EDITOR’S NOTE: His team in Detroit to prepare for the Motor City Bowl, Chad Pennington took a detour to New York City for the 1999 Heisman Trophy presentation. The second Marshall University player to earn Heisman finalist honors — Randy Moss was the first in 1997 — the senior quarterback took his place alongside Wisconsin’s Ron Dayne, Purdue’s Drew Brees, Virginia Tech’s Michael Vick and Georgia Tech’s Joe Hamilton at the ceremony. Here is the story from that night:
NEW YORK — He didn’t win it, but Chad Pennington walked out of Saturday’s Heisman Trophy ceremony satisfied and smiling.
Pennington, Marshall’s record-setting quarterback, finished fifth behind winner Ron Dayne of Wisconsin in the 65th presentation of college football’s most prestigious award at the Downtown Athletic Club. Pennington received 247 points in the voting, 53 less than fourth-place finisher Purdue quarterback Drew Brees. Dayne, a running back, received 2,042 points. Georgia Tech quarterback Joe Hamilton finished second with 994 points, followed by Virginia Tech freshman Michael Vick with 319.
Despite the low point total, Pennington said he was not disappointed by the outcome. Showing the same traits that made him one of Marshall’s best quarterbacks on the field, Pennington was poised, intelligent and on target at the post-ceremony news conference.
“Disappointed? No. Not at all. I’m honored to be here,” he said. “To be part of the history and tradition here, I’m flattered. I had a great time.”
Pennington admitted that the lack of national exposure given to the Mid-American Conference likely cost him a few votes, but he added that because of schools like the No. 11 Thundering Herd, the small conferences are beginning to gain respect. He also noted that Marshall is one of only a handful of schools to have two Heisman Trophy finalists in a three-year span. Randy Moss, now with the Minnesota Vikings, was a finalist in 1997.
“It’s all about perception,” Pennington said. “Until the smaller conferences start beating teams from the bigger conferences consistently, like we’ve done, it’s going to be hard to get that respect.”
But it was obvious how far there is for the MAC and Marshall to go. One reporter asked Pennington why football is so strong in Virginia, citing Virginia Tech’s and Vick’s success and Marshall’s.
“Well, Marshall’s in West Virginia,” Pennnington said with a smile. “But Virginia and West Virginia are close to each other and they both play excellent football.”
And both have produced some excellent quarterbacks. Vick’s third-place finish was the highest in Heisman history by a freshman.
“I never imagined I would be here,” Vick said at the podium, barely audible to the mass of media surrounding him.
But he’s hoping he will be back at the tradition-rich Downtown Athletic Club. So is Brees, who is a junior this season.
“It wasn’t a goal when I started this season, but, yeah, I’m hoping to make it back here next year,” Brees said.
Dayne, Wisconsin’s bulldozing running back, was the heavy favorite to win the award. He had picked up three post-season awards earlier in the week. When it was announced, Pennington was the first to shake Dayne’s hand. Sitting beside the burly Dayne, Pennington threw his hand into Dayne’s and gave him a wink as the NCAA’s all-time leading rusher walked to the podium to receive the trophy from DAC President Bill Dockery.
For Pennington, the ceremony also ended a whirlwind week. On Tuesday, he won the Vincent dePaul Draddy Award, given to the nation’s top scholar-athlete, and on Thursday, he was in Orlando, Florida, as a finalist for the Davey O’Brien Award. Add to that the reports that Marshall coach Bobby Pruett was taking the Houston job and it all equals a grueling week. But Pennington said he enjoyed it.
“It’s been fun. I’ve met a lot of great athletes,” said Pennington, dressed in a dark blue suit with a red tie. “It’s been a crazy week. I think all the guys here are ready to play ball. That’s our release, our escape.”
Now, it’s onto the Silverdome in Pontiac, Michigan for the Motor City Bowl with No. 25 Brigham Young on Dec. 27.