Heisman winners: How life changes

Originally Published: August 15, 2013
By Chris Low | ESPN.com

Even for a nine-time Pro Bowler like Tim Brown, winning the Heisman Trophy established a notoriety that to this day is inescapable.

"Every place I go, besides church, I'm introduced as Heisman Trophy winner Tim Brown," said the former Notre Dame great, who won college football's most prestigious individual award in 1987.

[+] EnlargeTim Brown
AP Photo/Ron FrehmPresident Ronald Reagan called Tim Brown on a pay phone at the Downtown Athletic Club in New York after the Heisman ceremony.

"It's almost like it changes your whole name. You're no longer Tim Brown. You're Heisman Trophy winner Tim Brown, and that's something that never goes away."

As so many former Heisman Trophy winners have described over the years in eloquent detail, walking away with that famous bronze statue changes their lives forever.

"It gives you a platform to show the college football world and everyone else who's paying attention who you really are," said Michigan's Desmond Howard, who won the Heisman in 1991. "It's an award that enhances who you are."

And for some, the glare can be blinding.

Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel became the first freshman in history to win the Heisman last season, and from the moment he left New York City, his life became an instant reality show.

Much of that was on Manziel and his penchant for "living life to the fullest," but other former Heisman Trophy winners look back on their time in the spotlight and concede that it can be dizzying.

"It was crazy and nonstop running around, but it was a great honor and I just tried to be me," said Wisconsin's Ron Dayne, who won in 1999 and capped his career as college football's all-time leading rusher. "It really didn't change who I was even though there were so many different people and so many different things coming at me."

Within minutes of winning the Heisman, Dayne realized that his celebrity status had gone to a whole new level. He was visiting with friends and family when Jay Z pulled up in one of his luxury vehicles.

"The crowd starts parting like the Red Sea, and it was Jay Z," Dayne recounted. "He just said, 'What's up, man? You want to ride with me?' I said, 'Yep, let's go,' and told everybody I'd see them tomorrow."

Like Manziel, BYU's Ty Detmer still had eligibility remaining when he won the Heisman Trophy in 1990 with a record-breaking junior season that included 5,188 passing yards and 41 touchdowns.

[+] EnlargeRon Dayne
AP Photo/Suzanne PlunkettRon Dayne went from Wisconsin to riding with Jay Z in New York City after his Heisman win.
But also like Manziel, Detmer fell under the scrutiny of the NCAA in the months after winning the award.

As a favor to his parents, Detmer agreed to be the grand marshal of a Fourth of July parade in McAllen, Texas. He didn't receive any money for his appearance, but the city picked up the tab for Detmer and his newlywed wife's travel expenses. They'd just been married two days earlier.

"I had no idea I'd done anything wrong, but a reporter called the NCAA about it, and the next thing I know, I'm having to pay back $600 to a charity to be eligible for my senior season," Detmer recalled. "I had to take out a student loan to pay it off.

"I remember thinking, 'Great honeymoon.'"

Detmer also can relate, at least partially, to what Manziel is going through right now with the NCAA investigation into whether the Aggies' Heisman Trophy winner was paid for signing autographs.

After Detmer won the Heisman, Pro Set came out with a trading card of Detmer, who'd already decided that he was going to play his senior season at BYU.

"The NCAA investigated whether I'd signed a contract with Pro Set," Detmer said. "I never did and was cleared, but the NCAA told me they didn't want me autographing any of their cards.

"That was hard because I collected cards when I was a kid. What do you do when they come up to you holding that card and asking you to autograph it, tell a kid the NCAA won't let you sign it?"

[+] EnlargeDanny Wuerffel
AP Photo/Adam NadelDanny Wuerffel used his standing to open doors for social causes.

Detmer is relieved that he didn't have the whole social media craze to navigate, making it easier to keep a lower profile. Of course, he also didn't go out jet-setting the way Manziel did for much of the offseason.

"I can't imagine being a college freshman and going to the Super Bowl, going to the national championship game, hanging out with the 'Duck Dynasty' guys and throwing out first pitches at major league games," said Detmer, who's now coaching high school football in Austin, Texas.

"I really didn't go anywhere. I went to class, went to practice for spring ball and went rabbit hunting with my buddies. I'm sure a lot of it now is that you have more opportunities. I'd say the worst thing for Johnny was not being in school and taking those online courses. He wasn't tied down and was free to go and do whatever.

"To me, that just presents some problems if you're not careful."

Brown was besieged by autograph and picture requests upon returning to Notre Dame. Finally, he put a notice in the school newspaper telling students to bring items to his dormitory on Tuesdays and Thursdays and that he would sign things on those days.

"For a while, I didn't think I was ever going to be able to eat lunch again," Brown said. "I couldn't walk 15 steps on campus without somebody stopping me. But what you remember through it all is how important it is to represent that award the best you can. It's certainly been a shining part of my life."

Brown said he didn't have time to bask in the Heisman limelight. He was too busy getting ready for the NFL draft and trying to graduate.

"For me, the Heisman was great. It made my mom smile," Brown said. "But what was going to make her cry was getting that degree."

Howard's only regret is that his parents weren't present at the announcement. They were watching via satellite from Cleveland.

But as he looks back, he says it was the strong foundation that he received from his parents that enabled him to cope with the Heisman adulation.

[+] EnlargeDesmond Howard
Lonnie Major/Getty ImagesDesmond Howard says his parents helped keep him from being overwhelmed by fame.

"I was raised properly and had a strong foundation, and that continued with all my coaches through Little League and high school and carried on to Michigan when I played for Bo [Schembechler]," said Howard, an analyst on ESPN's "College GameDay" show.

"The whole Heisman experience was a wonderful one for me, and I was able to handle all the other stuff because of the way I was raised. At the end of the day, it all goes back to that foundation. That's where it starts."

Florida's Danny Wuerffel never ceases to be amazed by the staying power of the Heisman Trophy. He won it in 1996, and the Gators also won their first national championship that season. Wuerffel is the only Heisman Trophy recipient in history to also win the Draddy Trophy (now called the William V. Campbell Trophy), which is presented annually to the top football scholar-athlete.

"So many things come and have their moment and kind of move on, but not the Heisman," Wuerffel said. "I heard somebody say once that you could go win a Nobel Peace Prize, and they'd still introduce you as the Heisman Trophy winner."

These days, Wuerffel is as passionate about his work as executive director of Desire Street Ministries -- a faith-based, nonprofit organization serving some of America's toughest neighborhoods -- as he was about throwing an SEC-record 114 career touchdown passes in Steve Spurrier's Fun 'n' Gun offense.

"I use the word 'social capital,' meaning key relationships that are created and the doors that are open to you," Wuerffel said. "Winning the Heisman Trophy created a lot of social capital, and that's something I've tried to share with other people."

Oregon State's Terry Baker won the Heisman Trophy in 1962 and remains the only player from the Pacific Northwest to win it. He was presented the award by Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, and even 50 years later, the magic of winning the Heisman has endured.

"It's such an exclusive award, a singular award," said Baker, who recently retired from his Portland, Ore., law practice. "Just one person gets it. While winning an Oscar is a big thing, a lot of them are handed out each year.

"Winning a Heisman gives you a new identity. It's like getting a tattoo that sticks with you for the rest of your life."

Chris Low | email

College Football

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