NEW YORK--(AP) In a Heisman ceremony of unprecedented length and endurance, Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith was named the outstanding college football player of the year. This year's ceremony set a Heisman record for length, stretching from 8 p.m. Saturday night and finally grinding to its conclusion at exactly 9:43 a.m. this morning.
"I'm overjoyed. Hallucinating from fatigue, yes, but still overjoyed. I'd like to thank my teammates, my coaches, my family, and that guy who slipped me a Ritalin around four a.m. this morning. Without that I would have never outlasted the other candidates," said Smith in his brief and often incoherent acceptance speech. "Ostrich mflhghararrrgh jim jim," he said as he left, supported under each shoulder by a Smith family member.
Almost 48 hours later, a winner.
The Heisman ceremony, as it has every year since ESPN began exclusive coverage of the event, grew in duration again in 2006 with the inclusion of "The Everlast Quotient," a new factor in the balloting taking into account the "tenacity and spirit of the individual as measured by their ability to stay awake throughout the entire ceremony." Bonus points have decided the balloting for the past five years, and have significantly changed the expected outcomes of the elections.
Controversial though it might be, the Everlast portion of the event has allowed ESPN to boost ratings and create artificial but still compelling drama during traditional "dead zones" in the ratings. Last year's most compelling storyline involved teammates Reggie Bush and Matt Leinart showing great solidarity by shocking each other awake with personal tasers, which propelled both deep into early Monday morning before Bush's ran out of juice.
With the other contestants sleeping heavily, Leinart unselfishly yielded his taser and went to sleep, handing the award to his teammate.
This year's drama, as presented in a short summary timeline, included:
8:00 p.m--3:00 a.m.: Heisman finalists Brady Quinn, Darren McFadden, and Troy Smith take their seats at the Downtown Athletic Club. The first test begins: seven straight hours of ESPN tributes to the candidates, each highlighting their overcoming obstacles. Most candidates agree that the crux of the first phase came in getting through Quinn's four-hour tribute, which focused mostly on the challenges of being "man-pretty."
"We thought Quinn would fade for sure," said Archie Griffin, who survives the ceremony each year with a regimen of catnaps, strong coffee, and a running game of scrabble he plays with fellow Heisman winner Pat Sullivan. "In fact, we thought Paul Hornung had died during Quinn's piece. A drink or six pepped him up, though, and we were over the first hurdle together."
3:00 a.m.--2:00 p.m. Heisman candidates then sat through every single second of footage of them playing football in 2006, including bench footage of the candidates drinking Gatorade, talking on the phone with coaches, and simply standing around. "It was unbearable," said McFadden. "In between my asskicking stiffarms and breakaway runs, I guess I never realized how boring watching my beastly form truly is," said the runner-up. "Even grew I tired of looking at my record-setting gamespeed and bowling ball-sized biceps."
To up the difficulty, ESPN allowed Merrill Hoge to narrate the film. Hoge spent the better part of the time detailing how each one will have to be a man at the pro level, and that the NFL was a league of men, of hard, disciplined men, and how each one of them would fail, fail, and fail again to compete against these hard, disciplined men. Quinn credits Hoge for knocking him out of the competition.
"He just...he just said it so many times," said a bleary Quinn on Monday morning. "I just remember getting to the Michigan game film, and he launched in on that whole 'league of men' thing again, and I just broke down crying that I wanted either to die or fall asleep or both, just anything to make that guy shut up. I mean, just come out of the closet or don't, dammit. But stop talking about how hard, disciplined men need to be men in the N-F-L, the way he always does, and I just wanted a bullet in the head."
Quinn, clearly emotional, wiped his eyes. "No trophy's worth listening to that for 11 hours. Not one."
2:00 p.m.--11 p.m, Sunday: McFadden and Smith sit through three back to back to back presentations of Cirque de Soleil, including their "legendarily unbearable" Zumanity. Both candidates are seen holding back tears of boredom, but still refuse to sleep. "I'm impressed with both of their tenacity," said analyst Mel Kiper. "Smith's ability to endure boredom makes him an ideal pick for the Cleveland Browns' offense. I expect him to be a surefire first rounder for them."
Unbearable: Zumanity almost killed both candidates with boredom.
11:00 p.m.--1:00 a.m. Monday: In a move some skeptics suspect was meant to actually prolong the competition, both remaining nominees are forced to participate in a special "Heismania" edition of The Sports Reporters. Both candidates visibly fought off sleep as soon as Mitch Albom began speaking, but sprang to life as soon as show veteran Mike Lupica began to speak.
"Hate kept me awake from that point on," said Smith. "I just hate that little shitfucker, and I don't even know why. I was about to go, but he really woke me up."
McFadden, though, took a decisive lead when he sprang to life, seized Lupica by the throat as he spoke, and then spent thirty minutes teasing Lupica into unconsciousness with a sleeper hold. "At that point, I was on fire with rage," said McFadden, whose squeezing and release of Lupica's neck earned him serious plaudits from voters, as well as several standing ovations from the sparse crowd that remained.
"We've all thought about doing it, sure," said Heisman voter and winner Tim Brown. "But he lived the dream, man. At that point, he had my vote for sure."
1:00 a.m.--9:43 a.m.: McFadden and Smith both endure the cruelest and stiffest test of their wills yet: a Heisman-themed broadcast of NFL Live, focusing on the draft and done entirely unscripted with only Michael Irvin, Sean Salisbury, and Chris Berman. "I was running on faith and faith alone at that point," said McFadden. "And when Berman got into his gravelly eulogy voice talking about the death of Kory Stringer for the fifth time that night, a little voice popped in my head and said, 'Darren, give it another year.' I'm convinced that was Jesus, and not the 1500 milligrams of Sudafed I'd taken a few hours earlier."
Berman: the finisher.
McFadden slumped to the floor, and Smith emerged triumphant. Observers seemed to sing a common refrain, though, on the way out of the Downtown Athletic Club.
"The real winner, in my opinion, is the viewer," said sports television critic Michael Hiestand. "Because this is finally done. Next year they should do some kind of Japanese game show thingy with it. Girls being chased by iguanas and log jumping or something. Anything, anything but this."