For the first time this season, Robert Griffin III had to explain himself.
All the other stuff -- the nearly 4,000 yards passing, the 45 total touchdowns -- had carved out an All-American place for Baylor's quarterback. But after a final-game trouncing of Texas, on the floor of Floyd Casey Stadium when he uttered those words, well, he let us down.
"I think Baylor," Griffin said Saturday night, "won its first Heisman tonight."
The words came out brash and bold. The son of two retired military parents, seemed just like the rest of them. Griffin has spent much of the week offering perspective.
"The reaction to that was mixed," Griffin admitted this week. "Some people forgot the fact I didn't say 'I won the Heisman. I'm the greatest guy ever.' I was just saying to the world we needed to beat Texas and we beat them decisively. We needed to put up points against a good defense and we put up 48. Taking all that into account, based on what was said, Baylor should have won its first Heisman."
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Turns out he was right. Griffin is likely to be the one accepting the trophy, but he is playing for something bigger. Griffin is playing for a once-downtrodden university that was shocked by a murder and disgraced by NCAA probation. He is playing for Waco, where they stop him on the street and ask him to strike a Heisman pose.
He is playing for the two deaf kids who came up to him before that Texas game and "talked" to him for 15 minutes. He is playing for -- or perhaps against -- all the college coaches who projected him as a defensive back.
"It's not always about you, it's about the team," Griffin said. "Coach [Art] Briles is not a prophet, but he did say in two to three years I'd be a Heisman trophy finalist. It's coming true. It's unbelievably believable."
So unbelievable that Griffin would be a historic Heisman winner. The last winner from a private parochial school was BYU's Ty Detmer in 1990. Doug Flutie in 1984 was the last winner from a non-traditional power unless you want to include Houston's Andre Ware in 1989.
Either way, Baylor doesn't belong here. Briles couldn't be blamed for predicting Heisman greatness. Coaches say anything to land recruits. But in what qualifies as one of the biggest recruiting coups of all time, Briles persuaded Griffin to follow him to Baylor after leaving Houston in 2007.
"I bought it," Griffin said. "He especially told me with my skill set at quarterback would change how people look at the quarterback."
|Robert Griffin III wants to accept the big award on behalf of Baylor. (US Presswire)|
As far as the other candidates, it's not what they didn't do, it's what Griffin did. He is more accurate than Luck, more consistent than LSU's Tyrann Mathieu who was suspended for a game. More important to his team, even, than Alabama's Trent Richardson.
Take T-Rich off the Tide, and an argument can be made for Alabama still playing for a national championship. Take Griffin off Baylor, and the school would be missing its best player -- ever. In Baylor's three losses, Griffin threw for 1,200 yards and nine touchdowns.
He arrived as an early enrollee in January 2008, seventh in his class at Copperas Cove (Texas) High. By the time he played football, Griffin was FBS' youngest starting quarterback and already a Big 12 hurdles champion. As recently as two years ago, he was talking about competing in the 2012 London Olympics. But three games into the 2009 season, he tore the ACL in his right knee.
Griffin became the face of Baylor itself. At that point the school was in the middle an NCAA probation after the horrific dealings under former basketball coach Dave Bliss. A player had been murdered in 2003. Bliss admitted to paying players.
Twice during the last 17 months, Baylor faced the prospect of becoming a non-BCS school. Oklahoma and Texas came close to joining the Pac-12 which could have broken up the Big 12 and relegated Baylor to Conference USA status.
"We knew if we played well, we could play ourselves into a big conference or play ourselves into helping the Big 12 stay together," Griffin said.
History may record that's exactly what happened. Last year, the Bears were ranked for the first time since 1993. The world began to notice early in the third quarter of this season's opener against TCU. At that point, Griffin had five touchdown passes and only three incompletions. The night ended with what was called Baylor's biggest win ever, 50-48 over defending Rose Bowl champion TCU.
That designation stood for only a few weeks. Baylor beat Oklahoma for the first time when Griffin tossed the game-winning touchdown pass with eight seconds left.
"I was standing right behind him in the opposite end zone," Baylor AD Ian McCaw said. "He had an Oklahoma player right in his face. He had just a fraction of a second to see Terrence Williams and make that throw. That was not only the best player I've seen this season, but the best play I've ever seen."
A lot of voters have agreed. It's looking more and more like a humble kid from rural Texas who turned around the fortunes of an entire university is going to win the Heisman.
"I'm more than happy to accept that award on behalf," Griffin said, "of everyone."