NEW YORK (AP)—The first person to congratulate Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford was the player who won it last year—Tim Tebow.
The star quarterbacks from the top two teams in the country shook hands Saturday night, then embraced.
On Jan. 8, with the national championship on the line, it won’t be so cordial.
Bradford, Oklahoma’s amazingly accurate and quick-thinking passer, won the Heisman after leading the highest-scoring team in major college history to the BCS title game.
A year after Tebow was the first sophomore to win the Heisman, Bradford became the second and kept the Florida star from joining Archie Griffin as the only two-time winners.
Bradford and Tebow will soon meet again, when the No. 2 Sooners (12-1) face No. 1 Gators (12-1) in Miami.
“We’re ready to get back to work to get ready for the 8th,” Bradford said. “When we started this season, winning the national championship was the first goal we put down as a team.”
Next month’s game between Oklahoma and Florida marks the second time Heisman winners will play against each other. The first was in the 2005 Orange Bowl, when ‘04 winner Matt Leinart and Southern California beat ‘03 winner Jason White and Oklahoma for the national title.
Bradford, who leads the nation in touchdown passes with 48, received 1,726 points. Texas quarterback Colt McCoy was second with 1,604 and Tebow—who received the most first-place votes—was third with 1,575 points.
“I was definitely surprised and I think it’s everything I imagined,” said Bradford, who raised the 25-pound bronze statue with his left hand still in a cast from a recent surgery. “I think it will take a couple weeks to set in.”
Bradford got 300 first-place votes, McCoy 266 and Tebow 309. Not since 1956 had a player drawn the most first-place votes and finished third; Tommy McDonald of Oklahoma holds that distinction.
Bradford was the third person to win without receiving the most first-place votes, joining Notre Dame’s Paul Hornung in ‘56 and Oklahoma’s Billy Sims in 1978.
Any consolation, Tim?
“Not really,” he said with a smile. “You lose, you lose.
“We still get to play in January and decide something a little bit bigger.”
It was the closest margin between the top two since Nebraska’s Eric Crouch edged Florida’s Rex Grossman by 62 points in 2001. The only other time the gap between first and third was smaller was also ‘01, when Miami’s Ken Dorsey was 142 points behind Crouch.
“Now I know what it’s like for those people on ‘American Idol,”’ McCoy said. “My heart was pounding.”
The award ceremony was held at the Nokia Theatre in Times Square. When it was over, the finalists were whisked downtown with a police escort, about 50 blocks to the Sports Museum of America in lower Manhattan for a news conference.
“I was really nervous,” Bradford said during his news conference. “I’d much rather play in front of 100,000 people than wait for an award to be handed out.”
The Big 12 South was the epicenter of college football this season, with both the national championship race and Heisman chase turning weekly on games played by its three powerhouse teams.
McCoy was the early Heisman front-runner after leading the Longhorns to the No. 1 ranking with a victory against Oklahoma in October. Texas Tech’s Graham Harrell, who finished a distant fourth in Heisman voting, then moved to the forefront after he tossed a last-second, game-winning touchdown pass to beat Texas a month later.
But Bradford closed strongest, leading his team to a string of blowout victories, including one against Texas Tech, and a spot—even if it was somewhat controversial—in the BCS title game.
Bradford leads the nation in passer rating (186.3) and has thrown for 4,464 yards, directing the Sooners’ fast-paced, no-huddle offense.
Oklahoma has already racked up 702 points to blow past the record of 656 set by Hawaii in 2006, and last week the Sooners became the first major college team in 89 years to score at least 60 in five straight games.
“This is an individual award but I feel like I’m receiving it on behalf of my teammates,” Bradford said during his acceptance speech. “I feel like our whole offense bails me out every game. They make me look good.”
Bradford is the fifth Oklahoma player to win the award, and second during coach Bob Stoops’ 10 seasons with the Sooners. Bradford matched White by taking home college football’s most famous bronze statue. Next he’d like to join Josh Heupel, his position coach and a Heisman runner-up, who quarterbacked OU to the 2000 national title.
“You were one of my heroes growing up,” Bradford told Heupel.
Oklahoma has never won a national title and a Heisman Trophy in the same season.
While no match for Tebow and McCoy as a runner, Bradford’s Heisman moment came on a scramble against Oklahoma State in the regular-season finale. He sprinted away from pressure, turned up the sideline and about 5 yards from the end zone tried to vault headfirst to the goal line. Bradford got hit and flipped, arms and legs whipping around, and landed hard out of bounds, but popped right up. On the next play, he sneaked into the end zone from a yard out.
He came out of that game with an injured non-throwing hand. The cast will be off well before the game against Florida.
The winner that night in Miami gets the biggest prize of all.