 NCAA passing records at BYU including 121 career touchdown passes.
He turned out to be that good guy — a beloved teammate. He has brought down trophy deer at 600 yards and pulled 20-pound Mackinaw out of lake on a lazy Saturday morning. He owns a 1200-acre hunting ranch south of Austin, Texas, and he is a man's man.
Ty Detmer has lived a Huck Finn kind of life and been a Barnum and Bailey act in the sports world. I first spoke to Detmer after his junior year of high school in 1986. As a human being, he has not changed one iota.
If Detmer wore a sandwich board around, it would read: “I can do this.” A fierce competitor, playful jokester and loyal teammate, Detmer became a master of the games he’s played.
“I never would have predicted this,” said Detmer of his induction.
At Southwest High back in the day, he hoped he could get a college scholarship and play in the NFL someday. “All my dreams have come my way and it’s really been special. I’d never have guessed all these awards would come. You don’t dream of those kind of things, you just hope to get a chance to play at each level. It’s all been icing on the cake for me.”
Detmer is currently coaching at St. Andrews Episcopal School in Austin, Texas. At age 45, he is seven years removed from an NFL career that took him to Green Bay, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Cleveland, Detroit and the Atlanta Falcons. He and his wife Kim Detmer have four daughters: Kaili, Aubri, Mayci and Ryli.
The induction humbles him.
“At this point in your life, it’s special and you have a chance to reflect back on the coaches and players you played with and the support of BYU. It’s been a lot of fun and I’m proud to be a part of. It’s probably going to be the last thing so I’m taking it all in and enjoying it.”
Is this his last lofty award?
“You get all the awards when you are playing, then you get the high school hall of fame, your college hall of fame and now the national hall of fame, then it’s kind of run its course,” Detmer said.
Still, everywhere he’s gone the past 22 years, folks have introduced him as a Heisman Trophy winner. “It changed my life,” he says.
Former teammate, receiver Andy Boyce, had his locker next to Detmer at BYU. “He was always asking me questions about the Book of Mormon and who Nephi or Alma was, so he could pass his religion class.” Detmer joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints his junior year. “He was also a very funny guy.”
According to Boyce, oftentimes in the huddle, Detmer would change the play called by Norm Chow. “In fact, everyone knew our audibles so well that I told him we should just run a corner route when we called an audible. He said, ‘If I hit my helmet, let’s run a corner on an audible call.’ He did and we scored.”
That kind of unpredictability made Detmer hard to defend.
“Playing with him was great because you knew you were in it together and I had a tremendous confidence in him and he had the same in me. He knew I would get open and catch it. I knew he would throw it on time and accurately and wouldn’t lead me into a linebacker.”
Eric Drage, who caught 1105 yards and 12 touchdowns on Detmer passes, is BYU’s No.-9 ranked all-time receiver. Detmer’s tight end, Chris Smith, set an NCAA record for season receiving yards by a tight end from Detmer.
“Playing with Ty was awesome. You never knew what to expect both on and off the field,” Drage said.
“He was the smartest player I ever played with and his knowledge was only rivaled by possibly Norm Chow. He was by far the best leader I've ever been around. We never doubted he was going to lead us to victory, no matter how bleak it seemed.
“Remember the San Diego St. game we tied 52-52? We were down huge at halftime and he told us we were going to win the game. And we would've if coach Edwards would've had some riverboat gambler in him. Ty was a huge prankster that always kept things light during practice. He was a great player and a better person.”
A signature photo in 1990 of doctors working on his cut chin during the upset win over defending national champion Miami speaks volumes about Detmer to those who know him.
“Ty is one of the toughest guys to ever play at BYU,” claims former head trainer George Curtis, who cannot speak due to an illness but relayed his thoughts by computer on Sunday.
In the 1990 Holiday Bowl with Texas A&M, Detmer, then the Heisman winner, left the game in the second quarter with a grade-three left shoulder separation. “I found out later, it was the only time he ever left a game due to injury in his life,” Curtis said.
“We took Ty into the locker room while the game was still going on with doctors Richard and Robert Jackson and my assistant TJ Bryne. When the half ended, both doctors agreed with the field assessment and were in the process of giving him a shot of Marcaine to help with the pain.
“When halftime ended and we returned to the field, I was shocked to see Ty warming up with the team. I went over to tell him there was no way we would allow him to play.”
Apparently Detmer had worked on Chow and convinced him he was fine. “We were all in a circle, in a big debate about the pros and cons of his ability to play. There were the Jacksons, Chow, Edwards and myself. While in this discussion we heard the crowd roar. We looked to see what it was all about and there was Ty running onto the field.
“I made a big fuss about it. LaVell said to let him finish the series and we would pull him for good. About the second play, Texas A&M blitzed and sacked him and gave Ty a second AC separation on his other shoulder. Sometimes it doesn’t translate that being tough is a good thing,” Curtis said.
Curtis said he’s run the gauntlet with Ty Detmer, everything from the injury to 6 a.m. workouts and late-night discussions at his home about faith, going hunting, horseback riding, and finally the discussion, selection and marriage to his wife Kim in an LDS temple.
“To rank on my list of all-time greats, a person would need to be a record-setter, a leader of men in both deeds on and off the field, to be kind to everyone and be responsible. On my list of all-time greats, Ty Detmer would head the list with Steve Young and Chad Lewis a close second,” Curtis said.
Criticized for being undersized and of questionable arm strength his entire career, Detmer’s college career proved just the opposite.
He could do this.
And he did.
Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at [email protected].