It’s hard to believe how fast time goes by. It was nine years ago this weekend that Ron Dayne of Wisconsin won the 1999 Heisman Trophy.
“Big deal,” you say. Well, it was to me, because that was the year I won a trip to the Heisman Trophy awards ceremony.
1999. The year my wife had finally talked me into buying a new vehicle. We went to the dealerships and test drove a number of cars before finally settling on a new GMC Yukon. Yes, it was a gas guzzler, but back then who cared?
The next week, after coming home from work, the phone rang. Looking at the Caller ID, I saw that it was one of the dealerships where we had test drove a car. I told my wife not to answer the phone, as we had already bought our new car and I didn’t want to have to ruin another car dealer’s day.
Five minutes later, the phone rang again and it was the same dealership. This time I answered, thinking, "If you’re going to keep pestering me with phone calls, you deserved to hear the bad news."
The conversation, though not exact, went something like this.
Dealership: Mr. Strong, this is Jim from the XYZ car dealership. Do you like football?
Me: I love the game, why do you ask? *Thinking that I was about to be sold some sort of football car mats or air fresheners.*
Dealership: Well, sir, because you test drove our XYZ model, your name was thrown into a hopper. We drew your name out today and you have won an all-expense paid trip for two to New York City and the Heisman Trophy presentation.
Me: What’s the catch?
After learning that there was no catch and being assured at least three times of that, I did what any 34-year-old man would do upon hearing this type of news. I started jumping up and down, telling my wife that she wasn’t going to believe what I was about to tell her; all the while, Jim on the other end of the line was letting me know the logistics and time frame of the trip.
On Friday morning, we went to the airport, where we met our host. Johnny Rodgers, the 1971 Heisman Trophy winner from Nebraska. He and his wife would be our guides for the entire weekend.
We stayed at the Twin Towers Marriott. It was just a two-block walk from the Downtown Athletic Club, where most of the past Heisman winners would be staying. The D.A.C. (as it was called by its members) was also where the Heisman Trophy was presented to the nation’s best college football player.
My wife and I went to cocktail parties where we met some of New York’s high-brow socialites. We went to a reception where I was given a Heisman football and a blue marker. Johnny pointed out past Heisman winners and I would go up to each, asking them to sign my football.
1935 winner Jay Berwanger, 1946 winner Glen Davis, 1955 winner Howard Cassidy, 1969 winner Steve Owens, 1972 winner Johnny Rodgers, 1974-75 winner Archie Griffin, 1976 winner Tony Dorsett, just to name a few.
I had my picture taken with Tony Dorsett and Marcus Allen. I danced with Steve Spurrier’s wife (with his permission, of course). I went to a Broadway show and sat by Vinny Testeverde and Andre Ware. It was a surreal time in my life.
While all of this was incredible, nothing could match the night we walked into the Heisman room for the awards presentation.
The thrill of being in the same room as many of the above mentioned people. Seeing the Heisman portraits of all the past winners hanging on the wall. Having Johnny introduce my wife and I to the five Heisman candidates that were invited to attend: Chad Pennington, Drew Brees, Michael Vick, Joe Hamilton, and Ron Dayne.
Watching the ESPN crew getting ready for the telecast and being there in person while they interviewed each player once the telecast began.
Then, hearing the announcement. "The winner of the 1999 Heisman Trophy is...Ron Dayne."
How his life is going to change, I thought to myself.
Nine years have gone by since that incredible trip. Many things have changed since then. Some of the great former Heisman winners have passed away, the D.A.C. is no longer around due largely to September 11, and after looking at the pictures taken during that trip, I realize that I have gotten older.
I was not even thinking about writing this article, but as I pulled my Heisman football out from where I keep it, something I always do this time of year, and started looking at it. I saw that the autographs of each Heisman winner were starting to fade.
Looking at that and thinking back on the trip, I also realized that so, too, were my memories.
I hope you enjoyed the article and I hope that you enjoy the 2008 Heisman Trophy Presentation tonight.