Dec. 9, 2000
By RICHARD ROSENBLATT
AP Football Writer
NEW YORK – Chris Weinke capped a remarkable back-to-school story
Saturday night 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,
When his name was called, Weinke, wearing a blue suit and silver tie,
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
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.
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
“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
“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
Ward, now a point guard for the New York Knicks, won the award in 1993.
When the season began, it was surprising Weinke was still around because
even his coaches thought he was off to the NFL. However, Weinke decided to
stay, saying he wanted to win another national title, work on improving his
game and finish off his degree – he graduates Dec. 16 with a 3.4 grade-point
average in sports management.
The Heisman race was one of the most competitive in recent years. In the
first few weeks, Weinke was among a handful of Heisman contenders, with Heupel
an afterthought – at best. Virginia Tech quarterback Michael Vick was the
front-runner, but when he sprained an ankle and was unable to play much in the
Hokies’ loss to Miami, Weinke moved into the favorite’s role.
Heupel, though, was rapidly climbing the list. The lefty’s pinpoint passing
in dominating wins over Texas, Kansas State and Nebraska in consecutive games
catapulted the Sooners into the No. 1 ranking for the first time since 1987.
Weinke, meanwhile, was piling up amazing numbers. Even in the Seminoles’
only loss – 27-24 to Miami on Oct. 7 – Weinke threw for 496 yards and three TDs
despite playing with a sprained left foot protected by a hard plastic covering.
And in Florida State’s biggest game of the season – against Florida on Nov.
18 – Weinke came down with flu-like symptoms but still passed for 353 yards and
three TDs in a 30-7 win. The victory clinched Florida State’s spot in the Bowl
Championship Series’ title game against Heupel’s Sooners.
Weinke’s strong finish was in contrast to Heupel’s shaky close. After
throwing for 949 yards with four TD passes and just one interception against
the Longhorns, Wildcats and Cornhuskers, Heupel failed to break the 300-yard
mark in any of his last four games. He was battling an inflamed bursa on his
throwing arm, but said the injury did not affect his performance.
“The bottom line is he’s a winner,” Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said earlier
in the week.
But the voters went for Weinke, who twice this season threw for more than
500 yards to help boost his record as the Seminoles’ starter to 32-2.
Vick was sixth, followed by Miami wide receiver Santana Moss, Washington
quarterback Marques Tuiasosopo, Oregon State running back Ken Simonton and
Auburn running back Rudi Johnson.
The last four quarterbacks to win the Heisman played for a team from the
state of Florida – Danny Wuerffel (Florida, 1996), Ward, and Gino Toretta
The journey to Heisman fame was a long one for Weinke. He was a 1990 Parade
All-American, showed up at Florida State for four days and then signed a
$350,000 contract with the Toronto Blue Jays organization. But Bowden wrote and
told him if he ever wanted to return just give a call and a scholarship would
Six years later, his lone baseball claim to fame was being the first baseman
when NBA great Michael Jordan got his first hit in the minors. Discouraged he
was no closer to the major leagues than when he started, Weinke’s interest in
True to his word, Bowden gave Weinke a shot, and the Seminoles passed on
signing Drew Henson.
In ’98, Weinke got his break – starter Dan Kendra injured his knee before
the season and was out for the year. In his second start, Weinke threw a
school-record six interceptions in a 24-7 loss to North Carolina State.
He didn’t throw another interception in his next 218 attempts, then was
knocked out for the year in the Virginia game with a serious neck injury that
required surgery. Weinke didn’t practice again for 10 months and went through
the ’99 season with a protective brace.
Last season, despite distractions from a midseason shopping scam by
teammates Peter Warrick and Laveraneus Coles, Weinke drove the Seminoles to a
perfect 12-0 record and Bowden’s second national title.
Now he’s close to winning another one for the Seminoles, and he’ll get a
chance to do it as the Heisman Trophy winner.