Dec. 15, 2008
Bill Little, Texas Media Relations
NEW YORK -- As he stood at the Top of The Rock, 70 stories above the skating rink and the giant tree, Colt McCoy could see the city in every direction. New York is different at Christmas; its human spirit rises above the buildings, above the noise.
It is 1,750 miles -- give or take a shortcut or two -- from the Callahan Divide in the Big Country just south of Abilene, Texas, to the heart of Manhattan. And the walkway at the top of the building that John D. Rockefeller built to showcase the Big Apple as the country was fighting through the Great Depression is a bit taller than the several-hundred feet high mountains surrounding Tuscola, Texas.
In New York, it is easy to feel that you are on top of the world.
But Colt McCoy has never been about heights. For him, it is the roots that matter.
So there they were, the heights of New York and the roots of West Texas, all locked into a theater just off Broadway where one of college football's greatest prizes, the Heisman Trophy, would be presented.
Colt had come to the city as a winner; he had already been named to two All-America teams and had been chosen the national college football player of the year by the Walter Camp Foundation. Now, against two fellow quarterbacks who had a huge exposure advantage, McCoy was in the hunt for the Heisman Trophy, presented by the Downtown Athletic Club of New York.
And he almost got it, finishing as runner-up to Oklahoma's Sam Bradford by 122 points (1,726-1,604), which was the closest margin between the top two since 2001, with Florida's 2007 Heisman winner Tim Tebow coming in third with 1,575 points. Colt's showing was even more impressive considering that both Bradford and Tebow, of course, had the advantage of playing in their league's championship game, thus gaining another weekend of national television hype and exposure.
Colt got so close because of the way he played the game. Already the winningest starting quarterback in Texas history, he is challenging to become the most accurate passer in the history of college football. With his arm and his legs, he has led Texas to an 11-1 record, just one second away from an unbeaten season.
It was another compliment to the Texas football program. In Mack Brown's 11 years at Texas, he has now had three finalists for the Heisman Trophy -- a winner and two second-place finishers. Greg Davis has now coached two of the last four players who finished as Heisman runners-up.
The three quarterbacks -- all of whom now have been named as a national player of the year over the last two years -- were treated to the best of New York during their trip. The NCAA allows the DAC to bring the players' families, so this was a special trip for the McCoys. As Colt McCoy visited briefly with his dad before the ceremony, there was a bit of disbelief that there they were, right there in the heart of New York City, rubbing shoulders with some of the greats of the college game.
And it was all because of the eldest son of Brad and Deborah McCoy.
Colt McCoy had come to The University of Texas straight out of the heartland of Texas high school football. His Dad was his high school football coach at Jim Ned High School in the tiny town of Tuscola. He was a stand-out athlete who excelled in a variety of sports; an honor student who was as comfortable in a fishing boat or deer stand as he was on a basketball floor or football field.
When you grow up in a small town, there is a focus on faith and hope and charity, and blended into all of those was Colt McCoy.
That is why the gentleman in him allowed him to be gracious as a rival his team had beaten on the football field ascended the stage in New York, and why the competitor in him didn't like it one bit. As Augie Garrido once told his team, which finished second in the College World Series: "Remember this feeling, because it will help you to never, ever, want to finish second again."
With a high profile bowl game and a senior season to come, there is a great chance that the Heisman folks have not seen the last of Colt McCoy.
If a football team is a reflection of its leadership, this 2008 Texas team is a montage of McCoy and a strong company of seniors who absolutely refused to believe the preseason critics. Look back at Colt McCoy's career at Texas and you will find a young player who was in the shadow of a darling of the recruiting services when he came.
As a redshirt freshman, he watched as Vince Young did things most folks thought were super-human. His first year as a player, he set an NCAA record for touchdown passes by a freshman. Then, a neck injury put a damper on the end of that season. But, he whipped that with the same traits which had made him a star in high school. He did it with determination, and hard work, with a lot of prayer and faith thrown in.
Along the way, he started to become a true larger-than-life Texas folk hero. He swam across a lake to help a man gasping for life. He dedicated this season to a special cousin, a Marine who passed away. Kids worshipped him; moms and dads wanted to adopt him. Most of all, teammates wanted to believe in him. Coaches saw dedication, and a strong work ethic.
He lived his faith, and he had faith in living.
And as he walked around the top of John D. Rockefeller's building in New York, he could see buildings and lights, and far below, the city.
When you grow up in West Texas, the best view of the lights are the stars at night, and when you climb to the top of one of those oak covered hills that we call "mountains," you think you can see forever.
Perhaps, if the stars align, Colt McCoy will go back to New York next year and win that trophy that eluded him this season. But as I looked at the former winners who climbed on stage Saturday night -- whose lives and fortunes have taken many very different directions -- I realized that, while a Heisman trophy is significant, it is only a statue.
The measure of the people who play the game of college football does not find itself locked inside bronze or metal. The strength comes from who they are, not what they are.
It comes down to the respect you earn from others, whether the doorman at the hotel, the limo driver, the little kid who really did want to just meet his hero, or the youngster who shouted over the PA at his middle school back in Texas: "Colt McCoy for Heisman!" It is, finally, about three things: faith, family, and friends. Teammates who fight with you, fans who cheer for you, and coaches whose lives are made better just because they had a chance to work with a very special kid.
It is, after all, about heart.
Shortly after the Heisman ceremony had ended, a noted Texan walked off an airplane in Austin, and sent a text message to a friend in New York: "Give Colt our best...very proud of him," it read. "God just had a little different plan for him this year." It was signed by Rick Perry.
The governor of Texas had just written a note to the kid from Tuscola.
It is almost 2,000 miles from the Callahan Range to Rockefeller Center, and the building is higher than the mountains of the land back home.
But if you grow from the roots, you can reach for the stars.
And in that space, there is no second place.