Chris Weinke capped a remarkable back-to-school story tonight when the 28-year-old Florida State quarterback won the Heisman Trophy in one of the closest votes in the history of the award.
Weinke, who spent six years playing minor league baseball before returning to school in 1997, finished off a record-setting season by leading the Seminoles into an Orange Bowl matchup against No. 1 Oklahoma with a chance for a second straight national championship.
“With apologies to Lou Gehrig, I feel like I’m the luckiest man in the world,” Weinke said. “I got to pursue two dreams. The first one, baseball, didn’t work out the way I would have liked. But the second one, football, did.”
When his name was called, Weinke, wearing a blue suit and silver tie and sitting next to Heupel, smiled, stood up and walked to the podium to accept the 25-pound bronze trophy.
The 6-foot-5, 229-pounder from St. Paul, Minn., led the nation with a school-record 4,167 yards passing, threw 33 touchdown passes and had only 11 interceptions. He recovered from a serious neck injury late in the ’98 season to become the Atlantic Coast Conference’s career passing leader with 9,839 yards.
Weinke edged Oklahoma quarterback Josh Heupel for college football’s most coveted individual prize by 76 points in the seventh tightest Heisman race. The closest Heisman vote was Bo Jackson’s 45-point victory over Chuck Long in 1985.
Weinke had 369 first-place votes and 1,628 points; Heupel, who led the Sooners to the title game against the Seminoles by passing for 3,392 yards and 20 touchdowns, had 286 first-place votes and 1,552 points.
Purdue quarterback Drew Brees was third, TCU running back LaDainian Tomlinson was fourth and Northwestern running back Damien Anderson was fifth in balloting by the 922 Heisman voters.
A breakdown of the voting showed Weinke won four of the six regions—the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, the South and the Midwest. Heupel won the Southwest and the West.
Age Didn’t Become Issue
Over the past six weeks, Weinke’s age became a Heisman issue even though voters are simply asked to cast their ballot for the “Outstanding Football Player of the United States.” Some voters indicated they would leave Weinke’s name off the ballot because the quarterback’s age gave him an unfair advantage over his younger rivals. Voters list their top three choices, with a first-place vote worth 3 points; second place 2 points; and third place 1 point.
“It would be a travesty if age kept him out,” Florida State coach Bobby Bowden said in the final days leading up to Saturday night’s announcement at the Downtown Athletic Club.
The “travesty” was avoided when Weinke finished with 83 more first-place votes than Heupel. In the final voting, only 796 of the 922 Heisman voters cast ballots.
“Success in college football is not about age but about experience,” Weinke said. “Had I stayed at Florida State when I was first recruited in 1990, I might not have played a down.
“People in this area know about Charlie Ward. Who would have thought that seven years apart two guys who were recruited together would both win the Heisman Trophy.”
Ward, now a point guard for the New York Knicks, won the award in 1993.