Age Only A Number

Oldest Heisman winner Weinke took different route to trophy

Oct. 31, 2007

By Adam Caparell



Adam is's football editor and national football writer.
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The transition to college is never an easy one, even for a football player. But try doing it when you're about five years older than all your teammates.


That was Chris Weinke's reality when he finally found his way to Florida State, a few years after he initially intended in 1997.


"I hadn't been to school in seven years, so that was going to be an adjustment for me," Weinke said.


Weinke was the top quarterback prospect in the country from Cretin-Derham Hall High School in Saint Paul, Minn. in 1989. Over 70 colleges were recruiting him - every major program at the time wanted Weinke to be their quarterback of the future - but he chose to head to Tallahassee and become the next golden-armed quarterback for Bobby Bowden at Florida State. Yet only four days after arriving on campus in August of 1990, he decided baseball was the way to go. Weinke signed a contract to play professionally and would spend six years in the Toronto Blue Jays organization, topping out at Triple A, before he decided to go back to school.




"I hadn't played in seven years, but I still had that itch, that football blood running through me," Weinke said. "And I felt that if I got the opportunity and I was in the right place at the right time, then things could work out."


So seven years after he found himself as a freshman at FSU, Weinke was back for good.  No longer the kid with the golden arm, Weinke was the 25 year old geezer looking to eventually take over the starting job and just fit in with his teammates.


"At first, I hung around the guys who were 5th year seniors, so they were only a couple years younger than me," Weinke said. "And so that transition was easy for me and as I continued to move up in my 2nd and 3rd year, and there was younger kids coming in, at one point, I was 27 and there were 18 year old kids."


But it didn't take long for Weinke to win over everyone on the Seminoles, from the 18-year old freshmen to his near 70-year old coach.


"Coach Bowden made a promise to me in 1990, when I came out of high school, that if I ever wanted to come back, regardless of how old I was, that he would welcome me with open arms," Weinke said. "Little did he know that I would call him seven years later at the age of 24, after not playing football and ask for that scholarship. Without hesitation, he welcomed me back and said we would love to have you and really made me feel comfortable.


And Weinke paid him back for his loyalty.


"It felt like this could possibly be an advantage for him, having an older kid come in, with a little maturity and be able to do some things that maybe an 18-year old kid wouldn't be able to do," Weinke said.


In his sophomore year, Weinke posted a 9-1 record and led FSU to the No. 2 national ranking while setting a few Florida State single season records. His junior year, he led Florida State to its second national championship and the school's first undefeated season. He returned for his senior season with expectations through the roof.


A repeat national championship was all but expected out of the Seminoles and there was plenty of Heisman Trophy hype surrounding Weinke leading into the season. Would the elder statesman of college football relish the pressure or fold under the spotlight? Fortunately for Seminoles fans, Weinke did not disappoint.


He led the nation in passing with 4,167 yards - a school record - averaging 347.3 yards per game - guiding the Seminoles to their second straight undefeated regular season. FSU was ranked No. 1 nationally in total offense and passing offense as Weinke threw 33 touchdowns passes that season, and only 11 interceptions. He had himself an impressive Heisman resume, for sure, but his age was an issue many voters could not overlook. Many were adamant that his age gave him a distinct and unfair advantage over 19, 20 and 21 year olds while Bowden staunchly defended his quarterback.


The vote was a close one - the seventh closest at the time - but when it came time to accept the award, it was Weinke who would walk up to the podium and, with all apologies to Lou Gehrig, proclaim himself the luckiest man in the world.   


"I still get goose bumps and I think that it will always be that way," Weinke said. "I remember sitting in the front row with LaDainian Tomlinson, Drew Brees and Josh Heupel, and prior to them making the announcement, I can remember feeling my right foot start shaking and I always felt that I was on an even keel."


Nerves got to the old man as he became the oldest Heisman Trophy Winner at age 28. He waited seven long years, but came aboard Bowden's bandwagon at just the right time.


Had he entered school when was supposed to, in 1990, Weinke might not have played. A pretty good college quarterback eventually emerged under Bowden during that time. Charlie Ward not only guided Florida State to its first national championship, but of course also won the Heisman Trophy in 1993.


Weinke and Ward were recruited at the same time and maybe Weinke could have beat Ward out for the starting job or maybe he would have sat behind him his entire time in Tallahassee. Maybe he would have transferred. Maybe he would have authored a Heisman worthy season. Who knows? Weinke doesn't think about it too much, but he certainly never lacked confidence.   


"I feel like I had the ability coming out of high school," Weinke said. "And I feel like this award is so unique in terms you have to be in the right place at the right time and you have to have guys who surround you that can help you put you in that position. And we all understand as winners, this is not an individual award. This is won by obviously yourself, but the guys that surround you, and the coaching staff that surrounds you and the support that you have."


Weinke got plenty of support from Bowden and his much younger teammates who embraced his ability to win them ball games. It's a much easier transition to college seven years later when you're winning and Weinke did that better than just about anybody in Florida State history.