Detmer's Magic Won Him Heisman

Winner in 1990's run to award began with upset of Miami

Sept. 12, 2007

By Adam Caparell



Adam is's football editor and national football writer.
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Growing up in San Antonio, Ty Detmer understood the importance of football.


It was impossible not to know in Texas where football is king and all other sports take a back seat. Detmer knew it as well as anyone, knew the history, knew the tradition, even as he lettered in other sports during his high school days, ranging from golf to track.


And being the football player he was, the Texas Player of the Year in 1986 and an avid Roger Staubach fan, Detmer knew all about the Heisman Trophy, even though winning the most prestigious individual award in sports seemed like nothing more than a pipe dream.




"It's something growing up that was so far out there," Detmer said.


Little did he know back in San Antonio that his dream would become reality.


Thanks to a magical junior campaign at BYU that saw Detmer set 42 individual NCAA records, the skinny quarterback from Southwest High School walked away with the 1990 Heisman Trophy, the 56th winner of the illustrious award.


Throwing for 5,188 yards and 41 touchdowns, and leading the Cougars to a 10-3 record, Detmer put together one of the greatest statistical Heisman seasons ever and it all started in a most unexpected way.


After opening the season with a mundane 30-10 victory over UTEP in El Paso, next on the schedule for the Cougars were the defending national champs.


The Miami Hurricanes were the rulers of college football in the 1980s, winning three national championships and after their 11-1 1989 title-winning campaign, the Canes were scheduled to play the Cougars in the second game of the `90 season.


The Hurricanes came into the game as the No. 1 team in the nation and the decided favorite. Entering Cougar Stadium as cocky as can be, Detmer recalls, the Hurricanes jumped out to an early lead, ahead by seven heading into the second quarter.


Then Detmer and the Cougars exploded.


He orchestrated three scoring drives in the second quarter, two of which culminated in touchdown passes. He darted the Hurricanes defenders, escaped seemingly impossible pressures time and time again, but still took a few bone-jarring hits.


Being the top team they were, Miami would eventually claw its way back to pull ahead by four. That's when Detmer went back to work, driving the Cougars down the field for two more scores -- a 29-yard field goal and a seven-yard TD pass coupled with a converted two point conversion -- and the defense did its job the rest of the way. When the final whistle blew, BYU had one of the biggest wins in its proud football history in front of a stadium record 66,235 at the time.


 "That was what college football was all about," Detmer said.


Detmer finished the game throwing for 406 yards and three touchdowns and his Heisman campaign was born that evening. But as quickly as it started, it was nearly derailed the following week when Washington State visited.


In front of the home crowd, the Cougars found themselves staring at a 29-7 hole entering halftime. Things didn't get much better in the third quarter, even though the Cougars had cut the lead to 15.


After a relatively lackluster start, a start so bad that he barely remembers the game, Detmer became a different player in the fourth quarter. He threw three straight touchdown passes, including a 32-yard completion, and just like that BYU had come away with a 14-point victory. They had outscored Washington State by 29 points in the fourth quarter alone as Detmer led his team on five different scoring drives in the quarter.


"We came out a little flat because we had just beaten Miami the week before and to be able to overcome that was a great testament to our team," Detmer said.


He had thrown for 448 yards and five touchdowns as the hoopla surrounding the junior sensation began to reach unheard of proportions. From there on out, the pressure mounted each week as everyone became aware of Detmer's candidacy.


"The team was really rooting for me to have good games," Detmer said. "The defense would come off the field and say, `Hey, you've got to throw another [touchdown].'"


Detmer would go on to lead his team to victories in all but two of his team's final nine regular season games and become the first BYU player in a long line of greats BYU quarterbacks -- like Steve Young, who had finished second in 1983 to Nebraska's Mike Rozier, and Jim McMahon, who had finished third behind USC's Marcus Allen in1981 -- to take home the Heisman.


"I felt like those guys had paved the way for me and put BYU on the map and kind of gave credibility to the program," Detmer said.


Detmer took his trophy and led his team to the Holiday Bowl where they would lose thanks in large part to him injuring his shoulders. Spurning convention, Detmer decided to stick around for his senior season rather than head to the NFL and the expectations for him and his team were through the roof. He knew it would be nearly impossible to live up to them.


"What are you going to do to top that?" Detmer said.


And on top of it all, during that offseason there were some major changes in his life. He had reached a point in where it was time to start making decisions about what he wanted out of his life, what kind of man he wanted to be, how he wanted to be looked at. Never to be confused for some dumb jock, there were other things Detmer placed importance on besides football and just months after the end of the season he converted to Mormonism and got married.


His perspectives had drastically changed and that helped him through a difficult beginning to his senior season. 


"What's inside of your football family and your family is all that's important," Detmer said.


So when BYU stumbled to an 0-3 start in the 1991 season, as Cougars fans expected gaudy stats and big wins from Detmer, the criticism and name calling didn't get to him. People were calling him soft now that he was a Mormon, and some said he was undeserving of the Heisman Trophy.


But stronger than it all, Detmer persevered and ended up leading the Cougars to an 8-3-2 record and a return to the Holiday Bowl. As much as anything, winning the Heisman Trophy a year earlier helped Detmer through that rough stretch.


"You learn to have confidence in yourself no matter what people say." Detmer said.


And now that he's 18 years removed from winning the Heisman, Detmer can appreciate the award even more. It has opened innumerable doors for him, both personally and professionally. But more than any fame or fortune it has helped him achieve, it is the tradition and distinguished fraternity that he is forever a part of that sticks with Detmer the most.


"To say you're associated with that is just truly an honor," he said.