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A Heisman Trophy vote 30 years in the making

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Young Tait, shown here in 1989, posing with the official Heisman Trophy eventually won by Houston QB Andre Ware.

Young Tait, shown here in 1989, posing with the official Heisman Trophy eventually won by Houston QB Andre Ware. by Matt Tait

I would’ve voted for Charles Woodson in 1997. I’ve always loved the idea of defensive players winning the Heisman.

I would’ve put Todd Reesing in my Top 3 in 2007. He might not have deserved to win the award, but he was every bit the factor as those who made it to New York City for the presentation.

And, as much as I’d like to think otherwise, I probably would’ve been caught up in the Heisman fever surrounding guys like Tim Tebow, Johnny Manziel, Baker Mayfield and others.

Now I get the chance.

After former Journal-World sports editor Tom Keegan left our paper for a job in Boston a little over a year ago, a spot came open in the Heisman voting in Kansas and I was invited to fill it.

I submitted my first Heisman ballot on Sunday — after Saturday’s conference championship games but well before the Monday evening deadline — and, per Heisman rules, I will have to keep my votes confidential until the winner is revealed on Saturday.

Monday night, LSU quarterback Joe Burrow, Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts, Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields and Ohio State defensive end Chase Young were announced as this year’s finalists and all four will be at this year’s announcement ceremony in New York this weekend.

I’ll be sure to follow-up here with a short blog about who I voted for and why after the results are announced (Benton Smith had a vote, too), but the mere fact that I was able to cast a vote was a cool, full-circle moment for me.

See, my grandfather’s company, Herff Jones, a yearbook and class ring company based in Indianapolis, always manufactured the Heisman, and back in the summer of 1989, on a family trip to Disney World, my grandpa and I made a stop at the Herff Jones plant in Gettysburg, Pa., to see the award.

With me being barely 11 years old at the time, he didn’t quite trust me to be able to securely hold up the 45-pound trophy like the winners do, but he was happy to get it out and put it on a table for me to stand behind and pose for a picture.

I can still visualize walking back into the area where they kept the award — along with a few others.

At the time, I probably still thought my future would include winning the award as opposed to writing about it, but I’m sure that didn’t last too much longer.

The name plate was blank that day and, if I recall correctly, my grandpa folded a piece of stationary in half and wrote “Matt Tait” on it for one of the photos. Too cool.

A few months later, Houston Cougars quarterback Andre Ware won that very same trophy that I got to hold. I always joked that I had more claim to it than Ware did, but now that I know better, I realize that his numbers that season were pretty incredible and he was certainly deserving.

Ware beat out Indiana tailback Anthony Thompson, West Virginia QB Major Harris (pre-Big 12) and Notre Dame’s Tony Rice to win the ’89 Heisman.

Ware’s lack of a professional career worth noting probably knocked a little of the shine off of his Heisman campaign — how many guys have we said that about? — but he did throw for 4,699 yards and 46 touchdowns that season.

For context, Baker Mayfield’s Heisman season included 4,627 passing yards and 43 touchdowns and Kyler Murray’s last season included 4,361 yards through the air and 42 TDs.

So, yeah, Ware was worthy.

And now, 30 years after having my photo taken with the trophy and after all of these years of following the Heisman races and thinking about who should or would win it, I get to have some small say in determining this year’s winner.

Life’s pretty cool sometimes.

Comments

Chandler Accipiter 1 month, 2 weeks ago

Awesome story. The Heisman was always the coolest individual award in sports. I'm not sure if it still has the same cultural impact today, but still quite a honor for the recipient.

Matt Tait 1 month, 2 weeks ago

I agree. It used to be the end all be all of athletic awards. And in many ways it's still a huge deal. Just a different era and world we're living in.

Kenneth Johnson 1 month, 2 weeks ago

Great story.

Ken Johnson, Ph.D. (KU MS '70) Author of Kansas University Basketball Legends (2013) and More University of Kansas Legends (2014), both published by The History Press

W Keith Swinehart II 1 month, 2 weeks ago

Neat story, Matt. Attractive piece on your resume. Powerful credentials. Good to know more about your history in sports.

Matt Tait 1 month, 2 weeks ago

Thanks so much. I agree. I've been a Biletnikoff Award voter for several years now (which I also think is so cool) but this is the big one. Fun stuff! Thanks for the note.

Dane Pratt 1 month, 2 weeks ago

Even more amazing is 30 years later and I can barely detect a difference in your hairline:)

Getting a Heisman ballot is cool enough but that's a great story.

Matt Tait 1 month, 2 weeks ago

Hahaha! I'll take it. If that thing was curlier, I'd have had a full-blown afro!!!

Jeff Kallmeyer 1 month, 2 weeks ago

Nice personal touch to a neat story Matt!

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